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The Truth in Online Reviews

February 13th, 2013 by Troy Newport


Many of us look at online reviews when trying to decide whether or not to buy a product.  eBay may have brought the online customer review into the mainstream consciousness.  At least for me, it was a critical part of deciding whether or not I trusted a seller.  These days there are customer reviews attached to everything:  Google Places for Business (aka Google +), Yelp, TripAdvisor, Expedia, Amazon.   If we lived in an honest world these reviews would be extremely helpful.  Unfortunately there are some out there who forge reviews in their favor, or leave unfavorable reviews on their competitors.  As a consumer this can be misleading and confusing.  Here are a few tips to help determine if a review is fake or not.

Anonymous Reviews
Anonymous reviews should almost immediately spark some skepticism.  If someone isn’t willing to put their name on their review, how valid is that review?  With the merging  of Google reviews into Google +, now when you leave a Google review it puts your profile picture on the review.  This tremendously adds to the credibility of the reviews.

Polar Reviews
Extremely positive or negative reviews should be met with skepticism.  Any product has positive and negative qualities.  A review that does not acknowledge any positive or negative qualities may not be unbiased.

Single Reviews
When you read a review, click on the reviewer’s profile and see if they’ve contributed reviews for other businesses or products.  If you see the profile only left one review (especially if it’s an anonymous reviewer) you can guess it isn’t legit.

Lumped Reviews
If you see a bunch of reviews lumped around a particular date, especially if they are all positive or negative, may be faked.  However, if you see sporadic reviews over a long period of time you can likely put more credence into them.

Technical Reviews
Reviews that sound like they came directly out of a sales brochure from the company, or contain industry technical jargon should raise a red flag.  Real customers will talk about emotions and how a product solved a problem.

Companies have been paying for good reviews for a number of years.  The FTC ruled in 2009 that companies paying for reviews without disclosing the reviewer was compensated constitutes deceptive advertising, and the companies can be prosecuted for such practices.  Yelp publicly outed companies for paying for reviews last year.   You can guess companies are already trying to find ways to game Facebook’s Social Graph and get sponsored reviews out into social media land.  So keep your critical thinking caps on, dear internet user.  Trust but verify!

 

 

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