Should consumers even bother with online reviews? COM0011, blog post #4

So you’re ready to make the next step up to a high-end digital SLR camera before your trip to New York city next month. And, oh yeah, you’re looking for a quiet, clean, respectable hotel during your visit. Where do you start? Probably where most people start – online reviews.

But before you do, take heed. Those glowing reviews you read may not be legitimate in the least. Up to 15 per cent of online reviews are fake, according to the CBC’s Marketplace TV show that aired last Friday ( I’m starting to think that number may be much higher.

According to Marketplace, people tend to trust online reviews more than advertising, while in fact, many reviews are just that: advertising in disguise. Companies are so often turning to fake reviews, that an industry has popped up to serve them. Look at and you’ll find dozens of women and even couples ready to tout the wonders of your latest products or services, starting at a mere five dollars.


Even companies such as the apparently no-longer-existing Emizr will create a number of reviews for you each month according to your contract with them, as the show’s producers found out. now redirects to a company named Qode Media Inc. – I presume since being exposed on Marketplace. The investment pays off: just one extra star on a restaurant’s reviews can translate in a revenue increase of up to 9 per cent.

Marketplace created a fake grilled-cheese food stand/truck company called and had wonderful reviews online without having produced a single sandwich. Yelp was the only site they used that screened out two of three fake reviews. Google and Urbanspoon found none of them.

truckCBC Marketplace

How to spot a fake review? It’s difficult. One of eight people stopped on the street thought the fake review was the real one and vice versa. Noticing language that is too glowing, or enthusiastic, and that uses a lot of story telling is a good start, according to Communication Professor Jeffrey Hancock of Cornell University, interviewed on the show. Fake reviews often involve conjuring up scenarios about what it might have been like, while actual review tend to be more to the point, like “Good product. It did what I expected it to do.”

Realsimple suggests being wary of formal names, model numbers and tech/marketing jargon in reviews; investigating reviewers; and checking their timing ( If a bunch of amazing reviews were posted in a relatively close timeframe, chances are they’re fake.

But looking at the bigger picture: if we can’t exactly trust great reviews, and negative reviews are fading away thanks to the fear of legal repercussions (, is it still worth checking out online review? Well, for hotels at least, you have a tool that can help, thanks to Prof. Hancock’s Review Skeptic ( It can tell you with 90 per cent accuracy if a review is fake. I think for the rest, I may just ask my friends.