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How Accurate are Online Reviews? (Part I)


Like most folks, I often look to online user review sites such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, UrbanSpoon, Amazon, and more, when making decisions regarding purchases, restaurants, and travel. In fact, I just returned from vacation where I pretty much based our entire agenda from TripAdvisor suggestions. Luckily, the tips were spot on and very helpful.

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I’d like to think of these sites as being a reliable source of honest feedback, but once in a while you find reviews that seem a bit over the top with their glowing comments. So, how often does “fluff” occur?

Fact is–fake reviews happen. Anyone can submit a post and often the sources are never verified.

TripAdvisor’s UK site recently had a 4-month long investigation conducted by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). They are the UK’s independent regulator of advertising. The ASA found several comments and reviews posted by hotel owners and others trying to boost their business and bad mouth their competition. Yikes!

TripAdvisor isn’t the only one pulling such shenanigans. Earlier this year, Amazon.com removed VIP Deals because they were basically buying their five star reviews. VIP Deals offered a sweet incentive to customers–if you bought a $10 leather Kindle Fire case, they would provide a full rebate if you submitted a review on Amazon. Before the VIP Deals page was removed from Amazon, The New York Times reported that the company (with no web site) had received 4,945 reviews with a rating of 4.9 out of five. A little obvious right?

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Sure, it’s impossible to weed out all false reviews, but some organizations are trying. TripAdvisor uses proprietary tools to check the reviews, relies on its community of more than 50 million visitors to report suspicious content, and penalizes businesses for attempts to beat the system.

Still leery of online reviews? Try Gogobot. While not as in-depth and organized as TripAdvisor, it’s a travel review site that’s been described as “Facebook for trips”. You share reviews and solicit trip ideas from (hopefully) trustworthy friends. Nice pictures too!

As with most online review sites, take feedback with a grain of salt and do your research. I’ll still continue to check out these types of sources and make my own judgment. Consulting with your Magic 8 Ball doesn’t hurt either. I also need to get better about writing reviews too. There–it’s now in writing so hold me accountable. I can’t complain if I don’t bother to make my own contribution.

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Now that we’re on a quest for reputable reviews, how do you as a business owner handle negative comments? Stay tuned for Part II of the next exciting episode in this series.

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