Online Reviews: Is That Five Star Rating for Real?


As a Content Writer, Blogger, WordPress Nerd and Social Media junkie, I’ve done my fair share of analyzing trends in online reviewing, and I must say that it’s a minefield out there.

Who do you trust? What to believe? Which product is best? Which hotel won’t have bedbugs? Will the tour on my vacation be a trap? Luring me into a jewelry store or on a timeshare expedition? Who’s posting fake reviews to increase their own business or trying to hurt the competition with negative reviews?

In an age of fake news, you feel as though no one is telling you the real deal.

According to Search Engine Land, 79% of consumers trust online reviews as much a recommendation from a friend or relative.

TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google, and Facebook, help you gather customer reviews. But how does a small business deal with that? Do you solicit customers for reviews on all four sites? A time consuming prospect, for both you the business owner and your patrons.

Certainly larger companies will organically collect reviews from all for review sites, but when you’re a small business, you too want (and need) positive reviews and an effective online presence to build your brand and business.

Let’s roll up our sleeves and look at some of the top review sites:

Google Reviews


Google is now in the review game big time,  because they know that customers want to research reviews when they select a business for the first time. Too, they’ve created an easy to use platform that does not require you to set-up a profile, which quickly turns a customer into an active reviewer. All that the reviewer requires for posting a review is a Gmail account. Which means that fraud potential is incredibly high.

What’s to stop friends, family and even the owner of the business from posting a glowing review of their own company to generate revenue (known as “astroturfing” in the review biz). And, with more 5 star reviews, your ranking on Google goes up, so fraud temptation is great.

According to Daniel Craig of Skift “Google still has a lot of work to do with its review product. This includes putting greater emphasis on policing fake reviews as well as cleaning up the quality and relevancy of reviews, which, judging by the state of some reviews, is barely on Google’s radar.”

“As an example, Trump Hotel in Vancouver had hundreds of Google user reviews and ratings, some dating as far back as eight months ago, yet the property (didn’t) open until January. A scan of the reviews, many of which have nothing to do with the hotel and everything to do with the U.S. election, indicate that no one at Google is paying much attention to its review product.”

“If Google truly wishes to excel in the travel space, it needs to invest in building a review product that travelers trust and rely on. Until then, travel planners will continue to flock to TripAdvisor, Yelp and other sources for the depth and scope of reviews they need to be confident they are making the right trip decisions.”


Our good old trusted travel buddy. Yes, you need to create a profile, and produce a legitimate rating. Too, TripAdvisor has hefty list of do’s and don’ts, which include:

Attempts by an owner or agent of a property to boost the reputation of a business by:

  • Writing a review for their own business, or for any property the reviewing party owns, manages, or has a financial interest in.
  • Utilizing any optimization company, marketing organization, or third party to submit reviews.
  • Impersonating a competitor or a guest.
  • Offering incentives in exchange for reviews of their business, including discounts, upgrades or any special treatment.
  • Submitting reviews on behalf of guests.
  • Copying comment cards and submitting them as traveler reviews.
  • Selectively soliciting reviews (by email, surveys or any other means) only from guests who have had a positive experience.
  • Pressuring travelers to remove a negative review on TripAdvisor.

TripAdvisor has it pretty locked down. This site in particular requires a higher emphasis on being ethical playing by their rules. Nevertheless, shifty business owners frequently ask family, friends and employees to review their own travel business and even compose slanderous and negative reviews of the competition.

Even going so far as collecting photos of highly recognizable relatives and friends on their TripAdvisor page. Again, it’s just a matter of time before TripAdvisor catches on. Which is equivalent to a scarlet letter, and having your listing red flagged.

Yelp Reviews


From an article by Practical Ecommerce, Yelp indicated:

“Let’s face it, most business owners are only going to ask for reviews from their happy customers, not the unhappy ones. Over time, these self-selected reviews create bias in the business listing – a bias that savvy consumers can smell from a mile away.”


Take a look at this PBS video, to delve deeper into Yelp’s efforts at screening out fake reviews on PBS Newshour.

Facebook Reviews


According to the Vocus study, which indicates that 68% of consumers go to social networking sites to read product reviews.

“Facebook is a very easy site for people that follow you to write a review and make their opinions known. What’s more, those who are following you are likely to write quality reviews as well.

“Facebook reviews are also incorporated into the Google platform, so with Facebook reviews, you really are getting two for the time and investment in one, so-to-speak. Facebook is really a platform for brand awareness, (cross and upselling to existing customers) pre/post-purchase exploration, and branding support.

The cool thing about Facebook is people actually prefer to post reviews Facebook, since they are on the platform frequently. In a survey by Review Trackers, it actually beat both Yelp and Google in user preference.”

Good luck, buyer beware and be sure to use your best judgment when planning your trip using online reviews. In the end, it’s always good to contact the service provider directly. Whether via email or phone. They are always happy to answer you questions, and assist with special requests.

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