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Spotting Fake Online Reviews

Fake online reviews come in two primary forms: people who are paid to write reviews and trolls. Both are equally effective at skewing a product review, and both are pretty easy to spot. To spot a positive, but fake user review, The New York Times suggests you examine the language and look for a few key things. I hope you enjoy my Tuesday Tip! ~Cathy

  • Language that is unnatural or WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS
  • Reviews that seem to use “I” or “me” too often
  • High adverb use
  • High verb use
  • Multiple typos and/or way too many exclamation points

Look for the details. You can easily spot a fake — or at least a poorly written review — based on the amount of detail it provides. If a reviewer praises or condemns a product but gives no specific reasons why it’s a bad review. A good reviewer will tell you what they liked or disliked about a product rather than fill their review with generic lines like “best product ever.”

Investigate the reviewer. Often, people who write fake reviews make their write-ups short and formulaic. If you’re uncertain about a particular review, click on the reviewer’s username, and glance over other reviews they’ve posted on the site. If they’re all overly positive or written within a very short time frame, you’re probably looking at someone who was incentivized to write their review. 

The Consumerist also points out that it’s good to look for reviews with empty adjectives, and glowing praise with no downsides. NPR suggests you ignore the star rating and just read the review. Basically, if a review of a product, hotel, restaurant, or whatever else sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Reviews that constantly repeat a product’s full name are likely fake reviews to boost a company’s SEO ranking.

To spot trolling reviews, you essentially follow the same steps as above but watch out for overtly negative reactions that don’t talk about upsides. You’ll often find these types of reviews in cases where brand loyalty is a factor, or when a reviewer receives something that’s just dead on arrival (which is bound to happen with certain kinds of products). Unless you see a lot of these types of reviews, you can usually ignore them.

After You Shop: Why You Should Review and Rate Your Experiences

Once a product is in your hands, or a meal is in your stomach, it’s easy to walk away thinking you’re done with the experience. However, writing a quick review is a huge help to other shoppers and businesses. They’re not hard to write, and you can get immediate, often money-saving benefits by doing so.

You Help Yourself and Other People Make Better Choices

It’s no secret that when you write a review or rate a service you’re helping other shoppers (who were once in the same boat as you) make better choices with their purchases. This could be highlighting a great purchase you’ve made, or by warning people away from something that turned out terrible.

When you’re reviewing products and services, you’re not just helping others make better choices. You’re also helping yourself. Since many sites use your own reviews to recommend new products, you’re making it easier to find the things you actually want, and you’ll stop getting those crazy recommendations for things that don’t matter.

Obviously, you don’t need to waste time on simple or cheap things like HDMI cables or a pack of spoons, but for anything that could potentially break, or might be a risk, your review is helpful to someone out there.

You Can Help Keep Your Favorite Local Businesses in Business

Web sites like Yelp, Google, and Foursquare have become powerful tools for people to find great restaurants close to them. But an effect of that is that some smaller places get swept under the carpet. When you hit up a new restaurant or store that you end up really liking, be sure to toss together a quick review or rating when you leave. You don’t have to spend hours on a food critic-worthy review; a few sentences about your experiences is enough to bring in someone who might be on the fence. It’s not much if your favorite shop is struggling to stay in business, but it’s certainly better than nothing.

A Good Review Can Help You Nab Great Deals

Writing out reviews isn’t just some altruistic endeavor. It’s also a way to get discounts and free stuff from certain retailers. One of the easy ways to do this is to review enough products on Amazon to get enrolled in the Amazon Vine program. Start writing good reviews on Amazon, and eventually, you’ll get invited in. The selection of free products varies, but occasionally you can snag some cool stuff. Another option for books is the book-centric social network Goodreads. Write enough positively received reviews, and authors and publishers will often seek you out to take a look at a pre-release version of their books.

For food buffs, Yelp’s Elite reviewers get invited to all types of free events and parties. Getting to that elite status is simple enough—review a lot of businesses, write solid reviews and participate in the community. Eventually, you’ll get upgraded to an elite member. Even without elite status, you’ll occasionally get a discount because you wrote a review on Yelp, or you simply because you found them through Yelp.

Write a Good Review by Keeping it Simple

Writing a good online review is about brevity. The main goal for something like Yelp, or Amazon, or wherever else is to provide your personalized insight. You don’t need to repeat anything already in the product description or get long-winded with a description of how amazing your BLT was.

The best way to write an online review is to stick to relevant details that matter to everyone. Don’t bother explaining too much about your circumstance. Instead, stick to the experience itself (with a product or store), and talk about what you think.

How to Write Genuinely Useful Reviews Online

Before we buy a new gadget or try a new restaurant, most of us look at the reviews at Amazon. Also, remember that a positive review is just as useful as a negative one. If you had a serious problem with a product, or if it broke after six months, go and write that review—even if it has been a while since you purchased it. Timeliness is rarely a necessity with reviews, and long term experiences are great when you’re talking about big budget items.

The goal of shopping for and then reviewing products is to help make your voice heard to people who matter. When you shop smart and follow through afterwards you’re rewarding people just like yourself. It’s not a bad feeling.

I hope you enjoyed Cathy’s Tuesday Tip this week. To view more of Cathy’s Tuesday Tips, visit our blog.

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