USA Today Asks Web Users: Can Online Reviews be Trusted?

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People trust the Internet. And customers trust online reviews to tell them where to eat, which doctors to depend on, what washing machine brand to buy, and more.

But customer trust for fellow customers’ reviews, like trust within any relationship, is something that has to be earned and something that can always be broken.

A recent report by USA Today calls into question the reliability, and even the validity, of online reviews—which could have a big impact on whether customers trust not just your business’ reviews, but also your business itself.

In this special report entitled, “Can You Trust Online Reviews?” USA Today’s Regina Lewis asks web users: how much faith should we really be putting into customer ratings and reviews?

Sites and customers are more aware and less tolerant of fake reviews.

The report shows that while some companies have attempted adding fake reviews to improve their online reputation and boost their rankings, underhanded techniques like this aren’t going unnoticed—and they’re being increasingly penalized.

Lewis points out that prominent sites like Yelp, Trip Advisor and Amazon are getting smarter about identifying—and stricter about removing—fake reviews. Amazon, for example, ranks reviewers. The popular shopping site also has requirements that reviewers must meet before being able to leave feedback about a business or a product purchased: every reviewer must have charged at minimum 1 cent to the site before posting—meaning Amazon has access to real names, verifiable billing information, and more.

What does this mean for your business and your reviews?

Over-the-top reviews, real or not, look suspicious to review sites and to real customers too. Gushing and unrealistic reviews, overly specific mentions of model numbers, product names, prices and more, are all signs that a review may be less than genuine and could make review sites, and potential customers, wary of your “reviewers” and your business.

That’s why it’s more important than ever, not just to have great reviews, but to make sure those reviews are authentic and honest feedback from your very own satisfied customers.

Here are just a few factors that USA Today suggests can help show customers that your reviews are the real deal.

If your reviewers:

  • Purchased the item or service and can give real, honest, relevant feedback
  • Posted a photo of a recently purchased item being used in their home or shared a snapshot of their recent vacation (on Tripadvisor, for example) to accompany a review
  • Wrote a balanced review—this means realistically equal parts positive and negative feedback. For example, “The enchiladas and burritos here are out of this world, but I wish the salsa had had just a little more kick to it”
  • Offered personal information to add credibility to their review—adding a personal bio, social media link, etc.