How to Determine if an Online Review is Legitimate

Published: June 30, 2017 - 9:00am EDT

Credit card next to a laptop

If you like shopping online, you probably think it’s smart shopping to read online reviews of the products you want to buy. And most of the time, you'd be right. But did you know that the reviews you’re reading are just as likely to be fake as they are to be genuinely helpful to you?

Knowing when an online review is legitimate is crucial to responsible online shopping. Reviews can be planted by companies to encourage you to buy things, or even discourage you from buying other things. They know that, if you think someone else bought something online, had it delivered to them with no issues, and loved it, then you'll think that you will too. This article will help explain how you can learn to tell the difference between honest and bogus reviews. This will help make your online shopping experience that much better, so read on to learn more!

Why are reviews sometimes illegitimate?

Online reviews are often fabricated because companies know that a review of a product that appears to be written by a satisfied consumer is a great way to establish trust in their brand, and thus make more sales. It’s also almost impossible to regulate online reviews, so there's little that can prevent companies and businesses from posting fake reviews.

Many online shoppers specifically seek out reviews, thinking that hearing about a product from a real consumer who has already paid for it will help reassure them that they are making the right decision by purchasing it. Seeing a negative online review is also a great way to see potential problems with an item: that it doesn’t work, isn’t of the same quality as what is posted on the website, or takes much longer to ship than promised, for example.

Review on Amazon.com

The problem is that, on most websites, practically anyone can post a review of a product or service. They can often choose how their name appears, and can write anything they want about the company without any kind of verification. The family and friends of those who work at the company, people who have never used the products, and those who simply want to enhance the image of the company for various reasons can all post reviews – and you’re reading them all the time!

It’s important to know when a review you read is legitimate, and when it is simply a form of advertising for the company you are reading about. You may not know every time, but our list of questions below will help you weed out some of the bad ones. As you read a review, ask yourself these questions, and you’ll have a much better understanding of whether it's legit or fraudulent!

7 questions to ask to determine if a review is legitimate:

1. Is the review overly positive?

A huge tip-off to whether a review is fake or not is the tone it uses. Reviews should be unbiased, commenting on both the good and the bad regarding various aspects of a product. Reviews that are overly positive (or entirely positive) should be questioned more than those that provide a balanced viewpoint.

If the writer has absolutely nothing bad to say about the product, they might be misleading you by over-emphasizing the good features. Writers who use phrases like “This is the best [X] I’ve ever bought!” or “No other [X] even comes close – buy it now!” are generally exaggerating (or haven’t even used the product).

Review on cat litter that is overly positive

Don’t forget that it’s also possible for a review that is overly negative to be fake! Just as friends and family try to help those they know, business competitors try to slander other companies or make their products appear less than satisfactory. If there’s absolutely nothing good written in the review, it may just be slander, or otherwise not an accurate representation of the product itself.

2. Is only one brand being considered?

If the review focuses on only one brand, you need to be more wary than with a review that considers many brands that sell similar products. Because comparison reviews, by nature, have to examine many different companies' products, they generally appear in a "pros and cons" fashion. They also tend to rank various products, so you know which one is best.

It’s more difficult to fabricate information in reviews like this, simply because so many brands and products are being judged at once. If only one brand is being looked at, however, it’s easier for the writer to appear as though they've tried and tested the product, even if they only focus on the good aspects of it. It is much easier to pick out a fake review in a comparison article, rather than one where only one brand or one product is examined.

3. What are the writer’s qualifications and incentives?

Almost anyone can create an account on most popular websites, and/or post a review appearing in any manner they choose. This makes it hard to tell whether you’re reading the work of someone who is qualified to review something, or whether you’re reading something written by the CEO’s mom.

How does this person introduce themselves? Do they give you a reason to believe they are qualified to judge the quality of this particular product? What personal experiences do they offer you that indicate you should trust them? If they don’t offer much, they probably aren’t as qualified to review these products as others might be.

TripAdvisor contributor badges

Have they written any of other reviews? This could be both a positive and a negative, depending on the circumstances. If the person writes reviews all the time, they could be more experienced at reviewing and, therefore, less biased. On the other hand, this may mean that they don't really use the products they are reviewing (or at least don't use them regularly). Those who have never written any reviews might not be experienced enough to provide a balanced perspective; on the flip side, they are probably more invested in the product they are reviewing.

4. Does the writer use the product, or are they just reviewing it?

As we mentioned above, friends with an interest in the success of a company can easily create a fake review. Occasionally, the person who posts the review may not have even used the product they are writing about, meaning that they are not a legitimate consumer with an unbiased opinion. This not only means that the review is likely fake, but none of the information within it can be trusted.

Chances are good that, if the writer hasn’t actually used the product, their review of it won’t be particularly useful to you if you are thinking of buying it. It's better to read a review from someone who has actually used the product, and even better if you can find a review from someone who has used this – and other similar products – on an everyday basis.

5. What type of website is the review on?

Where a review is posted can make a big difference as to whether it's legitimate or not. If it's on a commerce website that merely sells items, and is not accompanied by any other reviews or similar articles, it is probably just an advertisement. In addition, if the article is directly enticing you to buy the product, it’s probably just part of the website’s advertising. Or, it could be that the website is affiliated with the company that can make the sale.

Reviews are more likely to be legitimate if they are accompanied by hundreds (or even thousands) of other reviews from people who have purchased the product. Websites like eBay.com or TripAdvisor.com are great for this, because there are so many reviews present that most of them simply have to be real. And on websites like Airbnb, the person has to have paid for their stay to write a review, so you know the person writing the review is legitimate. You can also often filter out the overly-positive or overly-negative reviews, and look at more balanced explanations of the usefulness of the product.

6. What other advertisements are present?

The advertisements you see on the page can tell you a lot about the authenticity of the review. If you see a lot of ‘spam’ advertisements on the side or bottom of the page, this could mean the review isn’t legitimate.

Fake advertisements

You can also tell if a review is sponsored by checking what else is for sale on the site. If the review is of only one brand/product sold on the site and there aren't really any other options for you, the review is likely just a form of advertising for that brand or product.

You should also check out where other links in the article take you. If most links are just to other products and things you can buy, then the intention of the review is likely just to get you to buy something rather than to inform or help you.

7. What are the dates?

Make sure you check the date the review was posted and compare it to the dates of other reviews about the same product. If a whole bunch of reviews seem to be posted at the same time, they're probably not legitimate.Why?

Companies, especially new ones, often hire writers or marketing companies to assume fake identities and write a series of positive reviews for them. The key here is that they're hoping you’ll find a review from someone who lives in your area, is roughly your age, and/or seems to have the same lifestyle as you, and then think you’ll enjoy the product as well.

However, if you can see that all of the reviews seem to be posted at the same time, or within 2-3 days, you’ll know to question them. Reviews are much more trustworthy when you can see that they've been left over a long period of time, and with at least a few days (if not weeks) between reviews.

 

That’s our rundown for how to determine if an online review is legitimate or not. Hopefully, you now have a much better understanding of why fake reviews occur so frequently online. More importantly, you’ve sharpened your ability to weed them out! Make sure to check out our article on online shopping safety to make sure you know all the potential dangers and scams out there that are trying to target you today.

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