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Fake News, Fake Reviews: What is a Fake Review, and Why Should You Care?

Fake News, Fake Reviews: What is a Fake Review, and Why Should You Care?

It All Began in the Year 44 B.C.

… when Julius Caesar’s death left the door open for a power struggle between two potential successors: Octavian, the boring, untalented son, and Mark Antony, a charismatic man with a natural aptitude for leadership.

It wasn’t looking good for Octavian. Until, that is, he hit upon a way of lessening Antony’s power: he started a smear campaign.

Octavian released a series of coinsBeing without social media, Octavian released a series of coins engraved with what we’d now call “soundbites”, “exposing” Antony as a debauched womanizer who would sell the Empire to a foreign political power in the shape of Cleopatra. He followed it up with a book — probably threw in a couple of speeches, too.

The rest, as they say, is history. Concerns about traditional Roman values escalated; Antony was vilified as a traitor — without any evidence — and the next Emperor was — you guessed it — Octavian.

The first historically recorded example of “fake news.”

Fast Forward a Few Hundred Years…

… and the term “fake news” is pretty well known to all of us. Broadly speaking, it’s the struggle between truth and power, in exactly the same way it was in 44 B.C.

But what about the term “fake reviews”? Not so well known, it’s nevertheless true that most of us will have experienced them at some point — although we may not necessarily have realized it at the time.

What Exactly Is a Fake Review?

Fake ReviewEver seen an e-book with dozens of glowing reviews, only to buy it and discover spelling mistakes, no plot and writing so far beyond appalling that you can’t carry on beyond the first page?

Either everyone who reviewed it knows something you don’t about how to write coherently, or what you’ve just experienced is a raft of fake reviews.

They’re reviews which are designed specifically to give a false impression to consumers on the point of purchasing.

They don’t accurately reflect the product or service they’re talking about because they are designed to go after your wallet in the same way as “fake news” aims to dupe your thought processes.

You’ll see both positive and negative fake reviews.

Fake positives” are the glowing reports that bear no resemblance to reality. The e-book example above. The hotel you book only to find its “spacious bedrooms” mean you don’t have room to unpack your suitcase and its “beachside location” has an inter-city train line running between it and the beach.

Positive fake reviews are written to compel you to take action — i.e. to buy the product or service.

Fake negatives” are those that persuade you not to eat at a certain restaurant because it’s “known to have cockroaches in the kitchen” or not to go to a particular counsellor because “she ruined my life forever.”

Negative fake reviews are written to persuade you not to take action on the product being reviewed. They are written to damage one company’s reputation and generally go on to recommend a different product from a competitor.

Neither positive nor negative fake reviews are based on reality. At best, they’re based on shared misunderstanding; at worst, outright lies.

Why Does it Matter?

A positive reputation is one of the most powerful marketing assets a business has to convince new customers to contact them. The social proof contained within reviews and star ratings helps consumers short cut their research and make decisions faster and with greater confidence than ever before.Bright Local, Consumer Review Survey 2016

Reading reviews has been called: “One of the final stages of the purchase path.” (1)

Why? Because by the time a consumer has reached the point of reading reviews, she has already decided she has a need or a desire for that product. She’s now looking for positive signals to help choose the best product to match her need.

And both positive and negative information have been shown to affect the decision-making process directly (2).

Online endorsements are known to be key in the decision-making process. America’s Federal Trade Commission found that over 70% of consumers read product reviews before buying (3). In a 2016 survey, as many as 84% said they trust an online review as much as they would trust a personal recommendation from a friend (4) – a rise from 80% in 2015.

And 72% will take some kind of action after having read a positive review.

So whatever the product — whether it’s a face cream or a Ferrari, a diet pill or a designer dress, a hotel or a hosting service — and whether it’s a positive or a negative review, it will have an impact on whether or not the prospective customer becomes an actual purchaser.

Why Would Anyone Write a Fake Review?

Why Write Fake ReviewsThere are a mixture of reasons.

Emotion can be a strong trigger:

  • You’re a bellhop at a well known hotel. You’re fired because you were caught smoking on duty. You’re furious – how will you ever find work now?

    So you go online and write an entirely negative review of the hotel under an assumed name, warning guests to stay away. That will show them!

Competition is another:

  • Your seafood restaurant is doing badly compared to your competitor two blocks away. You’ve never eaten there but you can’t afford for him to have the edge.

    You write a review saying you’ve eaten there. The fish stank! The waiters were rude!  You would not take your worst enemy there!

Intellectual laziness is another:

  • You’re asked to write an article for your college computing program about Alexa. You look around the internet and find a glut of other reviews, all of which call it “irrelevant” and “useless”.

    You plagiarize those reviews without checking their origin and without checking Alexa itself. Your report repeats their misinformation and the circle continues.

But the strongest reason for people writing fake reviews is financial.

Fake reviews are most often written for financial gain. They can be provided by:

  • People who are hired to write them for money. A simple Google search for “write fake reviews” exposed this article from a fake reviewer who says — without any hint of a conscience:

    So you want to start a career by ruining the internet for everybody else. That’s fine… In short, you need to build up some trust before you betray it for cash.

  • People acting as “proxies.” These are individuals employed by a company who write reviews for that company by hiding their online identity. Trip Advisor has many examples of this. Indeed, this article shows individuals exactly how it’s done, and then says:

    That’s it, it doesn’t get easier than this. As mentioned, TripAdvisor has ZERO validation for new member sign ups. Just change your IP and you are on your way.

  • Affiliates. Individuals who stand to gain if someone buys the product they’re reviewing. These are often full web page reviews, written whether or not the person believes in the product because they earn a percentage commission from the company for each product or service they sell.

    Internet marketing is particularly prone to this, as are “health” recommendations, because there’s a greater knowledge imbalance: the affiliate generally knows much more about the subject than the purchaser. It’s easier to overwhelm someone with details and jargon if they have little knowledge of the subject.

    As this article says: “If you’re researching pretty much any internet marketing training product, odds are you can find a TON of fake positive reviews for it. If you search pretty much any keyword, you find videos and pages upon pages of search results ranting and raving about how wonderful it is — even for the worst products you’ve purchased in your life.”

Let’s take a closer look at how the two most pervasive fake review practices set out to deceive.

Fake Reviews: Platforms

These are the review sites of which we’ve all had experience: Amazon, Trip Advisor, Yelp and Glass Door, for example.  

Reviews here are generated by millions of users. While no single review is likely to be definitive for a 3* Trip Advisor-rated hotel in Milan, for example, the “wisdom of crowds” tends to bubble the best to the top.

Consumers now use these platforms for almost every imaginable purchase decision. If they weed out fake reviews, they can be immensely useful. They can help you find everything from the best luxury hotel in the Carlton district of Melbourne, Australia to a dentist near Hyde Park in London.

Review platforms can, though, be corrupted by elaborate campaigns of fake reviews that either promote or denigrate, as explained in this article in The Telegraph. And this NYTimes story tells how one pizzeria became so sick of all the gaming at Yelp, he tried to be the worst pizza in the San Francisco area — and business boomed!

Platforms like these have become increasingly aware that purchasers’ bad experiences can quickly erode their credibility. So it’s in their best interests to develop algorithms which monitor, detect and delete the gaming of their sites by fake reviews.  

In short, the review platforms auto-regulate. Some fakes still find a gap in the system but generally, the platform with the most robust anti-gaming algorithm wins.

Fake Reviews: Individual

Individual, authoritative reviews can be highly valuable.  A comprehensive review by a trusted business or solopreneur can transmit the entire product experience in a single, deep, expert article.

The astute solopreneur does not “sell out,” writing a glowing article about a poor product, because she knows it’s wiser to think long-term.

For example, it would be very bad business to write a strong review that recommends a poor villa in Anguilla, run by an ill-tempered owner who is willing to pay a lot to recommend it.

There’s short-term financial gain, sure. But those stories go to TripAdvisor and her reputation ends up in tatters.

Sadly, though, the unethical solopreneur who cares only about the quick buck will happily ruin several family vacations for a few thousand dollars.

Maintaining a credible long-term, niche-based content site that builds ethical income and high equity would be impossible to sustain on that basis.  

Which brings us to…

Fake Reviews: Affiliate Schemes

Most consumers dislike a company which makes negative claims directly against a competitor, known as “negative marketing.”  

With that in mind, some companies get round this by encouraging their affiliates to write reviews on other products.

Here’s how it works: company “A” would…

  1. Convince their affiliates, often by a simple process of repetition, that their company is the best of its kind — whether or not it is.
  2. Encourage their affiliates to write a review of a competing product belonging to company “B” — whether or not the affiliate has knowledge of Company “B”‘s product.
  3. Make sure the affiliates understand that their review, whether it’s positive or not, must end with a recommendation for company “A”‘s product.
  4. If the review of Company “B”‘s product is based on actual usage that reflects an impartial and complete review of the product, if the claim of superiority is supported by evidence, and if – in other words, if the affiliate serves the searcher with the honest review that was expected; and if the affiliate makes it clear that she is an affiliate and therefore makes a commission from selling company “A”‘s product, there’s no problem. The affiliate wins appreciation by referring the visitor to a superior product and everyone is happy.
  5. But if Product “B” has never actually been tried, if the claim of superiority is not supported by evidence, and if the affiliate of company “A” does not make clear that she is selling an affiliate product and earns commission, it’s fake.
  6. Why? Because there is no evidence of superiority. The review is there purely to earn money. The person buying the product is given mis-information and is likely to buy an inferior product which will not match their needs.
  7. Legislation on this is clear. The purchaser is entitled to expect honest editorial content, not commission-paying sales material.  

Let’s look at how this works at a practical level.

  • Angela, who is searching for a reputable counsellor following a distressing assault, has heard of “Saintly Counselling”, so searches for “Saintly Counselling reviews.”
  • She finds multiple fake negative reviews, written by affiliates for “Devil May Care Counselling” who get paid for every client they introduce.
  • She doesn’t know they’re fake. It wasn’t completely obvious: one said “Saintly” destroyed her life forever, one said it was “Meh” and one said it had some good points.
  • Each of them ended their review with a recommendation for “Devil May Care,” calling it the most effective counselling in the world — even though they had never experienced it.  
  • Angela clicks on the affiliate link and books an appointment with “Devil May Care.”
  • “Devil May Care” get the counselling fee, of which they give a percentage to the affiliate on whose link Angela clicked through.
  • Of course some part of each review is fake, but the biggest fake point is the recommendation of “Devils”‘s superiority.
  • In all cases, the company and the affiliate, with the complicity of the company, gain financially at the consumer’s expense.

But there’s more to it than that, even. Because Angela is not only defrauded, she may also suffer immense hardship. Poor counselling can lead to catastrophic damage.

The same principle applies to any product, even though it may not have the same ruinous results. But picking the wrong dentist may result in an expensive, incompetent root canal that you didn’t need; selecting a bad hotel will ruin your vacation.

A Real Life Example

Wealthy Affiliate (WA) has thousands of affiliates who are trained to write reviews about competing products, including Solo Build It! (SBI!), its closest rival. Regardless of the actual content of the reviews, all WA reviews recommend WA as the superior product.  

Fake Review StudySBI! performed a comprehensive study which conclusively proved the opposite of those  claims. It provided the methodology so that anyone can reproduce it.

The results showed conclusively that  SBI! is 33X more likely to enable the solopreneur to build a high-traffic site. The Study also showed that 87% of WA sites were “Invisible” (i.e., undetectable by SimilarWeb, Alexa, SEMrush). 

It’s a risky business, encouraging negative reviews. It opens the prospect of the company, in this case WA, losing substantial credibility with…

  • its customers who believed the claim
  • its affiliates who recommended it as a service to visitors, believing the reassurance of the company.

And quite apart from the loss of credibility and reputation, the following are also possible…

  • class-action by the company’s affiliates if they were misled into recommending
  • class-action by failing customers if they believed affiliates
  • fraud charges from consumer and government groups
  • lawsuits from the damaged company for defamation, tortious interference, and so on.
And here is a final, important, pointer for affiliates of WA and other companies with similar strategies).  Read the affiliate agreement between you and the company. In the case of WA, you will find the following clause….

“7.1 Your Indemnification. You shall defend, indemnify, and hold harmless Wealthy Affiliate, its affiliates, directors, officers, employees, and agents from and against all claims, losses, damages, penalties, liability, and costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees, of any kind or nature which are in connection with or arising out of a claim (a) alleging that the Customer Content or your use of the Services infringes or violates the intellectual property rights, privacy rights, or other rights of a third party or violates applicable law; (b) relating to, or arising from, Customer Content, or your breach of Section 2.3 or Section 2.6; or (c) relating to, or arising from, Third-Party Services.”

Those 3 words, “violates applicable law,” means that YOU, and only you are legally responsible for your reviews.  The reference to 2.3 means that you are responsible for the “legality of Customer Content.”  There’s a whole lot more in 2.3 that leaves you totally exposed. That clause even means that YOU will have to pay to defend WA if they are sued and your review is mentioned.

Grey Areas: Are Reviews of Reviews Fake?

The European Parliamentary Research Service defines the content of fake review as follows…

A fake review can be defined as a positive, neutral or negative review that is not an actual consumer’s honest and impartial opinion or that does not reflect a consumer’s genuine experience of a product, service or business.

Reviews of ReviewsIt may be difficult or impossible to experience some products before writing a review recommending them. If your niche is the island of Sicily, for example, it won’t be possible for you to stay in every hotel on the island (unless you’re very lucky and very rich!).

Such subjects require credible research of objective data, and wide coverage of the subjective experience of others. Original research such as a survey, if properly conducted, adds to the value of such coverage.

This type of “review” should present as balanced a picture as possible.

A review not based on personal experience, even when carefully researched, crosses into a “grey” area. The key to whether it’s a fake review or not is intent.

  • When performed rigorously and in a balanced way that honestly tries to reflect the truth, this type of “review” can be valuable to the reader.
  • But if it has an agenda to mislead, it would be considered a “fake review” for the purposes of this article.  
  • The review should clearly identify that it is based only on research, that you have not personally used the product in the manner that a typical consumer would.

Included in this kind of “researched review” is the “review of reviews” category. Here too, the onus is on the author to thoroughly assess each review for accuracy and to present a balanced picture.  

This type of review becomes “fake” if it…

  • is passed off as personal experience
  • knowingly includes fake reviews (or if it should have known)
  • intentionally fails to be a thorough and objective reflection of the user experience
  • indulges in practices such as seeking out others who have had a negative experience. A few angry ex-customers (or ex-employees) can unite to create a powerful, but inaccurate picture that fails accurately to represent the views of the much larger general user base.

Fake Reviews Are Neither Fair nor Just…

Readers who find a review via an online search are entitled to expect an accurate reflection of a user’s experience, written by that user. In a perfect world, a true review would accurately and fully fulfill that search intent.

But fake reviews are not, in fact, reviews. They are actually sales pages disguised as reviews.

If you sense that this borderlines on fraud, so does Amazon which has suffered from fake reviews for several years:

Since the beginning of 2015, the company has filed lawsuits against more than 1,000 people in relation to this issue, taking on both those who offer to sell fake reviews as well as those who buy them.(5)

The US Federal Trade Commission and consumer protection groups are increasingly interested in stopping this rampant practice with lawsuits. And it’s not just an issue in the US:

“International collaboration is increasingly important for enforcement agencies combating deceptive practices online.” (6)

Following the FTC’s lead, it’s very likely that more class action by other, smaller companies will follow.

Conclusions

Fake reviews can be a short-term, high-yield strategy. But they are potentially illegal and morally reprehensible.

Where large amounts of money are to be gained or lost, fraud will almost inevitably follow.  And since reviews of a product are the closest thing to purchase intent, it is for some the opportunistic vehicle of choice to rank high at search engines and, using deceptive methods, alter choice for the consumer.

Teams of well-trained affiliates can certainly create and maintain the illusion of truth over a period of time. Ultimately the truth will out, but until then they will happily do their visitors a disservice in return for juicy commissions.

Marketing an inferior product through fake reviews should be ruled out on moral grounds. It’s simply not principled knowingly to sell an inferior product to a customer.

For some, though, principles are unimportant in the rush to make money. In those cases the risk of legal action may be the only thing that stops them. Care for the customer is starting to motivate honorable companies to follow that path.

Behaving ethically may be a slower road to success. But ultimately, it’s the right road.  You may earn less money by giving the best product the best review, but the road to long-term online success is by OVERdelivering high-value content to your visitor.

In upcoming articles in this series on fake reviews, you’ll also find out how and why a business based on fake reviews can suddenly crash to zero, even without any legal action against you.

Want to be informed when we publish the next parts of this 4-part series? Sign up below!

Ken Evoy (CEO, SiteSell)
Ken Evoy is the Founder, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of SiteSell Inc. He is the creator of SBI!, SiteSell's comprehensive Web business-building system. Ken is also a successful inventor, author, and emergency physician. He feels strongly that solopreneurs can be empowered by leveraging their income building potential online.
  • Harvey Chapman

    Great article. I’m fascinated by reviews, particularly Amazon reviews in the Kindle Store.

    Read just about any book on independent publishing and the mantra is that “reviews are king.” No reviews for your book? You’re sunk, buddy!

    Inevitably this leads to all sorts of questionable advice on how to get those reviews — advice that will get you out of the “no reviews = no sales = no reviews” Catch-22.

    The smarter thinkers (and there’s a few of those) argue that reviews are NOT the most important thing – the QUALITY of the book is.

    Yes, reviews matter on Amazon. Without generally favourable social proof, you are indeed sunk. But…

    1) A few reviews are no good to you. (Amazon is smart enough to know that anyone with half a brain can get a “friend of a friend” to put up a review & that Amazon will not spot it as fake.) Therefore…

    2) What counts (if you want to ride high in the Amazon algorithm) is a LOT of reviews, and for that you need a LOT of sales.

    (The laws of probability state that you’ll get something like one organic review per 100 sales, and one organic review per 1,000 giveaways. So if you get 50 “friends of friends” to write a review but you’ve only made a couple of hundred sales, Amazon will smell a rat.)

    3) To make a LOT of sales, you need a quality product. (And some marketing savvy, too, to get out of that Catch-22 in the first place.)

    Bottom line? Both Amazon and Amazon’s customers are smart enough NOT to be swayed by a few (probably) FAKE reviews. So for a writer, the only way to win in the long run is to write great books, market them well, and let the reviews take care of themselves.

    Reviews on Google are a different beast. If a typical Amazon customer is most swayed by dozens or, ideally, hundreds of generally positive reviews (rather than by half a dozen “5-star” reviews), a Google user can’t be swayed in the same way, for obvious reasons.

    There’s also a difference between “online reviews” and “online consumer reviews.”

    The conclusion of the 2016 survey you quoted was that “84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.” Interesting. But the question in that survey was “Do you trust online CONSUMER reviews as much as personal recommendations?”

    I only mention that because there’s a clear difference between someone reading a review on a retailer’s website (more likely to be a CUSTOMER review) vs. someone reading a review they found in the Google SERPs (more likely to be a MARKETING review, fake or otherwise).

    I wonder if there’s any research that digs into this difference. Of the 84% who “trust online reviews,” how many trust customer reviews and how many marketing reviews? Are they aware of the difference?

    My guess (and it’s no more than that) is that individual reviews sourced through the SERPs are more likely to be distrusted.

    For me, if I searched Google for [Company X reviews], I’d be more persuaded by a result from Company X itself that boasted 262 reviews, say, than any individual review on an independent website. The page with 262 reviews is one I’d want to read, particularly if it looked like a natural mix of genuine reviews when I clicked through.

    • Great comments, Harvey. Thanks very much for those thoughts.

      I agree largely and disagree in a couple of spots.

      You correctly draw a line between review-aggregators like Amazon and standalone web page reviews. The aggregators have had problems but they either have them under control, or will soon…

      They have no choice – the best aggregators have the best spam control = the most trustable reviews = the winner! So there’s a natural and continual “fix it” impetus, as covered earlier in my post.

      So yes, there’s more inherent trust in “authority retailers” with excellent, well-controlled reviews.

      But that doesn’t mean that the standalone fake review web pages fail. It’s mixed, worse in niches that “deserve” to be distrusted. And ours, unfortunately, deserves it.

      And yet, WA affiliates have shown that fake reviews work.

      Standalone pages are, as you noted, Google’s “job.” Right now, they are delivering some of THE WORST possible pages when they return FAKE review.

      When someone searches for “bluetooth speak review” or (even closer to the sale) “Bose bluetooth speak review,” Google decides what we see.

      For big brand consumer products like that, and when it’s in a niche where there are a several “BigCo” review sites AND some fantastic solopreneur-built sites, it’s going to be hard for the scam artist to penetrate. (Try the search yourself.)

      The companies who build speakers are not likely to tell their affiliates, “Go forth and multiply with tons of fake reviews about other filters.” Their aff programs, or those of big retailers, would likely discipline those who do something illegal.

      So there’s that – the volume of fake reviews is way less, too.

      If a rake did, though, get into the Top 10, I see no reason that this would be less trustable ***IF the content was excellent and smoothly moved the reader over to “HIS” high-paying affiliate product.***

      Of course, it s/he ever praise what the experts consider junk and recommended junk for the high commission, s/he’d get tons of negative feedback from others in the niche. This type of behavior isn’t accepted in niches like this.

      As Shep mentioned, we’re seeing more fakes in other industries. The trend is spreading outward from “spam/scam central” (i.e., niches such as “make money,” pain, terminal illness, weight loss, etc.). But it’s got a long way to go in some niches.

      Where the fake technique exists in the the “real world” of “real niches,” it’s probably easier to fool someone with a vacuum cleaner review. There are a ton of audiophiles, but how many people live and die for vacuum cleaners?

      Still, it’s something we use. The average person is more comfortable with assessing reviews of vc’s than of online-business building products.

      I mean, if you look at the quality of some of the WA affiliate fake reviews, they are so bad – rehashes of old material, myths, facts taken right off our site, ANYTHING. They aren’t meant to be “real” reviews…

      They are sacrificial lambs.

      You can’t do that with a vacuum cleaner.

      So which average person would be harder to fool?…

      – the woman reading what SEEMS to be a really well-done, but fake, review?

      -OR-

      – the same woman reading a poor fake review of SBI!?

      It’s probably hard to say since so many variables change. But I couldn’t say for sure that fake reviews would work better in one area than another.

      Although cynical people are harder to fool, there are always loads of innocents and “the recurring gullible” who’ll fall for a new trick in our online business niche. One review may not be enough to do it…

      But when you find 2, 3, and more, all reviewing SBI! but recommending SBI!, it works. It’s easy to tell from their sales numbers. On the other hand, their attrition numbers are high, too, which tells you quite a bit…

      1) The trick works

      2) Smarter folks figure it out within 4-5 months.

      The rest, those who stick? They go on to get the results we show in our study…

      http://www.sitesell.com/wealthy-affiliate-review.html

      If the retailer is like most, you can send it back and get a refund. WA doesn’t refund. And I listed earlier the greater pain in failure, in addition to the money.

      Bottom line is that yes, folks searching for how to build an online business or “make money” or “affiliate marketing” do fall for these types of strategies. Right now, enough of a high volume of fake review rank for our product (and a bunch of others).

      And I’ve spotted fake reviews in other areas. If they’re good enough to get into the Top 10, they’re likely good enough to “make fake look good.”

      Google’s Panda or RankBrain (or both) will catch up to it. Until then, here’s what I’d love to see…

      A “Stake the Fake” organization (name is a work-in-progress 😉 ).

      Who knows, maybe a great idea will emerge in this thread! How could be band together and police fake reviews? 🙂

      P.S. Yes, your story of “selling a book on Amazon is a Catch 22” is particularly relevant. The ONLY real way to long term success online, ANYWHERE, AT ANYTHING, is…

      KEEP IT REAL. Or, to state it in a way that some may understand better..

      STAKE YOUR FAKE. This is a strategY that has only worked short term. The company that trains you to do it may do very well. But ultimately, the solopreneur ends up crushed – they won’t be there to defend you against a lawsuit.

      Thanks, Harvey. Complex topic when you go beyond the obvious niches. Some will be very fake-resistant. Others less so. Which is easier or harder to “do well?”

      Hard to say.

      • Harvey Chapman

        Thanks for your interesting reply, Ken. Actually, I think I owe you an apology…

        Until today, I had reservations about the idea of fighting FAKE with REAL. Three reasons…

        1) I have an inbuilt resistance to putting anyone else or anything else down. I’m all in favour of writing about how SBI! has transformed my life. I’m not in favour of saying, in addition, that WA is the devil’s spawn. That’s just not cricket. 😉

        2) Um… I didn’t devote much time to reading the WA Study in detail. Too busy to spend hours reading it, which probably led to missing important parts.

        3) I’ve never been on the receiving end of a fake review. Well, maybe for a poor ebook, but who cares about wasting a dollar or two? For important purchases like cars or TVs, the Google SERPs have always served me well. But then, as you pointed out, the fakers haven’t polluted niches like that.

        For SBI!, I never searched for a review. I was a Net newbie back then (in 2008) and searching for reviews didn’t even occur to me.

        So what’s changed? I took the time to actually do some searches and read the results. Instead of assuming that Ken was banging on about a problem that (in my world) didn’t exist, I searched and researched with no preconceptions… and was shocked!

        I was shocked at the clever manipulation in some reviews. And I was shocked at some of the garbage in others (why are barely literate, keyword stuffed pages getting a top 10 listing in 2017?!?)

        One particularly pernicious one claimed to “expose” WA — but of course did anything but.

        Bottom line? You’ve won me over, albeit somewhat late. Sorry for being slow to catch on. 🙂

        I’ll do my bit to counter this with REAL review.

        Not sure how to help with your STAKE-FAKE idea. All I do know, from the Kindle world, is that fakers weren’t finally dissuaded from doing what they did until a high profile author (John Locke) had his career trashed for buying fake reviews.

        Nobody was going to stop their fakery when fakery worked. But when the “bought reviews” scandal scared the s**t out of them — they quickly stopped then!

        • Harvey, we’re not putting anyone down. Here’s the sequence…

          1) WA affiliates are writing fake reviews about SBI!. This is to pull folks (interested in SBI!) who are doing their due diligence to make sure that SBI! is as good as we claim it is.

          Some reviews trash SBI!, others are kind and SEEM to be objective. One common element is that they are all low-value content that don’t really provide an honest, balanced, original-content review, let alone by a legit user.

          The main common element is that they mislead folks into believing they are “reviews,” but the real goal is to recommend WA as #1, in other words as the better product.

          Let’s boil that down.

          Folks think they are reading an honest SBI! review. They are actually in a WA sales funnel.

          It’s not only immoral, but illegal.

          2) We responded with a study. As always, we’re driven by data.

          We didn’t fight back with insults or opinions about how we were obviously better. We didn’t put them down, even though WA affiliates leave a strong collective impression that WA is better — all without a shred of proof.

          Despite that, our response was to do a Study and see who really is better.

          We can’t help what the numbers say. The conclusions are clear.

          We are happy with the results, of course. And we’re going to market them, part of which involves REAL reviews.

          But I’m getting ahead of myself…

          The study is honest, rigorous and anyone can do that study (or hire a programmer to do it for them). That means that we could not lie about any of the data, even if we wanted to.

          For example, if I was WA, I’d repeat the study. And I’d get the exact same results (plus or minus minor random deviations, as we showed toward the bottom of Part 3 of The Study). WA has not reported any study of their own. No matter how you slice it, SBI! generates much more success.

          As I said, we’re going to market that study. So, for the first time ever, we’ve asked SBIers to write reviews, REAL ones. I hated to do that because SBIers have websites about writing novels (i.e., you! 🙂 ) or about Anguilla (my daughter).

          Your visitors are not looking to start a whole online business. They want to learn how to write and are planning a vacation. THAT is why I hated to ask. It’s a distraction for you and every SBIer.

          As you know, our main mission, the thing that drives everything else, is to focus 100% of your time on YOUR business. WA distracts folks so much with “busy work,” on activities that benefit THEM but not the solopreneur. And it has steadily built their search traffic, a 2nd major contributor to sales.

          But solopreneurs really should be putting all their time into THEIR sites. That’s why we “auto-update,” following so many outside resources to keep SBI! up to data and pass along a rare nugget that is good enough to both work AND stick (i.e., isn’t some sort of manipulation or fakery).

          Asking SBIers to write reviews was not an easy call for us to make, but those fake reviews intercept folks at a key moment in the sales cycle. We WANT folks who, on their own, do the extra work of checking us out.

          This problem was only going to get worse. So we had little choice but to make a one-time ask that would have a long-term benefit. We were honest about it, repeating frequently that there’s little or no money in this for them.

          It’s about supporting a product that has enabled SBIers to do something that very few
          WA users do – succeed.

          So we’re “battling” FAKE with REAL. But we’re not asking anyone to say anything bad about WA. Let the reviews speak for themselves.

          For more info, I’ve written a ton about this in Part 1 of The Study (especially in the comments – phew! 😉 )…

          http://www.sitesell.com/blog/2017/05/wealthy-affiliate-review.html#disqus_thread

          And then it got even MORE important…

          This became a much bigger issue as we really dug into what’s happening online, going way beyond WA.

          We went deep. I have become pretty upset about the whole state of affairs of just how spammy and scammy the whole family of niches has become (“make money” and various “old school” Net marketing areas such as “affiliate marketing” and ” email marketing,” etc).

          The leaches have invaded and are taking over, so many products that won’t deliver, so much really clever sales copy. And it’s not just the old “direct marketing” low-lifes. Major corporations are after the solopreneur market, some making (more subtle) promises.

          So we plan to extend “The Study” into an entire series of studies (same caliber) that takes the pulse of solopreneurship.

          As you know, the only reason that I still work at this is because I believe that the Net provides an incredible opportunity for “everday people” to start a business that SUCCEEDS.

          There is now a mega-industry that feeds off them, while offering little back in the way of HELP that enables them to win online. Some really big ones suggest (more subtly than WA) that it’s easy to build an online biz.

          It’s not. We need to reach the industry and stimulate them to care, to spend some money and do what we do.

          I don’t care if we spawn competitors that eventually do it better than us. If we can sensitize Wix, GoDaddy, etc to make a true effort (not a “Tools and articles included” BS afterthought), this will have been an unfortunate event that turns into a huge win for solopreneurs in general.

          Solopreneurs deserve much better than they get. SBI! is the only product that delivers success at rates and levels as high as we do. And it’s all proven in a VERIFIABLE manner on our proof pages (see proof.sitesell.com) and now on our head-to-head study vs. WA.

          Personally, I find that (us alone doing this) to be unacceptable. I’ll be putting more of my time, along with CMO Mike Allton, into getting the word out about SBI! in more effective ways.

          But we also want to stimulate the big players to do better.

          If there’s any “put-down” in all of that, Harvey, it’s only because the truth hurts. That said…

          Reviews MUST be REAL. No one should “attack” WA, there’s no need for that. If they warn others about fake reviews, it helps protect the would-be solopreneur.

          But stick to the truth always.

          As onne of SBI!’s prime principles says…

          “Keep it real.” 🙂

          I hope that helps put it into this perspective…

          1) They started it (to quote every grade 3 kid in the world 😉 )

          2) We’re replying with facts.

          3) We want to take this much further than WA.

  • Great info. Most people don’t realize it, but there are review sites and opportunities in virtually every industry. Thanks for sharing your insights.

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