Introduction – How To Make The Most Of Online Reviews

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If you’re like most people who are surfing the internet these days, product reviews have become a valuable resource. After all, they’re right there for the taking whenever you want to make the right decision about what to buy. Reviews were meant to help us cut through the advertising claims and find out what works and what doesn’t without spending our money. But they’ve come to be less reliable than you might imagine.

I’ve been copywriting for a lot of clients, businesses, and writing teams over the past 15+ years. During that time, I’ve written a lot of articles, press releases, web content, and, yes, reviews.

There’s different types of reviews including everything from those posted on store websites to the endless stream of those posted on Amazon and Ebay. There are also review sites like Yelp.

If you’ve ever written a review, you know that some are legit. But how do you tell the difference?

Let’s Start with Amazon

The website has cracked down on some fake reviews, but not all. I used to receive items from a client and then submit reviews on those items. Amazon decided I was obviously a ‘friend’ of the seller and stopped my reviews cold. Even so, I’ve written a ton of Amazon reviews for other clients since then. The difference is that I write what they want and they take care of where to post it. I don’t put anything on the website myself.

Reviews on Store Sights

Reviews posted on store sights are different. You usually have to have a verified purchase and the review you write has to be approved before it is published. That means that the buyer isn’t influenced (paid!) to have a certain opinion. But, there is still an issue with these reviews.

One example is a refrigerator that I purchased from a large supply store. I ordered it online, had it delivered to my home, and got exactly what I ordered. I was happy with the purchase and the service I received. My review reflected both!

When the refrigerator started making funny noises a few months later, it was too late. The review was written, published, and no way to edit or update it. The refrigerator didn’t work well for some time. It waited until after the 1-year warranty to completely die and  a repairman said it couldn’t be repaired.

That’s when I realized that while these reviews are honest and they come from real buyers, they don’t really tell you anything about the durability of these products. Anything can look good coming out of the box.

The most important thing to consider with these purchases is the warranty and what is covered. Most major appliances are limited to 1-year warranties today, many with the option to buy and extended warranty. Depending on the price of the product and the warranty, it may or may not be in your best  interest to buy. In the end, a major appliance might become ‘unrepairable’ one day after the warranty expires and you’ll be left with the job of disposing of the old one and replacing it with a new one.

Review Websites

If you’re looking for a certain product or service, you might turn to Yelp, Google+, or Porch to find the best choice. But keep in mind, all it takes to write a review on most of these sites is an account. Even Angie’s List, who is supposedly consumer-driven, relies heavily on advertising fees to keep their site going.

Why It Matters

You might think that the problem is just with the positive reviews posted about a product a service in order to drive sales. That’s only half of the issue. Just as companies and businesses write positive reviews to promote what they’re selling, their competition is right there to tell you what is wrong with it. Nothing lifts your product faster than tearing down the competition.

Problems with the Five-Star System

Amazon is a prime example of a large-scale five-star rating system. Whether a product haves a few, hundreds, or thousands of reviews, everything is given a rating according to the number of stars the buying thinks it has earned. I doubt that anyone is going to read ALL of the reviews in any category. But the biggest mistake you can make is to take the overall star rating at face value. Here’s why…

Consumers determine what dictates a certain rating and people have very different ideas of what they mean. In fact, some buyers will give a product a very low rating because they didn’t like the delivery guy or the picture on the box the product arrived in. I don’t know how many times I’ve read raving reviews that had absolutely zero complaints about anything and the writer still gave the product only three or four stars. Others will give a product a low rating because they just received it and haven’t actually had the chance to try it out. It’s never enough to look at the rating. You have to read some of the reviews. Here’s how to use them strategically.

Getting Past the Rhetoric

For starters, look at the same product on a different website and see if the reviews are comparable. I like to check at least three and it’s pretty easy to do. Most of the time, a search will bring up several sites and the overall rating. Read some of the more positive and the most critical ones on each site.

The standard advice has always been to ignore the lowest rating and the highest one. That can be tricky when there’s only a few or there are thousands! Sometimes there are only reviews on the upper and lower ends with nothing in the middle.

Read several reviews in each category. If ten or more people say that the handle fell off their coffee pot the first day, there’s probably something to worry about. If they are random comments such as “I would have preferred metal over plastic” or “I really don’t like the color choices” that’s different than functional issues.

Look for consistency in the positive reviews, too. How many buyers think the product performs as well as or better than expected? How many had problems right out of the box? The more the same sentiments are repeated, the more likely they are to be legitimate reviews and less likely to be paid for.

I’ve never written negative reviews for competitors and most of the positive reviews I’ve written have focused on a product’s features. How many speeds it has, easy to take apart and clean, etc. These aren’t the same as reviews by people who have actually put those features to the test. That’s what you need to look for when you’re planning on investing in anything you buy!

Let’s Get Something Straight

I’ve already confessed that I’ve been the author of a number of reviews that were written as a job for clients. That’s not the case on this website. Any review you read here comes firsthand and is honest whether it’s a rave or a rant! So few things stand up to the advertisements that I want to share some of those that really do. I also want to help buyers save their money on promises that won’t be met.

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