A Suggestion to Reduce Bogus Reviews

The Problem

One of the great unsolved problems with TripAdvisor and other anonymous review sites is that they are open to abuse by fake reviewers – people who have never visited the place they are reviewing.  The motives for this can be attention seeking, cybervandalism, a competitor trying to manipulate rankings, a grudge … Is your competitor up the road looking too good on TripAdvisor? No problem – get a few mates or employees to post damning reviews from home.

The damage done to a restaurant, hotel etc by malicious reviews can be considerable – not only commercially but also mentally and emotionally for the owner of a property attacked in this way.  That’s why the TripAdvisor Owners Forum contains topics like these:

Owners Object to Fake Reviews

Owners Object to Fake Reviews

The Owner Position

For large hotels with hundreds of reviews the odd fake review may not matter in the overall scheme of things, but for smaller concerns with a small number of reviews, one malicious review can make a considerable difference – and it’s also a lot more personal.

The majority of owners do not object to reasonable and fair reviews.  But they rightly object to the fake and malicious ratings which pepper anonymous review sites.

Failure to Validate Reviews

TripAdvisor and other anonymous review sites all have a multitude of disclaimers, denying any responsibility for what they publish and refusing to vouch for “their” reviews.  TripAdvisor says it has checks in place to reduce the risk of fakery, but in reality fake reviews still get through. The current validation systems used by TripAdvisor appear to be little more than an automated system which checks IP addresses and the reviewer’s history on the site via cookies (primarily intended to stop reviews being posted from a hotel’s own internet connection), plus occasionally asking the reviewer by email to click a link in the email to confirm their review is genuine (which probably also involves an IP address check).  There’s nothing there that can’t be easily dodged by a fake reviewer.

Does it have to be like that?  Is it really impossible to introduce any sort of validation procedure which proves that the reviewer has stayed at the hotel in question?

In a Perfect World

In a perfect world, both guest and owner would have to acknowledge the booking in advance, as the successful holiday accommodation portal homelidays.com does for its reviews.  I believe that hotel.com, part of the same group as TripAdvisor, also has these proper checks.  In that case the owner may not like what is published, but there is no doubt that the visit actually happened.

However, I can’t see any way that TA is going to agree to that.  So here’s another suggestion.  It may be utter rubbish – let me know!

A Suggestion to Reduce Bogus Reviews

TripAdvisor (I’m going to say TripAdvisor as it’s the biggest, but it applies equally to Igougo, Trivago etc.) provides a unique property code to each registered owner, and known only to the owner.  In a prominent place on each property page and on the review page it is made clear that for a review to be classed as “Validated” a guest must ask the owner for this code – this could be done at any time, either before or after they place their review, or even before they have arrived.  If a review is posted without this code, it is classed as “Unvalidated”.  The review site could use other terms, of course.

A Validated review would be harder for an owner to refute, though of course they could still post a management response, and so would work for TA by reducing the number of unfounded claims by owners against “fake” reviews.

One drawback I can see would be that if all reviews required the registered owner code then owners could stop all/some reviews being posted; plus listed properties with no claimed owner (and there are plenty of them) could not have reviews posted.

So as a compromise TripAdvisor could continue to allow people to post unvalidated reviews, but have 2 categories of review relating to validated and unvalidated stays, and clearly flagged as such on the property review pages.

Far from ideal, I admit, but some sort of mutual validation would at least be a step in the right direction and might even give TripAdvisor reviews more credibility.

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9 responses to “A Suggestion to Reduce Bogus Reviews

  1. The way we deal with anonymous reviews on “globalhotelreview.com” is by not counting them in the rating score; an anonymous review will still be shown, but it won’t influence the overall rating.

    As for the non-anonymous reviews (which do count towards the rating) we will soon be using “OpenID” where users must have an existing, validated yahoo, gmail, facebook .. etc account to log in and post a review. Of course even this won’t fully prevent false reviews (as users can use fake accounts) but we believe this will diminish manipulation to some extent.

    I also would like to say that there is no foolproof review system: even when reviews are limited to clients who reserve a room through the review site, the system can still be manipulated, as hotel owners can “reserve” a room in their own proprieties under various names and review themselves once they receive the review email. I know for fact of a hotel who even paid the reservation commission to get a review in this way!

    Regards,
    Nawar

    • Hi Nawar

      Your point “I also would like to say that there is no full proof review system” is well put. But some are worse than others.

      Phil

  2. my take on it is don’t get involved with Trip Advisor! HomeAway Holiday Rentals have a system where you are advised that a comment has been made with the opportunity to validate it or let them know that you haven’t heard of this person… it’s fair and it works. I will not go onto FlipKey or Trip Advisor until they put something in place… I’ve read too many damning reports on places that I actually know locally to us… some of the comments are laughable but they are there!

    • Problem is, Tansy, an owner does not have the choice. You can’t remove your property from TripAdvisor, you’re stuck with it. I never asked to be on there, but I am whether I like it or not.

      • so how did you end up on Trip Advisor… did someone put you on? I was told many years ago that it was best thing since sliced bread and to get on it… however as we are holiday rentals, then in those days there wasn’t a way of putting us on – no category – now there are the facilities I won’t be putting us on!!

      • We’re a B&B and I can only think someone must have added us at some point – I first noticed we were on it around 2007, I think. I would rather not be on it. We do get business from it but the hassle and grief when we got our fake reviews convinced me that we’d be better off out of it. But then I found there’s no way to get off!

        As we’re stuck with it I try to use it to our advantage as a marketing tool.

        But every time I get email notification of a new review I hold my breath in case it’s another fake, or some idiot who thought we were on the coast and blames us for being inland etc.

  3. There are some obvious problems with this solution:

    1) This is just one more hurdle a reviewer has to jump in order to write a review, and would cut down on total reviews written. Would you rather have 100 reviews of a place, 1 or 2 of which may be fake, or 10? Particularly when those 10 are less honest, and still might be fake.

    2) Hoteliers could choose not to give the number to anyone who’s had a bad experience. Lose someone’s reservation? Forget to clean a room before check-in? No worries– just don’t give them the review ID, and no one will hear about it.

    3) How does this keep hotel owners from writing fake reviews of their own site? Or calling the front desk of a competitor and asking for their number? Or even staying there legitimately, and then slamming them?

    I tend to group people who complain about “fake reviews” into two groups– hotel owners who have legitimate complaints that would rather hide the review than address the issue, and the type of person who adds a false statement to a wikipedia article, doesn’t see it reverted within 10 minutes, and summarily dismisses the entire site.

    TA doesn’t work because it has 100% fraud prevention. It works because it has 99% fraud prevention, and human beings are using it to choose a hotel with this in mind. I’ve never had a single review or even a handful turn me off from a property, and in all my travelling, I’ve never been disappointed with a “top-rated” TA hotel.

    • I don’t think you read the whole article, Bill. Have another look. I never suggested that you couldn’t post a review without the code, just that having the code would give your review more weight as a stay had been validated. Not a total solution, just a step along the way.

      I agree that there are probably owners who claim reviews are fake just because they don’t like them. But there’s another group of people who complain about fake reviews – people like me who’ve been victims of them. See https://tripadvisorwatch.wordpress.com/trip-advisor-fake-reviews/

      If that hadn’t happened to me I would never have set up this blog and probably wouldn’t have even known about the problem.

      See my latest post for another suggestion!

      Phil

  4. I fully agree with your analysis of the Problem, Owner position and the Failure to Validate Reviews.
    Thinking about the coded number, what about using the type of number generator as for on-line banking, where it changes every so often? This would ensure that the same number cannot be used for more than one review, is unique to the business concerned and can only be obtained at the property concerned. For TA this would cost no more to implement than the promotional stand they sent me last week that now adorns file 13. It might just get attached to my visitor book so guests can jot down and take a unique number with them for their subsequent ‘anonymous on-line review’, having already ‘reviewed in person’ in the guest book.

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