No one likes to make a bad choice, so we hunt for quality options and the best bargains. We do our research, ask around, and go online.
There are others that want you to make their choice, however:
- Company employees asked to write positive reviews.
- People that submit reviews for a gift or incentive.
- Services for hire that will generate reviews.
- Trolls that give poor reviews without seeing a movie.
- Bad reviews that benefit a competitor.
They do it for good reasons. A working paper on Yelp restaurant reviews by the Harvard Business School found a one-star increase in rating leads to a 5-9 percent increase in revenue. And, Pew Research Center reported 82 percent of Americans read online reviews, while 84% of consumers in a BrightLocal survey said they can’t always spot a fake review.
Sites try to self-police as best they can. The review site RottenTomatoes.com made changes to their audience scores to add a verified ratings category for just ticket purchasers. So, how can you know that online ratings are reliable?
Look at the language on reviews. Warning flags include multiple reviews; bad spelling and grammar; unusual or unnatural phrasing; using the complete product name or promoting a competitor; frequent use of “I” and “me”; relying more on verbs than nouns; and reviews in ALL CAPS.
Compare reviews. If the same phrases are used repeatedly or if a number of ratings appear over a short period of time, be suspicious. Clicking on reviewers to see what else they have rated can help spot a phony.
Use the “too good to be true?” test. If there are fantastic reviews for an off-brand product at a fraction of the cost, “it probably is.”
Two free tools help you spot fakes by pasting the review URL at their site. Both offer browser extensions and phone apps.
Fakespot.com analyzes reviews including Amazon, Walmart, TripAdvisor, and Yelp. It returns a grade for the review page, grades similar products, and includes a price history.
ReviewMeta.com, just for Amazon, filters out suspicious reviews after analyzing the page, adjusts for bias, and gives an adjusted score. A detailed analysis can be requested by email.
Because it is impossible to be completely accurate, results for the two don’t always agree, but they each can help you make more informed choices.
Ken Satterfield is a former media specialist and current Word&Way marketing coordinator.
How to Spot Fake Online Reviews (Inside the Customer Experience)
Do Not Trust That Stranger’s 5-Star Review (New York Times)