Astroturfing: Fake Reviews and How to Spot Them

When you are purchasing online it’s reassuring to see a glowing array of reviews endorsing the product or service you’re about to buy. However, the reviews you are using to make a decision are being used by companies and individuals in a malicious way. This is known as “astroturfing”.

In this post we touch on the different kind of fake reviews, how to make sure your reviews are legal and most importantly how to spot a fake review.


CMA Investigation

Recently the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an investigation into fake online reviews. They found out that many businesses used fake reviews to attract visitors to their websiteor to selltheir products.

The CMA takes this issue very seriously as, in their recent investigation, 54% of customers admit to seeing reviews and taking them into account before buying a product. Moreover, about $23 billion are spent every year thanks to the influence of online reviews!

Fake reviews are punishable by law as they can mislead customers and lead to competition bias.

Different kinds of fake reviews

These fake reviews – also known as “astroturfing” – can take many forms:

  • Good reviews written by businesses to praise their own products/website/stores in order to artificially boost their ratings.
  • Bad reviews written by businesses on competitors’ review pages to lower their ratings.
  • Good reviews written by customers who have been paid by businesses to post them.


Filtered reviews

The CMA investigation found that many e-commerce websites, and third party review websites, filtered customers’ reviews by highlighting good reviews, and hiding the bad ones. Although this cannot really be considered a‘fake review’ it can still create a false impression of a product.

Filtering reviews on a websites is forbidden as it jeopardises customer’s choice. Moreover, they found that some third party review websites were being paid to only display good reviews for somebusinesses.

For example, the review website Yelp has been accused of bullying businesses by burying positive reviews and then approaching them to pay for advertising. However, the truth on this is still blurry.

Paid articles

Another issue tackled by the CMA investigation is sponsored blog posts. Some blog owners get paid by companies to post reviews of their products on their website. Sponsored blog posts must always clearly be indicated.

The reason for this is a sponsored blog post can be deceptive to readers of a certain blog, or publication. Readers may think they are being given an honest review of a product or service, but in truth the blogger has been paid to promote it.

Some advice to make sure your reviews are legal

Here are several things you have to follow to provide honest, clear and transparent reviews:

  • Publish every review – unless these reviews contain abusive or foul language. If it is the case then inform customers about the rules in order to have a review published.
  • If you check reviews before they’re published be sure to inform your customers.
  • And make sure reviews are published without a delay in order to provide customers with relevant reviews.
  • Avoid any kind of sponsored reviews – unless they are clearly identified as such.
  • Have the right tools to hunt for fake reviews – especially if you are a third-party review website.

All of these things must be taken into consideration in order to be in compliance with consumer protection legislation.

How to spot a fake review?

You may find it hard to be sureifa review is a fake or not, but here are a few tips to help you spot a fake online review.

Vague and Short

Fake reviews are almost always written to boost the ratings. Therefore, their content is generally quite short andthe review doesn’t say anything specific about the product.

In most cases a fake review only deals with the feelings of the (fake) customer,and it doesn’t say anything about the actual characteristics of a product.

If you feel the review could be applied to another product then you have reasons to doubt it’s legitimacy.

Overuse of Strong Words

Fake reviews are often overtly emotional. An overuse of exclamation marks and strong words such as “amazing” or “wonderful” should be treated as suspicious. However, a fake review written by a competitor may be full of words like “disgusting”, “awful” or “pathetic”.

Repetition of keywords

If the reviewer uses the same keywords over and over this may be the result of a bot, or someone who is trying to include as many keywords in the review for SEO reasons

Find more about the reviewer

If a review seems suspicious to you try and find out if a reviewer has also reviewed other products or services as well. If it is not the case, this review may be a fake one. On the other hand, reviewing many products in a very short time is also suspicious – especially if these reviews are very similar and for the same brand.

Did the reviewer buy the product?

On some websites – such as – you can see if the reviewer has purchased the product. If you are looking at reviews always focus on the people who have actually bought the product first before making a decision.
Unfortunately, not every e-commerce website provides this option.

Copy and Paste

If you feel a review may be fake try pasting the whole view, or at least one key sentence,into Google. Sometimes, fake reviewers write the same reviews on many different websites, so there are chances you can find them all using a search engine.

If results are not very conclusive, try to paste a sentence using inverted commas, “just like this”, into Google.This ensures that the search engine only searches for these exact words in this order.

Fake reviews can be hard to spot, and if you are looking to buy something online be sure to check a range of views from a variety of different sites. Asking your friends on social media can be a great way to find out about a product!

If you are a business always be careful to analyse reviews that have been posted about your site or products. If you do receive a bad review try and contact the customer to find out about the situation in more detail. But if you feel it’s a malicious review that has been written about you don’t be afraid to remove it.

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