How online customer reviews work
General review sites
Sites such as Yelp, Product Review, TopTenREVIEWS and the US-based Angie's List provide customer reviews of a wide range of businesses. Anybody can visit one of these sites and write a review. While the sites generally encourage customers to use their real names, and Yelp asks for a photograph, the only compulsory requirement is a real email address.
Customers are given general guidelines for reviews, and asked to allocate a star rating for the product or service reviewed. The sites then use an algorithm (mathematical formula) to filter out any reviews that they suspect are false or automatically generated. The remaining reviews are then posted on a page.
When more than one review has been posted, the sites average the star ratings to give a business or product an overall rating. Reviews generally appear in date order, but can be searched by star rating and are sometimes re-ordered at the discretion of the site. Reviewers who post a lot of reviews generally get a higher status, and their reviews are given more prominence.
Most general review sites also allow businesses to claim their business page and 'join' the site as a member. Some sites then offer businesses access to online tools, which allow you to track reviews and respond privately to reviewers.
Specialised review sites
Specialised review sites operate in much the same way as general review sites, except that they focus on particular business categories.
Two well-known specialist sites are Zomato, which reviews restaurants and similar establishments, and TripAdvisor, which focuses on holiday-related reviews. However, new specialist sites spring up regularly, with review sites now devoted to real estate agents (ratemyagent.com.au), doctors (zocdoc.com), makeup (MakeupAlley.com), and more. Some sites require proof that a customer has actually used a particular business, but most do not.
Retailers' websites are set up primarily to sell products, but many now allow customers to post reviews as well. The largest site of this type is Amazon, which features millions of products and reviews.
Anybody who posts a review on Amazon must have an Amazon account, and must be able to demonstrate they have purchased from Amazon, but they don't need to have purchased the product that they are reviewing. Amazon gives detailed guidelines for customer reviews and also allows people who are 'officially associated with a product' to respond to customer reviews. Strict guidelines apply to these comments.
Blogs are online diaries that feature regular posts by the blogger. They generally cover a wide range of topics and often touch on things that impress or disappoint the blogger. Some bloggers include comments about businesses that they like or dislike, which function as online customer reviews.
Learn more about using blogs to market your business.
Other social media
Reviews also turn up on social media in a variety of forms. For example, a Facebook user can post a comment about a business on their own profile page, or on the page of the business concerned. The 2016 Australian Nielsen Connected Consumers Report found that around 69% of online consumers use social media to source information and reviews about products and services.
Twitter allows users to send messages ('tweets') up to 140 characters long, these can also function as mini-reviews (e.g. 'Had the best stay at X hotel last weekend').
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