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Stephen Logan

Can Internet Users Trust Review Sites?

1st Feb 2012 News, Industry News 3 minutes to read

TripadvisorWith the news that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has politely requested that TripAdvisor cease any claims suggesting it is a trusted site, where does this leave customer review sites?

Independent reviews are an important tool for any business seeking to build trust with searchers and search engines alike. A five star rating on TripAdvisor can see hotels and B&B’s overburdened with bookings, whilst a sea of negative comments may make some think again. But with the site effectively being discredited as a trustworthy source by the ASA, how much value can we give these reviews?

It would be fair to say that not all businesses have enjoyed a positive experience on review sites. The impartiality of some of those who leave comments is certainly a bone of contention, with claims of sabotage, subterfuge and falsifying ratings. The onus of cleaning up the system sits not with the subjects, but with the review sites themselves.

But how do you sort the false from the genuine?

Many sites have trust ratings for their users, meaning that whenever they leave a review their rating improves a little. If other users agree or disagree with the reviews provided, this can also impact the overall score, meaning that their validity can be called into question. By giving greater visibility and weighting to those reviewers who have proven their worth over time, sites should be able to provide an accurate scoring system.

Simple IP checks could eliminate some spammy posters who use multiple profiles to cover their tracks. But if somebody has an axe to grind, then there isn’t much that you can do to prevent them from doing it all over your TripAdvisor account. The simplistic answer would be to simply ensure that you always deliver a high quality of service and never give visitors a reason to complain, but we all know that you can’t please everyone. Plus competitors may delight in smearing your name for their own gain, which can only currently be counteracted with a manual complaints procedure.

A good number of businesses in all sectors fear the anonymous reviewer. Being able to leave comments on products and services using an online alias means that people are more comfortable saying what they really think, even embellishing. Few would ever voice such negative critiques face-to-face, which is why trust is such an emotive issue.

Have TripAdvisor been permanently discredited?

Certainly not. Whilst they may have to lose their tagline of “reviews you can trust”, this ASA ruling doesn’t mean that their ratings are entirely flawed. There are problems, everybody knows that. But if you want to eliminate bad reviews, it’s important that you encourage users to provide their own honest offering. This means asking your customers to leave comments and providing an easy way for them to do so – often a URL on a business card or a link on your website. If your service is up to scratch, falsified reviews that previously damaged your brand can be buried by genuine users quickly and easily.

All review sites need to find a way to differentiate between genuine and false comments automatically. This isn’t an issue that is specific to just TripAdvisor, it covers the full spectrum of platforms offering this service. To be trusted, reviews need to be true. In the meantime though, there is no need to be overly concerned about the impact of the ASA’s decision or the review sites themselves.

Users should always take any review with a pinch of salt. Whether they are online or offline, assuming that ‘independent’ reviewers are providing an accurate representation of a product or place can be dangerous. Equally, you also have to account for different tastes. Whilst bad service will always be bad service, other factors may be entirely personal.

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