Can you trust an online review?

Are you looking to buy a new TV?  Or maybe looking to try a new restaurant?  So many of us (myself included) jump right to online reviews (Yelp, Amazon, Angie’s List, etc…) to find out the real scoop about a product, a restaurant, hotel, business, etc…

Unfortunately what you read can’t always be trusted, as the State of New York is pointing out.  The state’s attorney general just announced details about a year long sting focused on companies that posted “fake” reviews of products and services, for a marketing fee.

(Reuters) – Nineteen companies caught writing fake reviews on websites such as Yelp, Google Local and CitySearch have been snared in a year-long sting operation by the New York Attorney General, and will pay $350,000 in penalties.

But before you lose faith in online reviews, let me offer you three ways to help determine if a product or service is worth your time and money:

  1. First, be a little cautious of products/services/companies that may only have a few reviews appearing online (AND even more so if all of those reviews are incredibly positive.)
  2. Second, websites like Amazon will often note right next to the review if the reviewer actually bought the product (Amazon labels the review “Amazon Verified Purchase”), which means there is a higher chance that this reviewer actually bought the product.
  3. Lastly, remember when you were in school and some teachers graded your tests using a simple bell curve?  Try the same thing with online reviews; take a step back and look at all the reviews and determine if they are leaning in one direction or the other. Then try ignoring the most positive and the most negative reviews, to see what is left.

Of course just like in “real” life, on the web it will always be “buyer beware”.  For our clients and other businesses we recommend making it “company beware” as well – it might make sense to pay “Online SEO Consultants” to boost your SEO rankings and scores using tactics such as fake reviews.  But just like in life, over time you will most likely be found out.  And unfortunately the “web” is a lot less forgiving than people are, so if you get caught “cheating” it might cause a LOT more damage to your business than what its worth.

If something is ever too good to be true… well… you know….