Everyone loves a good review. And, everyone loves a good shortcut if it saves you time and energy to get the results you want. But the key to shortcuts in business is doing it ethically – and that’s what the FTC is eying when it comes to online reviews.
In October, 2022, the Federal Trade Commission announced it’s exploring rules to combat fake reviews and deceptive endorsements. What does this mean exactly? According to the FTC, it’s “exploring a potential rule to combat deceptive or unfair review and endorsement practices, such as using fake reviews, suppressing negative reviews, and paying for positive reviews.”
What it also means is if you’re using any of the black hat strategies to elevate your business or products online, you may soon pay the price in significant fines.
What Are The Benefits Of Online Reviews?
Online reviews have many benefits, ranging from establishing trust among customers to improving your Local SEO and visibility in search results. When a customer has a good experience with you or loves the quality of your product, a few words and five stars can play a role in nudging a potential customer across the line from consideration to purchase. And the same way that positive feedback boosts your confidence in your operations and offering, positive reviews boost Google’s confidence in your business and website, giving you stronger visibility in local search results. Unfortunately, negative reviews can have the opposite effect on the SERP, too.
Why Do Companies Use Fake Reviews
Companies use fake reviews for three main reasons: to significantly increase review volume for their business, to influence consumers into choosing their product or service, and to boost their online visibility. Another deceptive way companies use reviews is to suppress negative reviews, or to leave unfounded, negative reviews for their competitors. Black hat tactics are unethical SEO practices that break search engine rules to achieve perceived positive results, and fake reviews or paying for reviews fall under this category.
Fake reviews aren’t much different than using filters that alter your appearance on social media. You may look different, but the product is still the same. We all know the best results for anything in life come from putting time and effort into the work. So do companies really gain anything from this?
It’s easy to get caught up in the game of winning, but without doing your homework, companies are putting a lot on the line that could potentially counter the results from all of the hard work and investment put into their marketing. James Cant, a local SEO specialist for Hennessey Digital, attributes some of these decisions to poor advice and pressure. “Online reviews can positively impact a business, so companies may feel pressure to buy into the game system of fake reviews,” said Cant. “Fake reviews, paying for reviews or suppressing negative reviews are a way to manipulate search results. On the surface, they prop up a business, and can negatively affect businesses that play by the rules.”
How will FTC regulations on online reviews affect businesses?
A crackdown by the FTC on fake reviews, deceptive and illegal online practices won’t just affect your company’s search results, it will take you to the bank with a hefty penalty. Research shows consumers rely on online reviews to influence their decisions, and doing so deceptively is not only unethical, it harms your competition and puts a lot on the line for your company.
The FTC defines deceptive and unfair practices as:
- fake reviews
- review reuse fraud
- paid reviews
- insider reviews
- review suppression
- fake review websites
- buying followers
On a case by case basis, the FTC is already cracking down on companies using fake reviews or other deceptive practices to promote their business or products. In 2022, the FTC charged the rental listing platform Roomster for deceiving the public by paying for fake reviews and having fake listings, proposing the company and its owners pay a $100,000 fine and be subject to other penalties. The cost of manipulating online presence was even higher for online retailer Fashion Nova, who was required to pay $4.2 million for suppressing negative customer reviews on its site.
The question is will taking companies on one-by-one be enough to impact the industry and eliminate fake reviews? For that reason, the FTC is exploring putting a broader rule and standard into place.
As a digital marketing agency that uses ethical practices and white hat SEO tactics, Hennessey Digital has cautious optimism on how far the FTC’s hand can reach – and how soon. “I don’t know how far the FTC can get with enforcing rules against fake reviews and other practices,” Cant commented. “Fake reviews are a way to cheat the system. It’s good the FTC is doing what they are doing. Right now they’re enforcing it for a few, but I don’t see them being able to enforce it broadly for a long time.”
A good online review strategy will help you avoid penalties and generate new business
Online reviews are a good search engine optimization strategy, and are one of the strongest indicators that there are others out there doing business with you. Thousands of companies have online success doing it the right way. Creating a strong online review strategy will help you receive the stars and positive online feedback you want; and with a little effort, you’ll begin to see the results in your online visibility and revenue.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Identify places where online reviews will reach customers and be effective for you. Google Reviews, your website and online review sites are good places to start that will reach customers and send signals to Google that can boost your ranking on the SERP.
- Don’t be afraid to ask customers for a review. Many people are willing to help you out if you show them how. Whether it’s in person, at point of sale, by text, or in a simple email, keep it simple and provide your customers with prompts that direct them to rate you or leave a quick review.
- Enlist a digital marketing partner that uses white hat SEO tactics to manage your online review strategy for you. Knowing what to do and where to do it can be overwhelming. By working with a reputable digital marketing agency like Hennessey Digital, you can trust your online presence is in good hands with experts who know how to drive engagement and use online reviews to elevate your business in an ethical way that stays ahead of industry regulations.
Remember, you dedicate a lot of time and money into your online marketing. Losing those gains and putting your business on the line because of fake reviews and deceptive promotional practices isn’t worth it.
Want more tips to bolster your online review strategy? Check out these recommendations from Hennessey Digital Founder & CEO Jason Hennessey on how to get more 5-star reviews for your business.