Business is always competitive. You can rarely find businesses that are sole occupants in their niche, or have such dominance over a niche, that they don’t have to compete. But even if you’d be able to find such a business, you would probably notice that they have to improve and adapt to changing norms, social mores, consumer expectations, or regulatory frameworks. To have a business is to be in a constant state of struggle. It only makes sense that businesses will, at least occasionally, look for shortcuts to minimize the resources they need to achieve certain goals or to improve the outcome of certain activities. And what of the shortcuts businesses like taking in this digital era is buying fake reviews?

Why Risk Buying Fake Reviews?

Exactly why a business would decide that buying fake reviews might be worth the risk is impossible to determine. But it’s much easier to figure out is why a business would pay a lot of attention to their reviews. And it’s not that hard to see why a business would like to have more control over their reviews, either.

Reviews are incredibly important in the digital business landscape. Good reviews are an important trust signal, to the point when having too many bad ones can quantifiably affect your business. Your business’ bottom line will show that you can too many bad reviews. Having few or no reviews will also affect the bottom line, so you have to have reviews.

At the same time, reviews are unpredictable. You have no control over who posts them and for what reason. Some review websites will give you the opportunity to dispute reviews you deem fraudulent. For the most part, however, you have no choice except to try to manage the bad ones the best you can.

How Things Can Go Sideways

Businesses might decide to buy fake reviews because they want more reviews, and they want more control over the types of reviews they get. A black-hat marketing company can achieve that goal — it can provide positive reviews for businesses in exchange for money. And it can work perfectly well until you get caught.

It should come as no surprise that Google and other review businesses aren’t too happy when they notice bad reviews. They are probably used to people trying to game their systems, so they know where to look. And though some review websites might put little effort into ensuring the authenticity of reviews, you can bet that the big companies care. And Google is one of the biggest in the field.

Getting slapped with a penalty from Google is one of the scarier things that can happen to businesses that rely heavily on their online presence. Google doesn’t care how much money you spend on Google Ads — if it sees you trying to game its system, it will penalize you. If it doesn’t do it today, it will do it soon.

You should also know that, according to the Federal Trade Commission, leaving fake reviews is an illegal activity. If the black-hat marketing business you’ve been using gets taken down by law enforcement, it will take you down with it. You can count on that.

The Best Way to Avoid Fake Reviews

There’s no denying that your business needs an online review. If you’re running a brick-and-mortar shop, Google reviews are particularly valuable to you. You should go the extra mile to secure good reviews and manage the bad ones, as long as that doesn’t entail black-hat techniques like buying fake reviews.

If you’re having trouble getting reviews, asking customers for a review can change your situation significantly. If you ask at the right time and in the right way, people will be happy to help you achieve your business goals by setting aside a couple of minutes to leave a review. You’d be surprised.

You can also offer incentives for reviews. Discounts, giveaways, even competitions are in play. Just remember that you can’t request a good review — you can incentivize people to leave reviews, but you can’t affect what they want to say about your business.

Learning how to handle bad reviews might take some time, but it’s incredibly important that you do it. The only defense you have against bad reviews is, most of the time, your ability to respond. In some cases, an apology is the best way to handle a bad review. In other cases, however, going after the person who left the review might be called for, if you have proof that their review was untrue or malicious.

All of this doesn’t require much money, but it can take up a lot of your time. And time is a valuable resource, probably even more valuable than money. So if you really want to master the review game, you should do yourself a favor and use a review management solution. It will leave you more time to focus on other business-critical activities.