Finding a trustworthy review on the Internet isn’t easy these days. There are tons of sites where consumers can review businesses — Facebook, Yelp, Google+, Angie’s List, the Better Business Bureau and FourSquare are just a few. While it’s possible to gain some knowledge about a business from each of these sites, some lend more credible information than others.
Social media sites
Free social media sites, like Facebook (www.facebook.com) and Google+ (https://plus.google.com), are popular because they can be accessed so easily. You can see comments on a business’ page, find contact information, browse photos and even see menus or pricing guides.
However, it’s important to remember that businesses have control over what appears on their social media pages. If a negative review is left in the comments section it can easily be hidden or deleted.
These pages are ideal for getting a basic idea of the business, but it’s not unusual to find only glowing reviews.
Free sites and apps
There are similar pluses and minuses with app-friendly services like Yelp (www.yelp.com) and FourSquare (www.foursquare.com). These sites are also free and allow consumers to leave comments and reviews for businesses.
FourSquare allows customers who “check in” to a business via the app to leave “tips” (short reviews or comments about the location) and share photos.
Though this app is popular, it won’t offer you reviews from the largest audience. According to CNET, FourSquare has more than 40 million users, but only 40,000 “superusers,” or people who use the app daily. Additionally, the app allows businesses to offer special deals to customers who check in, which may sway users to leave positive comments.
The website Yelp has a slightly notorious reputation for its reviews. The site has its own filtering process to help find bogus assessments or reviews that are not within its terms of service. However, in September the Wall Street Journal reported in that Yelp estimates 20 percent to 25 percent of its reviews are “suspicious if not fraudulent.”
This site also allows business owners to have a closer connection with reviewers. If a business officially claims its Yelp page it can contact reviewers (privately or publicly) to resolve issues or discuss reviews. Businesses can also flag reviews that they believe, subjectively, violate Yelp’s terms of service — potentially having those reviews deleted by the website.
With sites that require a membership payment, like Angie’s List (www.angieslist.com), consumers pay a monthly membership fee to browse local businesses and leave reviews. Membership fees vary depending on location, but dues start at $3.25 per month, plus a $5 sign-up fee for the Roanoke/Blacksburg area.
Angie’s List asserts that it offers “reviews you can trust” because businesses can’t pay to be on the site. I would argue that’s not 100 percent accurate.
According to a September article in Consumer Reports, businesses with a certain rating on the site can pay to appear higher in search results. The website also says that members can receive special discounts from top-rated companies. Those are two ways businesses can act through Angie’s List and possibly skew reviews.
Shoptimist blog readers have mixed feelings about Angie’s List.
User Noodle76 is aware of the advertising deal some businesses have with Angie’s List, but still likes the service. Noodle76 wrote, “The people at the top are obviously those who advertise with them. However, if the person at the top of the list has 6 reviews and the 3rd person on the list has 25, I’ll go with #3. I’ve had a lot of luck with Angie’s List in the NRV.”
However, MichaelSWOCO hasn’t had the same experience. He wrote, “Recently subscribed to Angie’s in anticipation of a home improvement project — very disappointed at the lack of reviews/depth. Pretty hard to judge when only one or two have commented.”
The Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) is a free, time-tested source for learning about companies — the organization has been operating since 1912. On the site consumers can file complaints about businesses, leave reviews and read about a business’ history.
All of the official information listed on the site is unbiased and business complaints are formally handled by the agency, with the result publicly reported once issues are resolved. User reviews are new to the site so it’s too early to determine their impact on businesses and consumers.
Tips to remember
Overall, there are a few things to keep in mind while browsing business reviews.
First, it’s best if you can check multiple sources to get a well-rounded view. Second, remember that many reviewers are either outraged and looking for a place to sound off, or smitten with a company because of a great deal they were offered. While some of the information in both types of reviews can be useful, read comments that fall in the middle of the road as well.