Have you ever made a decision to purchase an item, or use a service based on positive reviews from an online review website?
More and more consumers rely on online reviews, based on fellow consumer’s experiences, in order to make their buying decisions. Large and small businesses rely on reviews to help build their reputation as a trusted industry leader. Both assume that online review websites manage the reviews to ensure that consumers aren’t misled. Unfortunately, even though consumers expect online reviews to be legit, it’s not always the case. As a matter of fact, these days you can bet that a significant amount of online review websites are fake or have a considerable amount of fake reviews (upwards of 18%).
Not like fake Grass.
There’s a name given to fake reviews. Astroturfing (no, not the green lawn replacement you may be familiar of) it’s when a reviewer writes a fake review on behalf of their sponsored company. This company rewards the reviewer with payments, items of value or a gift card. Just imagine this for a moment. University students struggling to pay for their education are given a reward by one of the university’s football team sponsors to write bad reviews of the sponsor’s opposition. Over a course of a few months or a year there are thousands of bad reviews to that opposition. Their reputation is tarnished and their sales suffer, soon that company shuts shop. Although this is just an example, such simular events have happened and sponsoring companies have faced huge penalties.
But how Influential are Online Reviews really?
Obviously, you shouldn’t believe every online review you read. That said, approximately 80% of consumers actually trust online review sites, almost as much as they do personal recommendations. In most cases, older consumers (baby boomers) aren’t as trusting as younger consumers who have grown up tapping and scrolling away on their computers, tablets or smartphones, browsing through review after reviews and making their buying decisions based on what they read on the review websites.
Can reviews be beneficial?
The positive side to online reviews is that they can boost search engine results, can be a positive form of advertising for a business and provide the kind of extended exposure that you might never be able to accomplish or afford through conventional marketing channels. The problem is that negative reviews also get this exposure and most of us, if we’ve been in business for a significant amount of time, are bound to have a couple. A few negative reviews actually can make the positives look more realistic and if the business shows compassion and tries to provide a positive outcome, it can also work in favour for the business.
What to look out for.
Although online review websites are popping up all the time, consumers should stick to the more established ones. Unfortunately, even some of these sites can’t be fully trusted or a large number of reviews on such sites. As a matter of fact, one of the sites that have been touted as one of the most “trusted” (a U.S. review site), relies on individuals to post negative reviews so that they can give the option to the business reviewed to have that negitive review removed or pushed down the list for a considerable amount of cost. Talk about a complete scam!
Determining Which Reviews are the most Trustworthy.
The volume of reviews on these websites can be mind-boggling. For instance, TripAdvisor has over 150 million reviews posted by users on its site. Yelp has over 57 million local reviews. So how do you know which of these online review sites can be trusted and which you should ignore? The following information will help guide you through the “review” maze.
Read Several Reviews on a Number of Review Websites.
If you’re dying to book that cruise, hire a landscaper or buy a product before the sale ends, you should still take the time to do your research, reading a lot of reviews before you form an opinion about the review site and decide if it is trustworthy. Most consumers make a decision after only reading a few reviews. Do yourself a favour and don’t skimp when it comes to making a buying decision. Take the time to compare reviews on several sites to determine whether or not there’s a trend.
Check Out the Reviewers Profile.
Look at the reviewers other reviews to get a feel for whether or not you can trust what they have to say. Be especially wary of first time or one time reviewers as well because chances are they’ve been paid to post their review. Read through the reviewer’s posts on businesses, products and services, other than the one you’re considering. It’s also a good idea to search for the reviewer on Google and/or social media sites because some online review sites require people to sign into their Facebook account before posting reviews.
Be Sceptical of Reviews with Similar Wording.
Reviews that contain similar wording for several products or services are a good sign that they’re “paid for” reviews. In addition, if the reviewer uses targeted wording that’s beneficial to consumers that are searching for a specific product, they may be working as a paid blog writer for the product’s owner/service provider.
Be Wary of “Extreme” Reviews.
You already know that some reviewers are going to either hate, love, or have neutral feelings about a restaurant, hotel or service provider – that’s to be expected. What isn’t normal is if the reviewer goes over the top with their reviews, to the extreme, through their positive or negative remarks. If this is the case, they’ve probably been given incentive for posting the review. Examples would be their competition posting negative reviews, or the reviewer being compensated for posting a positive review.
Every online review posted by your customers is a kind of promotion for your business. Your brand and product are exposed to readers, raising their awareness of who you are and what you have to offer. Similar to social media, online review sites provide you with the chance to establish a closer relationship with consumers. You are likely to be able to read reviews from an array of customers, many that may not have shared their opinions about your business otherwise. You’ll also be able to reply to positive and negative reviews in many cases, showing consumers that you’re interested in what they have to say. Through your replies, your customers and potential customers have the opportunity to get to know you as an individual, not just a business.
While reviewers are required to disclose if they are affiliated to the company, some businesses have friends and family write reviews, or pay other people to write glowing reviews for them, presenting them as impartial recommendations, when in truth they are deceiving fakes (Astroturfing). It can be challenging to tell if an online review is trustworthy or not, but taking the time to do some research online will provide you with more insight.