How to spot fake online reviews

The Post-Dispatch ran a piece this morning on how to watch for fake online reviews. It contains some good advice.

There are people who dismiss online reviews out of hand, but to me, that’s like dismissing word-of-mouth reviews out of hand. Let’s not mince words: It’s foolish and lazy. We learn how to filter out that neighbor or coworker who gives worthless advice, so the key is learning how to do the same with online reviews.

Some good tips from the article:

Look for a large number of reviews. If a product or business has hundreds of reviews and a reasonably good rating, that’s a good sign. If it’s racked up enough sales to garner that many reviews, it can’t be terrible. And it’s hard to astroturf that many reviews. Plus, a large number of reviews tends to cancel out the people who are being unreasonable.

Don’t give a lot of weight to the one- and five-star reviews. If I see a one- or five-star review, the review had better back it up with some specifics. A five-star review that says something like “perfect in every way” is a review I ignore. It’s a consumer product, not God. If it’s perfect in every way, there’s no profit margin and the company will go out of business. The same goes for a one-star review that just says the product is worthless. I want to know why it’s worthless. Did it break quickly? Did it just cost too much?

Beware of emotional words and exclamation points. Overuse of exclamation points, especially multiple exclamation points at the end of a sentence, loses points with me. So do phrases like “fail” and “epic fail.” Those are signs of reviews that are written by bots, paid reviewers, or people who just don’t know what they’re talking about.

Beware of duplication. If you see a lot of reviews that look like copy-paste jobs, they’re fake.

Look at the names of the reviewers. Lots of numbers on the end are a bad sign. For that matter, so is anything that doesn’t have a first and a last name on it. If a reviewer has nothing to hide, why would he or she feel a need to hide behind an alias? A reviewer who is telling the truth has absolutely nothing to be afraid of.

And I’ll add a couple of tips of my own:

Read the longer reviews in detail. Because someone may give a two-star review and give the reasons why, but maybe the details aren’t all applicable to me. Maybe the reviewer thought it was too expensive, but now the price is lower. Maybe the reviewer’s complaints are about features that I don’t care as much about.

Read the flagged reviews. Some sites, particularly Amazon, let you rate the reviews. In Amazon’s example, there’s a button you can click that says whether a review has been helpful. The reviews other people find helpful are the ones most likely to help you too. And when you see a review that’s especially helpful (or not helpful), help the rest of the community out by rating it.

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