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Family 411: Can You Trust Online Reviews?
DAYTON -- When you go out to a restaurant or hire someone to help at your house, do you get online and read reviews? Eighty percent of Americans say they trust those online posts, but should you?
The Steinhaus Restaurant was a lifelong dream for Karen Koeppe and her husband.
"We really went all out and put our life into what we consider the best we can offer our guests," Karen Koeppe said.
One of those guests, Vicki Winterling, said this about her dinner: "We had a wonderful experience." Winterling and her sister visited for the authentic German food, despite some negative reviews on Yelp. She logs on to the site a lot to check restaurant reviews, but says, "Nine times out of 10 I will go to what interests me and try it for myself."
But not everyone's like Vicki. A Harvard Business study of Yelp shows restaurants which increased their rankings on the review site by just one star raised their revenues by up to 9 percent.
But if they don't have the stars, Brandon Mullins of Socially Buzzing says, that can cost them $12,000, $20,000, $30,000 a year in revenue. Mullins helps companies manage their online marketing. He says when Yelp started trying to get Steinhaus to buy advertising, 27 of their four- and five-star reviews got filtered.
Yelp only displays 4 of 37 online reviews for the Steinhaus - you have go through an added step to open filtered reviews.
Yelp says on its site, "We only recommend about three-quarters of the reviews we get," and, "We try not to highlight reviews written by users we don't know much about."
Sheila Gray reached out to Yelp. The PR department wouldn't allow us to record an interview, but sent this statement: "There has never been any amount of money a business owner can pay Yelp to manipulate their reviews."
Got work at your home? Maybe you've searched Angie's List for a tree trimmer or roof repair company, but a recent review by Consumer Reports says the site lets businesses "buy their way to the top of search results."
That tree trimmer with a B-minus rating or above can get ahead of the competition, and get increased exposure, by buying advertising.
Angie's List founder Angie Hicks says advertising is reserved just for highly-rated companies. She says they're required to offer discounts with the ads because that's what members want. The consumer is in the driver's seat. They're in control of what reviews the companies receive, they're in control of which companies are eligible to advertise, they're even in control of how they want to see the list presented, says Hicks.
Here's another reason to question what you read online. This fall the New York Attorney General settled with 19 companies creating fake reviews for companies willing to pay for positive posts. Those posts ended up on several online review sites.
Marketing expert Dr. Serdar Durmusoglu says there will always be companies that are going to do that. So what's a consumer to do? Dr. Durmusoglu says look for the sites that show every review. Ask how many of them are 5, 4, 3, 2, 1?
And look at how businesses are handling the feedback. The good companies are the ones responding to customer reviews, Dr. Durmusoglu said.
After her first year business, Karen Koeppe hopes restaurant patrons learn as much as she has about online reviews. "I want to open consumers' eyes," she says.
By the way, every online review site makes money from advertising. Angie Hicks says her site does not filter reviews, and it undergoes an independent audit every year.
Even she says looking at online reviews is only one part of making good decisions about how and with whom to spend your money.
We checked with the Federal Trade Commission for complaints about several online review sites. You can see those here: http://www.abc22now.com/shared/news/features/files/FTC_FOIA_20131202_174241.pdf
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