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Posted: 1:56 p.m. Monday, May 23, 2011

Review sites can be helpful if used correctly



I talk about using online reviews to make a decision about who to do business with, but that comes with a caveat.

Picture this: You go to various review sites and read multiple postings about whatever business or service has your attention. The reviews are glowing like you can't believe. "This is the greatest blah-blah-blah I have ever seen" or "The people were so nice…"

Well, if every review is so extreme to the positive, you should smell a rat. In fact, the FTC filed a complaint against one particular company that was paying people to write glowing reviews. The company in question was fined $250,000 and has now agreed to stop that practice.

But they're just the ones who got caught. So many businesses have family or friends write glowing reviews under the radar. When I look at reviews, I want to see a lot of opinions before I know there's a credible trend happening. Generally, I want to see at least 2 dozen reviews as a good guideline. But, again, if every single review is glowing (or negative,) then you know something's wrong.

Let's face it. There are people who will find something to be grumpy about no matter what. And others love life and always write in superlatives. But over time, you can glean the collective wisdom.

I travel often and I have used Yelp in city after city to find the needle in the haystack each time. There are 2 things I need no matter what: I need to know where the best local ice cream shop is, and I need to have a bagel for breakfast every morning. So Yelp has helped me out on both counts innumerable times.

I've learned over time how to tell what's legit and what's not when it comes to reviews.  One easy way to tell is to read a poster's reviews of other businesses as well. If they use the same language in every review, they may be a paid reviewer putting out false information.

Know that review sites are a great way to help you vet businesses, but know also that are some associated dangers.