Amazon tackles fake reviewers cashing in on social signals

According to a study by Search Engine Land, 88% of people trust online reviews as much as recommendations.

Black hats
If you have a head for honesty – steer clear of the black hats

That’s the highest social signal out there for retailers and ecommerce. It doesn’t matter whether it’s people we know or people we trust, there is no higher recommendation for a product than an online review.
If some random gives it five stars, then that’s good enough for nine out of ten people.
And Amazon is full of randoms giving five star reviews. But many of them are fake, and worse still, paid for by the sellers.
Yes, there’s a dark, black-hat network of reviewers writing reviews for products they’ve never bought, seen or even wanted. And Amazon has responded by taking legal action against more than 1000 reviewers, because it’s quite simply damaging the brand.
Link: Amazon sues more than 1000 people over ‘fake reviews‘ – Telegraph
[Tweet “…a black-hat network of reviewers writing recommendations for stuff they’ve never bought #retail #ecommerce”]
So how do sellers find fake reviewers? Do they meet on a street corner and pass their dirty money over when the coast is clear? Do they have to know someone who knows someone else?

Reviews for sale

Well, no not really, because these services are being openly advertised on the internet for sweetie money.
The cut-price services vendor site Fiverr.com is one example, Reviewers advertise their services, generally for $5 amongst other legitimate services such as logos, jingles and copywriting. Yes, creative services for less than a fiver, but that’s another blog!
They’re turning reviews around in a day, selling them in bulk and extending the service to include creating wishlists. Click-farming has reared its ugly head again, just when Google and Facebook have got it under control.
I did a search on Fiverr for ‘amazon reviews’ and a whole host of offers presented themselves. All for a fiver (roughly £3.25 in UK sterling).

Awesome for £3.25?

The first in the list was Abigail38, a young American woman, offering an ‘awesome Amazon review’. She boasts 60 different accounts and IP addresses, and a ‘money back guaranty’ (sic). Unsurprisingly she has a raft of excellent reviews and a five-star rating. Funny that.
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So I clicked on her profile and here’s the thing… 10 grammatical mistakes in a 50-word bio! How on earth can she write reviews when she can’t even write her own bio? The answer is in her product description: ‘I have a team works on amazon’… which I take to mean she pays other people to write the reviews… Hopefully with a better grasp of English, although in her listing, she does indicate that you’ll have to send in your own wording.
Further investigation reveals she offers three different services – ‘positive reviews’, ‘believable reviews’ and ‘unique reviews’, all for a fiver. Ah but no mention of genuine reviews, because they obviously don’t sell as well to the kind of trader that pays for fakes.

Is it really? Not in my book. Shameless services on offer at Fiverr
Is it really? Not in my book. Shameless services on offer at Fiverr

Anyway, the reason I am writing about this is not the impact it has on Amazon, but the impact on digital marketing as a whole. The fact that there are people out there willing to provide this service shows there is a demand from sellers. Abigail38 wasn’t the only one by any means.
I even found someone on Fiverr offering negative reviews. Yes, you pay them to write a negative review on your competitors’ products and services.

Here we go again

Businesses have already been through this with Google, Facebook, TripAdvisor, et al. It’s a total sham. If a system can be abused, it will be abused. And when Amazon has done its duty and put a stop to fake reviews, they’ll just move on and sell their services somewhere else. The key is to keep them moving on before they get a foothold. Currently, Amazon reviews are easy pickings. Google has worked extremely hard to rally against systemic abuse of its system, and it’s been a constant battle for them, but they have better, cleaner search listings as a result.
As always it’s the honest users that feel the most pain. Amazon won’t sell any more products by expelling the reviewers, but with the review system being a key part of Amazon’s ecosystem, then it’s important that it polices it efficiently before it gets out of hand.
I have to say that I personally don’t have the huge faith in the reviewing system that the large majority do. Perhaps that’s because I work in the industry and I see more of the murky side of the internet than most.
I see domain name scams, website scams, poorly executed strategies and advice on a daily basis. I’ve researched reviews for clients and what appears to the review site editors as plausible constructive commenting is often riddled with an unfounded vitriol. Taking TripAdvisor as an example, it’s unreasonbly difficult to prove fake or unfair reviews, even if you have good evidence.
But if it goes on, ultimately users will become immune and the whole system will be worthless. Let’s hope the big players can nip this in the bud while the trust is high.
In the meantime, I’m one of the 12 per cent that takes online reviews with a very large pinch of salt.
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