If a beauty product has over 100 five-star ratings, it used to mean that the people of the internet had deemed it a good bet. But after popular skin-care brand Sunday Riley admitted to encouraging its employees to post positive reviews on shopping sites, the practice of “fake reviews” is getting more attention.
We all know reviews can’t always be trusted, but most of us still rely on them to figure out what to buy. So how do you spot the fakes? This extensive Reddit thread lists some ways to narrow it down. Below, we applied it to an actual online review to see how it works.
We pulled this from the Sephora review section of a lipstick by a well-known brand:
This lipstick is my newest obsession. The color is my perfect neutral lip and it goes great with almost any eye look I do and compliments my yellow undertones very nicely. It’s a perfect matte for the wintertime/dry seasons, when my lips are severely lacking in moisture but I still want a matte finish. It does not emphasize texture or dryness on my lips. I wouldn’t say it’s super long-lasting, but the texture is gorgeous and it is incredibly lightweight. I had to check my mirror a few times during the day to make sure it was still on there. All in all this is a really great lipstick and I will definitely be buying more shades.
Hard to tell, right? Let’s put it to the test.
1. Does the review use familiar, conversational language?
Does it sound like something you’d say to a friend? Or is it full of beauty buzzwords and jargon? One sentence in particular here stood out to us:
“The color is my perfect neutral lip and it goes great with almost any eye look I do and compliments my yellow undertones very nicely.”
“Neutral lip.” “Eye look.” “Yellow undertones.” We’re suspicious.
2. Does it repeat words awkwardly?
There’s a reason for that. Reddit user lmfbs calls attention to this common practice:
If you see reviews with a bunch of SEO terms, it’s a good tell. Often reviewers will be forced to use somewhat weird grammar and repeat phrases or words to help SEO. So if you see a review that says ‘pigment’ AND ‘pigmented’, as well as say, ‘moisturising’ AND ‘hydrating’ I’d be suspicious.
Our example review uses “lips” and “lipstick” a total of five times. It uses “matte” twice. It also uses both “dry” and “dryness”. This is an SEO gold mine if you were to Google, say, “matte lipstick not dry.”
3. Is it at least 100–150 words long?
This is another SEO-boosting trick. If you feel like you’re reading the same sentence that’s been slightly reworded three times, it’s definitely a red flag. This review clocks in at 118 words … hmm.
4. Does it specifically list something that’s been dinged as a downside of the product in other reviews?
Sometimes fake reviews purposefully refute negative claims from other real reviews. This was literally a directive given by Sunday Riley to its employees.
The negative reviews for this lipstick usually point out that it’s “patchy”, “dry”, and “too thick to apply easily.” Let’s go back to our review:
The texture is gorgeous and it is incredibly lightweight.
5. Has the author reviewed a lot of other products?
Other tip-offs that a Sephora review might be fake is if the reviewer only writes reviews for one brand, or if they’re listed as an “Insider”, “VIB”, or “Rouge” member. You can click on a Sephora reviewer and see their profile, which includes all their reviews.
6. Does it pass the Fakespot test?
Fakespot is a handy website that’s like the Snopes of the product review world. All you have to do is enter the Amazon link of any review, and it assesses the likelihood that it’s fake. I tried it out on a well-known drugstore brand, and this is the report I got back:
Wow, an F! That is bad. Fakespot, tell me more, please.
Yikes, only 33 percent of reviews are reliable? The breakdown of why this review received such a terrible rating is really helpful:
So there you have it.
There is no perfect way to tell if a review is fake, but there are some excellent tools out there to help you in your quest for the truth. The moral of the story is that if something seems too good to be true, it could be. Except apple cider doughnuts. Those are real, and they’re delicious.