GUEST BLOG: How to Navigate Online Review Sites and Make Them Work for You

July 25, 2014

By Lance Trebesch, CEO,

Whether planning a trip, a home renovation or a date night, online reviews definitely impact my purchasing decisions.  And I’m not alone. A 2013 survey from research firm Dimensional Research found that 90% of consumers say their buying decisions are informed by online reviews!

But with tons of business and service review sites out there, how do you know which offer the most credible information? Especially when, according to a recent Gartner report, 10-15% of social media reviews are fake and paid for by companies in 2014.

Well, you take those online reviews with a big old grain of salt…and do a little research.

Here’s How:

  • Start with BBB. Better Business Bureau has a veritable treasure trove of business reviews.  You won’t find any pay-for-play reviews, and their extensive database includes BBB Accredited Businesses, non-accredited businesses who have claimed their review, and charities.
  • Outside of BBB, never take numerical ratings at face value.  Take a sampling of both positive and negative reviews. After reading a few, you may discover that several of those low ratings are given for reasons beyond the business’s immediate control – such as parking – and have nothing to do with quality of food or service. On the other hand, those good ratings may point to something you don’t like. And here I speak from experience: a 4.5 star bed and breakfast may very well have earned that rating for its proximity to bars as well as the possibility that it is haunted (and subsequently part of the local ghost tour), not because it’s a restful retreat. 
  • Triangulate. Use more than one site to research and evaluate your options. For example, when choosing a restaurant, I’ll start search on Chowhound, then check Zagat and BBB. 
  • Take the road less traveled.  Though social media and the Internet are a go-to for us all, that doesn’t make it the best source of information.  Ask around.  You might not know the person two doors down at all, but, if you love the paint job on their house, drop a note in their mailbox asking who did the work. 
  • Go meta. Use the social media platform of your choice to create a post asking your friends what (or whom) they recommend and why. 
  • Form your own opinion. Many things are subjective. As a resident of Montana, my definition of excellent BBQ is likely less stringent than that of a Texas native.  So, if you’re interested in trying that new bakery because the cupcakes look good, unless there are lots of red flags in the reviews (horrible customer service, egregious cleanliness issues or questionable practices), give the business a chance to prove that middling rating wrong and see for yourself.

After you’ve done all that work and visit the business you’ve chosen, remember to pay it forward and write a legitimate review that other consumers can use.

Lance Trebesch is CEO of and sits on the board of the BBB serving E. Washington, N. Idaho & Montana. He resides in Bozeman, Mont. The opinions reflected in this blog are those of Mr. Trebesch and do not necessarily reflect the views of BBB serving E. Wash, N. Idaho & Montana.


ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2013, people turned to BBB more than 132 million times for BBB Business Reviews on more than 4.5 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at BBB Serving E. Washington, N. Idaho & Montana, founded in 1912, is one of 112 local, independent BBBs across North America.  

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