Online Brand Management: How Kimp’s Tackling Fake Reviews

Whether you’re a new business, or one that’s established, there are no two ways about it. You need to focus on online brand management. And reviews play an important role in this. They make potential leads feel like they can trust a business. And they’re generally considered an unbiased way to measure how effective a product or service really is.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always true. As reviews have grown in importance, playing a huge role in influencing consumer decisions, fake reviews have become an increasingly difficult problem. Many people deliberately leave fake reviews to either promote or put down companies. And in some cases, competitors even use this tactic to try to make themselves look like a better alternative.

With 95% of consumers reading online reviews before making purchase decisions, this isn’t something to be taken lightly. Especially in the case of fake negative reviews. When your online reputation takes a hit, everything from your lead acquisition costs, to your sales are on the line.

At Kimp we’ve got some experience with dealing with fake reviews. And we wanted to share how we’re tackling them, along with some tips for online brand management in general.

Do you really need to collect reviews online?

The short answer? Yes, absolutely. We live in a time when digital marketing and online brand management are non-negotiable. A good chunk, if not all, of your customers and potential customers are constantly online. And you already know what they do when they’re considering a product or service. Because you do it too. They Google you and chances are they’re Googling “XYZ reviews”.

Knowing this, there are two important steps that you need to take:
  1. Set up profiles on the platforms that your target audience is most likely to check out. This could be a combination of mainstream options like Google My Business and Trust Pilot, and more industry-specific options.
  2. Actively encourage customers to leave reviews so that leads checking out your profiles can find detailed descriptions of your services.

It’s important to note that you can, and should, also collect and share testimonials and reviews on your site. And through content on your marketing channels. We’re emphasizing review sites here because the average consumer is likely to assume that the third-party sites are more objective.

And this is great when you’ve got valid reviews of your service, because they put them at your customers’ fingertips. But when you’ve got fake reviews cropping up, not so much. The fact that they can be instantly published, and difficult to appeal can pose stubborn challenges to your online brand management.

Why do fake reviews matter?

Whether they make positive or negative claims about your business, fake reviews are bad news. They can lead to your review profiles getting flagged and penalized. And funny enough, even if they’re positive, they can result in a drop in consumer confidence.

As more and more consumers become savvy at spotting fake reviews, it’s possible we could see less confidence in them. In fact, BrightLocal found the following:

“In 2020 the overall star rating of a business was the review factor most influential on consumer choice. The legitimacy of a review (that is, how trustworthy it seems) comes a close second. With fake reviews dominating headlines over the last few years, consumers are recognizing the very real possibility that reviews may not always be what they seem.”

Spotting Fake Reviews

Some fake reviews are easier to spot than others. Especially when they don’t actually address your business, or anything related to it. But others can have more subtle telltale signs. Here are a few things that can help you spot fake reviews:

  • Always cross-reference to your CRM or POS software to confirm whether a reviewer is in fact a customer.
  • Try checking to see if there are any records of the reviewer contacting your customer service channels (e.g. chat, email, phone calls).
  • When looking at the review itself, keep an eye out for specific details. Do they mention specific team members whose actions led to their experience? Do they describe your service or products accurately, and in ways that only customers could? Only someone who used your service or product could describe it accurately.

Besides these general indicators, there are a few signs that can help you determine if it may be a competitor or a spammer that you’re dealing with:

  • If you’ve suddenly received a bunch of negative reviews in a short period of time.
  • If the reviewer includes mention of a competitor in their comments.
  • The reviewer has a suspicious history. This could mean the reviewer has no other reviews, an excessive number of reviews (indicating a spammer), or uses the same types of descriptions across different reviews.

Responding To Fake Reviews

Yes, you read that right. Even if you’ve identified that a review is fake, it’s important that you respond to it for the sake of your online brand management. Be sure to do this first before taking any additional steps. There a few reasons for this:

  • It impacts your SEO. Your review response speed and your review response frequency both impact your local SEO rankings.
  • About 89% of consumers read responses to reviews. So, make sure that they get a balanced perspective with your side of the story.
  • It helps you demonstrate that you treat all reviews, and customer concerns, seriously.
What should you include in your response?

Here’s a template to get you started:

Hello, [name].

At _____, we take customer feedback very seriously. Unfortunately, we do not have a record of your experience with us, and are not able to verify a client account with your name. In the event that you have done business with us, we would like to request your assistance to look into this matter further. Please contact our Customer Service team immediately at [email] so that we can escalate this issue.”

Of course, with a fake reviewer, you won’t be hearing any further. But your response is a part of the due diligence you need to perform for the review. And it helps you publicly demonstrate your commitment to customer satisfaction.

Be sure to incorporate the following into your response:
  • A professional and courteous tone, which shows restraint. No matter the tone of the reviewer, a neutral tone is always best in your response.
  • Show that you are willing to investigate and fix the issues that are being raised.
  • Ask the reviewer to reach out at their convenience, and provide them with an email address to do so.

Reporting your fake reviews

Depending on the third-party site you’re dealing with the process, and timelines can vary quite a bit. As do the results. This is why responding to your reviews, even when they are fake is so important. You may or may not succeed in getting the review taken down, but at least you can manage your reputation with a response.

Typically, this is the process that you’ll follow:
  • Many platforms allow you to report or flag a review by selecting a menu located alongside the review.
  • Once you’ve selected the option to report, you’ll be asked to confirm the reason for this from a list of options.
  • Next, the site will investigate whether the review in question violates their terms and conditions or policies. If additional information is required, you may receive a follow up email.
  • Finally, you’ll receive an update on the status of the review, and can try appealing the decision if the fake review is not removed.

Now the third and fourth steps are where you can expect drastically different outcomes depending on the process. Trust Pilot for instance, will contact the reviewer in question to verify their experience if a review is reported as being fake. They also have a combination of tech and human support to monitor fake reviews, and flag such activity and accounts that engage in it.

Google on the other hand can be quite difficult. Do a quick search and you’ll find countless businesses struggling with how to address fake reviews on Google.

The trouble with Google Reviews

Google reviews are fantastic for your local SEO. But if you’ve reported fake reviews on Google, chances are you’ve seen some version of this reply: “The review cannot be removed since it was not found to be in violation of our policies.”

On the surface this sounds fair enough. And “Spam and fake content” is actually one of the categories of Prohibited and Restricted Content that Google may automatically flag, or take down after it’s flagged.

Except there are a few gaping holes in the process:
  • Google allows anonymous usernames to be used. This means that someone could set up a profile with any random name and leave you a review. And they will not accept your explanation that said reviewer wasn’t actually a customer as it’s quite difficult to prove or disprove someone’s identity online. Especially when you’re dealing with anonymous usernames.
  • A reviewer doesn’t actually have to have been a customer to leave a review. Turns out as long as they claim to have had a “customer experience” Google will deem the review valid. This could literally describe anything from them having called your business and reaching the voicemail, to visiting a physical business in person to browse.
  • If ratings don’t have reviews and are simply a star-rating, Google will typically inform you that they don’t violate guidelines because there is no text in them.
  • Google does not verify that a reviewer was in fact a customer, or had an interaction with, the business that they are reviewing. Even if it’s flagged as being a fake review.

How Kimp is dealing with fake Google Reviews

If you caught a whiff of frustration in the previous section, it’s because we’re trying to tackle a couple of fake negative reviews on Google at the moment ourselves.

For the most part since we launched Kimp, our Google reviews have been a great way to get feedback from clients, both good and bad. And they’ve helped us build our digital presence, alongside with getting valuable insights to improve our service with. Unfortunately, the headache that comes with dealing with fake reviews has soured this experience a bit.

Below you’ll see screenshots of the fake reviews we are currently working on getting removed:

In line with the criteria above, both of these reviews had the following issues:
  • Neither review was left by a past, or present, customer of Kimp. In our responses we have asked them both to reach out to verify the accounts the reviews were associated with, as we have no records of them. To date, we haven’t heard back.
  • Both made inaccurate references to our Kimp Video subscription (we don’t exclusively focus on video ads, or simply give our clients videos made using templates).
  • Both reviews were made by accounts that have only left one review.

After following the reporting process, we were informed that the reviews did not violate Google’s guidelines and as such could not be removed. We followed up to inquire via Google’s chat support, and asked if they could reach out to verify that the reviewer was in fact providing a review based on a valid experience. The response was essentially: “We don’t do that, but we can forward the idea to the team.”

Since the solution we proposed wasn’t going to be implemented, we’re now in the midst of following up to appeal. And looking into our legal options with our lawyer. Anonymous negative reviews are one thing. But when you have proof of slander, it is possible to go beyond the normal appeals process and pursue legal action.

In the case of these particular reviews, they appear to be from the same person so we’re exploring legal options as we gather evidence on the individual who’s left them.

In the event that you’re in a situation where you have evidence to prove that a review is intentional slander against your company, you can also choose to submit a request form to report content for legal reasons. This is applicable to content on any Google product, not just Google My Business.

Alternatively, if you’d like to contact Google about a review after you’ve flagged it, you’ll need to take the following steps:
  1. Pull together all of the details you have in connection with the fake reviews, including any evidence you may have.
  2. Navigate to your Google My Business profile.
  3. In the navigation panel on the left, scroll down to the bottom and click “Support”
  4. In the dialog box that pops up, scroll to the bottom where you’ll see a “Contact Us” option. And from here you can provide more details on your issue, and select between contacting a Google team member via chat, email or phone.

How to tackle online brand management

In Kimp’s case we’re fortunate that we have a free trial that allows clients to explore the service for themselves to decide if it’s the right fit for them. And that we have a fair number of positive reviews from clients to encourage potential leads to try out the service.

That said, fake negative reviews do pose challenges. Especially as they remain online while you work to contest them and have them removed. Here are few strategies you can try to counter fake negative reviews, and get your brand’s reputation some positive traction:

  • Encourage happy customers to leave reviews. Ask them to highlight specific aspects of the service that they found helpful. And you can also ask them to mention their tips or advice for getting the most out of the service. Ultimately your service or product probably isn’t for everyone. And the more specific and informative your reviews are, the better your leads will be able to recognize if it’s a good fit.
  • Invite bloggers, and other influencers, in industries you’re targeting to try out your service or product in exchange for a review. Detailed reviews of your service or product can help those that are trying to decide if it’s right for them. And they can also be great tools for highlighting the aspects of your service that clients find the most value in.
  • Share text and video-based customer testimonials. For the text-based ones, try adding your customer’s picture to make them more engaging. Share them on your social media profiles and other marketing channels that you use.
  • Incorporate customer profiles and success stories into your blog, and feature case studies to share how you’re helping customers solve the problems they face.
  • Consider sponsoring content or paying for advertorials if you have the resources to do so.
  • Work on creating engaging, informative and helpful content for your blog and social media. Content that performs well, can help outrank negative impressions.

Outwit and outlast your fake reviews

Fake reviews are unfortunately here to stay. With reviews being as important as they are to business owners and consumers, there are just too many people who try to misuse them. And this is a continuously growing problem across different platforms. But online brand management is ultimately a marathon, not a sprint. So even though it is a frustrating problem to get a fake negative review, don’t let up. It’s something that you can contest, and appeal, and even outdo with positive impressions over time. After all, it’s the businesses that take the time to listen to their customers and deliver what they need that generate more loyalty, positive word of mouth, and lasting power in their industries.