Can you trust online reviews?

WASHINGTON — Searching online for the best restaurant, business or hotel can be difficult, but an even bigger challenge is wading through online reviews to decipher which one to trust.

Many businesses are realizing their online identities can have a huge impact on patronage, says consumer expert, Clark Howard. When a bad review can lead to bad business, many have turned to pumping up their reviews with fake, overly complimentary posts. Others attack competitors, posting extremely negative reviews.

So how do customers know what to trust?

Howard has some tips for negotiating the sea of information in online reviews and determining which reviews are authentic.

  • Don’t judge only on “stars” or “circles.” Review sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor offer quantitative ways to review a business or hotel by awarding stars or circles.The numbers, however, don’t tell the whole story, Howard says.

    “If somebody has pumped them up with false ratings, false reviews, you’re not getting a true indication just by look at the stars and circles,” he says.


  • Take time to read the reviews. The best way to get a real sense of the service is to read many opinions on it.Howard recommends reading about 25 reviews to sort the good from the bad. The more you read, the easier it is to tell the real reviews from the fake reviews.

    “If something is too glowing in praise, you pretty much can tell it’s bogus, and if something is mean, mean, mean, it may very well be a competitor,” he says.


  • Be realistic. One element of a person’s experience can color his whole review.For example, if a restaurant customer gets a waiter or waitress with a bad attitude, it could make the customer feel like the experience was not worth the money, thus devaluing the food.

    There will always be someone who had a terrible experience, Howard says.

    “That’s why as you read through the reviews, you will see a trend about whether or not it was an odd experience or truly a real indicator.”


  • Look at the date. The most recent reviews may be the most reliable, Howard says.A business that may have once suffered, could have changed its tune — or vice versa.

    “It could be a hotel or restaurant that really had it together, may have changed owners or managers, and starts to deteriorate — you can see that if the recent reviews are really, really rotten,” Howard says.

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Sarah Beth Hensley

Sarah Beth Hensley is the Digital News Director at WTOP. She has worked several different roles since she began with WTOP in 2013 and has contributed to award-winning stories and coverage on the website.

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