Can you really trust online reviews?

Not all review websites are created equal.

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by

From the February/March 2014 issue of the magazine.

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Consumer review websites like Yelp and TripAdvisor give you direct access to customers’ first-hand experiences—both good and bad. But how much can you really trust these sites? A lot depends on how the administrators screen the posts for fake praise from business owners and criticism from rivals.

HomeStars

Impressively, no review gets posted on Homestars without being vetted by a set of human eyes. Software also serves as a back-up to ferret out any fake reviews that might slip through; if a bogus entry is detected, a record of the violation remains on the site as a deterrent. This transparent approach also applies to interactions between business owners and reviewers, or updates to reviews. However, businesses can pay a premium to enhance their profiles and ensure they are visible in search results.

TripAdvisor

It’s largely up to software todetermine whether something isfishy or legit. Questionable reviews get evaluated by support staff and if they’re deemed fake never make it to the site. Like Homestars, businesses can pay a premium to enhance their profiles.But a key difference is that TripAdvisor reviews can’t be edited and requeststo delete reviews must be approved by staff—although no record of the changes remain on the site.

Yelp

It’s hardly a ringing endorsement that Yelp believes only 75% of its reviews are genuine. Problematically, all reviews get automatically posted to the site and stay there, despite 25% being flagged as fake by software. These dummy reviews don’t factor into scores but can still be read by anyone. Irksome, too, is the fact business owners can respond to reviewers privately to smooth over beefs. If an assuaged poster updates or deletes their review, no record remains on the site. To Yelp’s credit, all businesses have free and equal access to its tools to enhance their profiles.

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