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Unnatural Reviews and Why We Don’t Use the Word “Fake”

April 28th, 2016

“…this may indicate that the reviews are not naturally occurring…”

“…the reviews appear natural…”

You may see language like this used often on our site, but rarely the word “fake”.  It’s not because we’re trying to be nice, or because we’re trying to avoid defamation, but because reviews aren’t binary: there’s more to review than just “fake” and “real”.

First, let’s define what we mean by “natural reviews”.

In a perfect world, reviewers would leave honest feedback on products based solely on the merits of the product.Their motive for writing reviews would be purely altruistic: to help their fellow customers.  

Sadly, that’s not the world we live in. Yes, there are plenty of honest reviewers out there, however some reviewers are affected by a level of bias that not everyone can recognize.

If all of the reviews for a product were natural, you’d expect to see a diverse sample of reviewers. You’d see some newer reviewers and some experienced reviewers.You’d see short reviews, some long reviews and some reviews in the middle.You’d expect them to appear evenly over the life of the product, and not just on a few different days.

In a nutshell, if there was no manipulation, you’d see some pretty predictable patterns.  However, when a brand tries to inject their influence, you start to see some unnatural patterns arise – which may not always be caused by “fake” reviews.

There is a whole spectrum of unnatural reviews.

At one end of the spectrum, you have the textbook “fake” reviews.  A fake review would be defined as someone who has never actually used the product but claims they have. We can easily see how these reviews are a deliberate manipulation of the system, so let’s move on.

A step down from “fake” reviews, you have reviews that are written by the company themselves.  Yes, they may have technically used the product, but you can’t expect someone who is that invested to be reviewing their own product critically.  Personally we’ve heard company reps complain “But it’s not a fake review!  I actually used my own product and love it!”.  Clearly they aren’t seeing their own bias.

There’s also the diehard brand fan who has drank the Kool-Aid, completely bought into all the marketing hype and gives all of a brand’s products a perfect score. Then you have the professional reviewers who want to collect as many free items as possible so they hand out dozens of perfect reviews a day in exchange for freebies. And then there’s the reviewer who signed up, posted a dozen unverified reviews in one day and then never returns. Are these reviews fake?  That’s impossible to tell, but are they suspicious and unnatural? Absolutely.

Ultimately we’re thinking in terms of “Natural Vs. Unnatural” rather than “Fake Vs. Real”.

At ReviewMeta we expect reviews to be natural: they should have predictable patterns that we can easily identify. Since we know what natural reviews look like, it is easy for us to find clues that indicate when reviews might be unnatural. Whether they are straight up fake, written by the rep, or otherwise hand-selected, it still shows signs of manipulation, likely from someone with a vested interest in seeing the product succeed, blurring the lines of honest customer feedback and a sales pitch.