Tips for evaluating online reviews


How do you know whether to trust online reviews and comments?

- Mary


This question was answered on June 2, 2011. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

One of the promises of the Internet was to give everyone a voice and today, anyone can say anything on just about anything from just about anywhere.

Mobile devices, social networks, review sites and the ability to comment on just about anything that get's posted has created a massive wave of user generated content that is now seemingly everywhere.

And let's face it; we all love word-of-mouth referrals when we are trying to make decisions, so learning how to digest all this new 'noise' can make the information invaluable.

Here are some basic tips:

Tip #1: Never base your decision on a single voice - The term 'astroturfing' was coined to describe posts or comments made by someone with an agenda  

Fake reviewers are flooding the Internet with comments that they portray as real customers, but in fact are associated with the entity being reviewed (overly positive) or a competitor (overly negative).

Tip #2: The truth is usually in the middle - Much like our political landscape, there are extremists on both ends, but reality tends to live somewhere in the middle.

Take overly positive or negative comments with a grain of salt (especially if there are only a handful of total reviews) and focus on the ones in between.

Tip #3: Dig into the negative comments - If you only look at the summary rating of all the comments, you could be missing out on the real info.

For example, my wife was researching hotels in the coastal hill towns of Italy and came across an amazing looking budget hotel that only got a rating of 7 out of 10 (most of the surrounding options were getting 8's & 9's).

When she read the negative comments, they all had the same complaint about how many stairs they had to climb to get around the area (in an ancient hill town, really?!?) 

By digging a little, she found that the review ratings for the actual facilities and views were spectacular resulting in a great find that many would have just passed over.

Tip #4: Check a reviewer's other reviews - One of the easiest ways to uncover 'astroturfing' especially with overly negative comments is to see what else that person has posted.

We had someone post a negative review about one of our stores, which obviously caused us great concern  When we couldn't find any service records for the incident that they claimed they had,  we checked to see what other reviews this person had posted.

We quickly determined it was a small competitor because he posted similar negative comments on many different computer service company's profiles in the same date range and often referred to his own company as a better option.

You can also determine if a reviewer is just negative about everything in life no matter what they are reviewing (food, services, hotels, etc.) and take their comments with a grain of salt.

Tip #5: The more, the better - The more comments on a single profile or item, the less effective astroturfing by those with an agenda will be, so seek out resources that have lots of user comments

If no single source has more than a handful of comments, try to find several other sites that have comments on the same item, service or profile so you get a large enough crowd to pull info from.

Lastly, remember those with an ax to grind are far more motivated to post comments than those that had a good or great experience, so be wary when only glowing reviews exist and seeing how the entity responds to negative comments can be very telling as well!

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Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on June 2, 2011