A Review site is a website on which reviews can be posted about people, businesses, products, or services. These sites may use Web 2.0 techniques to gather reviews from site users or may employ professional writers to author reviews on the topic of concern for the site.
Review sites are generally supported by advertising. Some business review sites may also allow businesses to pay for enhanced listings, which do not affect the reviews and ratings. Product review sites may be supported by providing affiliate links to the websites that sell the reviewed items.
With the growing popularity of affiliate programs on the Internet, a new sort of review site has emerged - the affiliate product review site. This type of site is usually professionally designed and written to maximize conversions, and is used by e-commerce marketers. It's often based on a blog platform like WordPress, has a privacy and contact page to help with SEO, and has commenting and interactivity turned off. It will also have an e-mail gathering device in the form of an opt-in, or drop-down list to help the aspiring e-commerce business person build an e-mail list to market to.
Because of the specialized marketing thrust of this type of website, the reviews are not objective.
Studies by independent research groups like Forrester Research, comScore, The Kelsey Group, and the Word of Mouth Marketing Association show that rating and review sites influence consumer shopping behavior. In an academic study published in 2008, empirical results demonstrated that the number of online user reviews is a good indicator of the intensity of underlying word-of-mouth effect and increase awareness.
Originally, reviews were generally anonymous, and in many countries, review sites often have policies that preclude the release of any identifying information without a court order. According to Kurt Opsahl, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), anonymity of reviewers is important.
Reviewers are always required to provide an email address and are often encouraged to use their real name. Yelp also requires a photo of the reviewer.
Most review sites make little or no attempt to restrict postings, or to verify the information in the reviews. Critics point out that positive reviews are sometimes written by the businesses or individuals being reviewed, while negative reviews may be written by competitors, disgruntled employees, or anyone with a grudge against the business being reviewed. So called reputation management firms may also submit false positive reviews on behalf of businesses. In 2011, RateMDs.com and Yelp detected dozens of positive reviews of doctors, submitted from the same IP addresses by a firm called Medical Justice.
Furthermore, studies of research methodology have shown that in forums where people are able to post opinions publicly, group polarization often occurs, and the result is very positive comments, very negative comments, and little in between, meaning that those who would have been in the middle are either silent or pulled to one extreme or the other.
Response to criticismEdit
Many operators of review sites acknowledge that reviews may not be objective, and that ratings may not be statistically valid.
In some cases government authorities have taken legal actions against businesses that post false reviews. In 2009, the State of New York required Lifestyle Lift, a cosmetic surgery company, to pay $300,000 in fines.
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- ""Online Consumer-Generated Reviews Have Significant Impact on Offline Purchase Behavior," November 29, 2007". Comscore.com. 2007-11-29. Retrieved 2011-02-25.
- ""Do Online Reviews Really Matter? An Empirical Investigation" May 13, 2008" (PDF). Elsevier B.V. 2008-05-13. Retrieved 2012-08-15.
- "Sacha Pfeiffer, "Ratings sites flourish behind a veil of anonymity," Boston Globe, September 20, 2006". Boston.com. 2006-09-20. Retrieved 2011-02-25.
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- ""Medical Justice caught impersonating happy patients on Yelp, RateMDs," May 27, 2011". Ars Technica. 2011-05-27. Retrieved 2011-05-27.
- ""Polarization: Planned and Spontaneous," December 3, 2005". Uchicagolaw.typepad.com. 2005-12-03. Retrieved 2011-02-25.
- ""Company Settles Case of Reviews It Faked," July 14, 2009". The New York Times. 2009-07-14. Retrieved 2009-07-14.
- User-generated Review System, a 2008 United States patent which defines and deconstructs the concept of a review site