Review Washing: Losing Trust in Online Reviews

 In General News, Reviews

Gaming the consumer experience is nothing new. Advertisers picked up on this more than a century ago by controlling the conversation about their product. Why let an unbound customer feedback message muddy the water when your consistent message is permeating the airwaves? Online reviews changed this game. Customer feedback helps guide purchases and record experiences for buyers, but for businesses, reviews are uncontrollable. Here is where the desire for control bleeds through. Online review sites wanted to monetize and businesses were very interested in presenting their message. At the intersection lies Review Washing.

Review Washing is simply defined as using false or sponsored reviews to elevate a review rating. It’s sort of like Astroturfing in politics where donors are masked to create the illusion of grassroots support.

Gaming The Review System

There are  few different ways that companies control their review message.

Buying Reviews

For Google, Yelp, or Angie’s List reviews, companies will actually offer gift certificates or in some cases cash discounts if a review is placed online. I’ve heard of review payments in excess of $100 from some contractors. Honestly, there isn’t much that can be done about this. The best advice is to look at reviews and ratings on multiple sites and be leery of companies that have large discrepancies in ratings.

Here’s an example of a company that has a Yelp rating of 2.5 stars, but a GuildQuality rating of 4.7 stars.

Yelp for Power Home Remodeling Group

Guild Quality for Power Home Remodeling Group


Self Selecting Reviewers

Companies like GuildQuality began as a surveyor for businesses to obtain feedback for customer satisfaction. It is a service that companies are more than willing to pay for to gauge the performance of key individuals and for continuous improvement efforts. The changemaker was the posting of those online surveys in a review aggregator online. It’s called a 360 degree review. The idea is no different than what Amazon originally branded, but there’s a twist. If a contractor can control who the survey is getting sent out to, namely 5-star reviewers only, they would be able to inflate their overall rating thereby gaming the system. The message could be controlled once again.

5-star Red Flags

There are dozens of online review sites for contractors. One recommendation I always give homeowners is to look deeper than the star rating. If a company is indeed review washing, you’ll notice an insincerity in the review language. It’s also good to explore BBB complaints and especially look at Google reviews.

Tips for Spot Authentic Reviews

  • Be wary of reviews that are overly-enthusiastic with very little depth
  • Look at the comments, rather than the star rating
  • Watch for similar or duplicated reviews  that appear elsewhere
  • If it looks too good to be true, it probably is
  • Read a number of different reviews from different sites


Next segment we look at the eroded trust from the nation’s top contractor review site Angie’s List.



Ben Lindberg, CR is a partner at the Lion Tree Group, a digital marketing agency, in Madison, WI. His expertise is in multi-platform brand messaging with a focus on inspired homeowner engagement. As an industry insider, he has walked the walk and developed a winning business campaign strategy from experience with one of Wisconsin’s largest remodeling companies. His agency’s core competencies include digital website design, transitional market campaigns, and branding updates. He regularly blogs at his company’s blog: The Bark and Roar.

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