Millions of visitors visit sites like Yelp, Amazon, Angie’s List, and TripAdvisor in search for someone else’s opinion about a business, product, or place. Though ratings, in theory, are helpful, often times they are doctored to make businesses look better, or worse when companies post negative reviews about their competitors.

Checking multiple sources doesn’t work anymore. If you find reviews of the same product on different sites, you’re not necessarily viewing a wider range of opinions. The reviews may be duplicates spread by syndication firms, such as Bazaarvoice, which rounds up consumer comments and spreads them around the Web.

To make things worse, the process of faking reviews can be even automated by using AI. Last August, researchers trained an artificial intelligence network to write convincing Yelp reviews that could slip by the site’s vetters.

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But how to know when it is safe to trust reviews? We’ve come up with a few tips that will help answer this question.

Review company’s policies

Ask how the company weeds out fake reviews, you need to be confident whether they take it seriously. Confirm that their website allows people to write reviews only if they are legitimate paying customers. Expedia’s algorithms, for example, allows reviews only from users who really booked travel through the site. And Amazon finally started displaying only verified reviews, from people who actually bought the product on the site and have spent at $50. While not bullet-proof, this is a good news for the consumer.

Note, though, many sites’ policing software scans primarily for fakes or comments that violate their content guidelines. That leaves room for reviews that may be influenced by a sweet deal on a product. So, Amazon’s Vine program can give its users free products in exchange for online feedback (Amazon labels them as Vine reviews and says they have lower star ratings than other reviews).

Review the reviews and be analytical

Learn to read the general tone of the reviews and pick up on common threads across reviews. If you see common complaints crop up in multiple reviews, there is likely a legit problem.

Rule out write-ups that look overtly promotional, mention a rival business, or exhibit other red flags. Yelp found that about 22% of all reviews on their website don’t pass such checks. Those that don’t make the cut may be “fake, biased, solicited, or unhelpful rants and raves,” said Yelp spokesperson Anna Paladini.

Give more weight to reviews with pictures. For example, if the product arrived broken in a box, a person may post pictures of that broken product. If those pictures don’t look fake to you, probably that is a good review from a legitimate buyer.

Don’t pass negative comments, read them first. These can be more insightful than heaps of praiseful ones. Studies have shown that consumers trust reviews more when a sample includes at least a few negative responses because negative reviews show that the brand hides nothing. Though, be aware that companies can bad-mouth the competition too.

Analyze the language

It’s unlikely a person who decided to leave a review will be speaking in a formal language or marketing speak, as if writing an official report. But, this is what you can commonly come across. A lot of empty adjectives and giving overly glowing praise should immediately raise a red flag. Lifehaker actually has a good article about this.

Use a third-party service

There are sites which propose to solve the problem of how to spot fake online reviews. For example, service like Fakespot quickly analyzes online reviews for Amazon, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Apple’s App Store, and grades each one from A to F. After it takes into the account the real vs. questionable reviews for your product, Fakespot gives you an “adjusted rating.” Trust reviews if the percentage of unreliable ones is low.

Or you may use one of third-party review websites like Best Online Reviews which regularly publish unbiased and objective reviews of a big range of products. Such services save us a lot of time: Instead of launching a full-blast investigation, simply visit such website to find reviews by their own trusted etam of experts.

Finally, ask other buyers directly

If still unsure, ask in online communities such as Facebook groups. It’s fast and easy to become a member of a Facebook group that gathered a certain circle of people, like a photography group. It would be a great place to get an honest expert feedback on a camera or similar product.

Also, watch YouTube videos. On YouTube, real people are using products in real life and give their immediate feedback. One comprehensive video review may be worth a thousand of text reviews.

The bottom line

Always check the reviews against our tips above, and if nothing raises that red flag, probably you can trust those reviews.

Still, it’s a thin ice: What’s fake and what’s real isn’t always clear. We, as consumers, can deduce only this much. The best advice is to use your judgement and cross reference with people you know or who’d used the service or product.

The lack of trust in reviews doesn’t mean they are disappearing anytime soon. We simply need to learn how to read them.

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