But can you really be sure that the review is genuine? It is easy to fall for the temptation to write positive reviews about your own goods and services. There are plenty of examples of how this can affect you as a consumer.
The well-visited American review site Tripadvisor had its pants pulled down quite a bit recently. For a couple of months, tributes to the restaurant Oscar’s in British Brixham thrived on the site. The pub was called, among other things, “divine”, “amazing” and “perfect”. Someone thought the place deserved a Michelin star.
It certainly sounds like a restaurant well worth a visit. But there is a problem.
If you go to Brixham, the restaurant doesn’t exist at all, which shows the difficulty for the review sites to know what is genuine and what is just made up. Chris Emmins at Kwikchex, who among other things works with analyzing review sites, said it best in the Telegraph newspaper:
– It’s hard to see how Tripadvisor’s system can find real cheating if it can’t even find this.
It also turned out that a manager of the French hotel chain Accor has written a large number of positive reviews about his own facilities on Tripadvisor. As well as, of course, negative reviews of competitors’ hotels. This is most worrying for Accor but of course also destroys trust in Tripadvisor – and trust in review sites in general.
The cheating only grows
The problem is not isolated to travel sites. The cheating has reached almost industrial proportions. The Guardian newspaper has unearthed a story showing that scores of companies hire cheap labor in countries such as Bangladesh, India and Indonesia to write and publish fake reviews on review sites such as Trustpilot and Review Centre.
The writers offer their services at “relatively low costs” through sites like Freelancer.com where the companies hire them to write the positive reviews. The Guardian got hold of one of the writers who, among other things, praised the otherwise exclusively loathed gadget company WAE+.
The writer admitted that he currently has eleven review jobs which together bring him an income of approximately SEK 12,500 per month. He is even so busy that he in turn contracts others to write reviews for him.
Then, of course, there are also problems with authentic reviews. We are all different and think differently. Let’s say you’re going to New York for a few days. The plane tickets alone strain your travel budget, so you look for cheap accommodation in the city.
You google and you use sites for hotel bookings. You find the perfect place, a hotel for only 10 dollars a night. The rooms are small, but you’re only going to sleep there anyway. It is located in Chinatown in Manhattan, as central as it gets. Is this too good to be true?
Ruined – despite genuine judgement
You are now checking the review sites. And here the subjectivity of the reviewers becomes a problem. Let’s return to Tripadvisor for a moment.
Here you can find, among other things, the following quote about the super cheap hotel (the tricky Swedish is due to the automatic language translation done on the site): “For what you pay for your stay, it’s nice. The bathrooms are healthy and the rooms are cleaned after your stay (not during). The staff are friendly and helpful and aim to keep their business fit for what it’s worth”.
Well, you might not be completely convinced by that. But the reviewer’s overall rating for the hotel is four stars out of five. The matter should be clear, right? It should be said that there are many reviews of this hotel that are, to put it mildly, less positive. But if this is the review you happen to be reading, you are now about to expose yourself to a potential nightmare.
Only good old journalism can save you now, provided you read the article from the British newspaper Daily Mail that has been circulating on social media lately. In a report, the newspaper tells the truth about this hotel and by all accounts it is a disgusting place, completely unworthy of people.
The text tells, among other things, about pests and cockroaches, wards where people live separated by chicken wire.
As if that’s not enough, the article quotes a resident who tells how a man died in his room. The body was left to rot for 15 days before being floated away. The room was not even cleaned after the incident.
The conclusion must be that it is easy for review sites to lose the trust of visitors. And that we as consumers must read reviews carefully, unless we want to go to restaurants that don’t exist – or stay in hotels whose owner’s view of humanity makes us feel bad. Read the article about the horrible hotel here: korta.nu/koumv
Vital to remove the cheaters
Trust in review sites stands and falls on their ability to find and remove fake reviews. This applies to all actors, regardless of whether it is Yelp, Reco or Rejta. Yelp says in a comment to a study done by Harvard Business School that 25 percent of their reviews have been filtered out as fake. Price comparison sites are also affected, for example Prisjakt where visitors give reviews of products and online stores. If a bad product is praised, trust in the site is unfailingly damaged. Sometimes this is easy. If 99 reviews out of 100 testify to a really crappy company and one review is a hymn of praise, there is great reason to distrust that hymn of praise. This is something that the review sites work hard to combat with the help of both computers and people.
– We have two people who only work with review management, that is, they look at recommendations that come in, says Tobias Basilius, founder of the Swedish review site Reco.se.
At the competitor Rejta.se are the tones similar.
– All reviews posted with us are reviewed by a natural person, says Eva Ernfors, press officer at Eniro, which owns Rejta.se.
This is how you see through the scams
Your review site does its best to find and remove fake reviews. But you have to be on your toes when you read what others have written. Here’s how to spot the fake ratings.
1. Read what was really written. Look for specific details and information that shows a reviewer has actually been in contact with the company in question. Beware of sweeping opinions and irrelevant points of view, they tell you that you have run on a false judgment.
2. Don’t trust accounts that have written a single review. Visit the reviewer’s profile to see their activity on the site. If it is a committed reviewer, you will see this here.
3. Beware of reviews written with bad language. Conscious customers who care about their ratings usually put a bit of effort into what they actually write.
4. Investigate whether a reviewer actually purchased the product or service being rated. The possibility is not available everywhere, but for example on Trustpilot and Amazon.
5. Don’t just use review sites. Research what has been said on other sites with high credibility. Search social media and discussion forums.
He finds the fake reviews
When Nikke Lindqvist was commissioned to help the review site
Reco.se to ensure that the reviews on the site were genuine, he found a guy who had written seven negative reviews about the same tattoo artist. In addition, it turned out that the tattoo artist had also written false reviews about himself.
Reco.se wanted to remove fake reviews from the site, but in the process of making it more relevant to visitors, they also wanted to increase the number of reviews and also make all reviews easily searchable via Google.
– Nikke Lindqvist’s mission was to activate our community and ensure that it wrote about things on an ongoing basis. That included dealing with recommendations that were questionable. He would also make sure, based on Google’s guidelines, to build as suitable a platform as possible so that Google picks up as much of our content as possible, says Reco.se’s founder Tobias Basilius.
Nikke Lindqvist is a search optimization consultant at Carnaby Solutions and one of the things he appreciated most about Reco’s assignment was dealing with recommendations that were questionable.
-– It was the funnest thing I knew, he says. Calling these people up and asking “Listen, there are a lot of reviews written from your workplace. Has the entire job bought a car from this car dealer?”.
Malicious people sabotage
He talks about how malicious visitors register with different aliases on a review site and pepper the site with bad or good reviews, all equally fake and with the aim of either discrediting a company or giving it undeserved praise.
Different aliases or not, they can be revealed by, for example, the ip address they act from.
– Most of the time they thought it was funny that someone was checking, they never thought that, you could hear that in their answers, says Nikke Lindqvist.
One person he found was not happy with his tattoo.
– He was incredibly dissatisfied so he wrote not just one but maybe seven negative reviews. He was justifiably pissed off, but six reviews were supposed to go away. There was quite a fierce fight between us before I identified who they were.
Worse, the tattooist had written a number of fake reviews himself. Positive, of course, as a counterbalance to the disappointed customer’s low rating. Suddenly, the company is being labeled as a cheater.
As an investigator, Nikke Lindqvist then had to ensure which of, for example 30 positive reviews, were really genuine.
– Then my task will be to contact these 30 people who wrote positively and check if they are legitimate. And then the tattooist gets pissed off and wonders why I’m contacting all his customers.
If the importance and scope of review sites continues to increase in the future, it will also become easier to find reviews from friends and acquaintances about one or the other company.
– Then we are back to the basic idea, it is what my friends say that is important. What an unknown person says may be okay. But if it’s my old friend who says it, then I can read between the lines and really know what it means, says Nikke Lindqvist.
5 review sites
Has, among other things, reviews of over 2,500 restaurants and 2,000 shopping places. Also good for checking out grocery shopping and nightlife. Yelp is available as a free app for Android and iPhone.
Here you can fill in a form about your needs, after which Reco will return with suggestions for suitable companies. A lot of focus on restaurants, hairdressers and car workshops. Also lists the various companies’ discount offers.
Searches all of Sweden but lists 17 Swedish cities. Has nearly 500,000 reviews from customers on everything from doctors to brokers, cafes and bike repairers.
International travel recommendation heavyweight.
Fill in where you are going to travel and when and get reviews about hotels, flights, restaurants and destinations. Has city guides that you can download to your smartphone and read offline on the trip.
Online shopping giant where reviews from buyers weigh heavily. Has membership offers and “deal of the day”. Sells a lot of electronics, books, games and movies. Has subsites in 11 countries, but not Sweden.