Reading reviews is the first step in most transactions these days. Gone are the days where we see an ad and take what it says at face value. Now, when it comes to substantial purchases, we want to do our due diligence. Checking online reviews are a big part of that. What have other people said about this product or service? Were they satisfied? Would they recommend it to their friends?
I founded a business that uses reviews to help consumers hire with confidence. With HomeStars.com, we’ve created a marketplace that connects homeowners with home service professionals. Over half a million Canadians use the site each month to find professionals for their home improvement needs. Companies on HomeStars have a listing that includes their contact information, but also reviews of their work from past customers, which are used — among other important factors such as recency and responsiveness — in a proprietary scoring system that gives each company a rating out of 100.
Ratings are great, but to get a true sense of the company’s work, the content of the reviews are truly invaluable. At HomeStars, we have an integrity team committed to identifying and removing fake reviews. In fact, over 15 per cent of all reviews received by HomeStars are immediately rejected as fake and never published to our site.
Not every review website has an integrity team committed to reading and analyzing reviews, as we do. So how do you ensure the online reviews you read are honest?
It’s all in the details
…or lack thereof. If the details surrounding the job or product in question are vague that is often an indicator. Alternatively, if they write like a marketer using the “brand approved” product name, or use technical jargon describing the product, that’s often a flag too. Believe it or not, reviews are sometimes written by offshore companies that specialize in writing fake reviews. In general, these reviews are sloppier and shorter since companies often only pay a few dollars (or less) per review, so there is less incentive to write something more meaningful. In addition, many of these fake review writers aren’t native English speakers, so look for unusual language choices or currency — for example, a Canadian reviewer isn’t likely to specify currency, so if a price is written as $24.99CAD that could be a flag.
Look at the reviewer information.
Verified reviewers (those who leave frequent, helpful reviews) are verified by transaction, so pay particular attention to these reviewers as they are vetted. If a reviewer has no profile information or social connections it can be a sign of a fake account. Alternatively, if they’ve only ever written super positive reviews, or reviews about little-known companies, that’s very suspicious too and might be a sign that you’re looking at a fake reviewer. We’ve even seen instances where the reviewer has the same email of the company being reviewed — a clear indicator something fishy is going on!
Extreme reviews: Good or bad.
If a review is really intense that can be cause for alarm. Zero or ten star reviews are more likely to be fake than others. For positive reviews, see if there are common themes about the company, but written in different ways. Are there themes on punctuality, workmanship or price? For negative reviews, are there responses from the company that make you feel they care and that also address the concerns? Also look for patterns and overuse of capital letters, punctuation or emojis, across reviews as these could be the same author writing multiple times.
If a company that typically has one review a week, or perhaps a month, then suddenly has 5 or 10 in a matter of days, something could be up. This company may have paid for some fake reviews — so checking the date and time stamps is another thing worth looking at.
Remember not every review is genuine. But if you know what you are looking for, reviews — combined with other information and research — are a very helpful hiring and purchasing tool.