13 Red Flags to Look Out For in Online Reviews
Too little detail? Too much praise? These are signs the online reviews you’re reading can’t be trusted.
Fake Online Reviews Are Everywhere
Many of us factor online reviews into our purchasing decisions, but are we good at spotting the fakes? Up to 10 per cent are phony, planted by companies to boost their sales or tank their competitors’ rankings. To avoid getting scammed, watch for these warning signs.
1. Sketchy Profile History
On most sites, you can see a reviewer’s history by clicking their username. Be cautious if someone has only one comment, posts daily reviews, leaves only very positive notes or writes assessments for only one company’s products.
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2. Too Much Detail
Fake online reviews, especially for health products, often spout a long list of claims, “facts,” or marketing-speak.
3. Too Little Detail
On the flip side, things like hotels are difficult to write about in detail without first-hand experience, says Bing Liu, a professor in the computer science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago who has extensively researched reviews. Consequently, potential fakes may be overly vague.
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4. First-Person Pronouns
It may seem counterintuitive, but a 2011 Cornell University study focusing on hotel reviews found that fake comments are often peppered with “I” or “my” to make them seem more personal.
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5. Substitute Products
To spot fakes written by competitors, watch for negative reviews that include high praise for a specific alternative, with a link to their “preferred” product.
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6. One Star and Five Stars
Scammers often love or hate a product, but real people tend to be more measured. The exception, says Liu, is millennials, who, according to his research, will log on to leave five-star ratings for products they like.
8. Feedback Clusters
Fake reviewers often inundate a new product with feedback to generate buzz. “Most products need to sell 1,000 units to get one review on Amazon,” says Ming Ooi, partner and chief strategy officer at Fakespot, a review-analysis company used by over 2.5 million people in 2016. “People won’t usually leave 10 reviews in one day and make them all five stars.”
9. Hidden Patterns
Sometimes it’s best to leave things to the computers. Review evaluators like Fakespot use software to analyze comments in aggregate, catching suspicious reviewer behaviour patterns that may not be visible to the human eye.
10. Word Repetition
To make it easier for people to review their products, companies often provide talking points.
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11. A U-Turn in Attitude
Reviewers might swear they came in ready to hate a product but changed their minds based on its awesomeness. But who would buy products they thought they’d hate?
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12. Small Businesses
When it comes to judging reviews, Liu advises being more careful about local services. “Plumbing, painting, those kinds of things, tend to have more problems,” he says.
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13. Unreliable “Customers”
Sites that require reviewers to have purchased the product are more reputable than those that don’t. A 2014 U.S. study found that Expedia, which only allows reviews from people who have booked their hotel stay through the site, was more reliable than TripAdvisor, where anyone can post comments.