Understanding and Adapting to Bias in Online Reviews: A Guide for Businesses


Alex Corral

May 15, 2018


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In today’s internet-centered society, one is unlikely to come across a person who doesn’t consult online opinions before making a purchase. Online reviews that are posted by “professional reviewers” and actual customers alike have become the chief deciding factor as to whether or not many individuals purchase a product or service. If you have enough of these reviews, it could seriously affect whether or not your business can keep its doors open.

If There Is An Issue, Reviewers Will Find It

Reviews affect large and small business elements alike; a review for a business’s specific service can be found just as easily as a review for a business as a whole can. Based upon this point and the once again staggering number of online reviewers and your potential customers who consult online reviews to select a business, it’s imperative that companies maintain a robust digital presence and provide the most exceptional possible customer experiences. 

Biased Online Reviews

This is where many business professionals become worried. Bias in online reviews exists, and can directly impact the way potential customers perceive an establishment. In other words, online users can cause businesses to suffer. Whenever a customer with no real opinion of a business logs-on to review and finds comments from either “super-satisfied” or “super-dissatisfied” reviewers, he or she will probably be swayed one way or the other depending on how this online review is crafted.

This phenomenon is the result of a term called “herd instincts.” According to experts, this can, with enough time, sway a business’s reviews substantially towards the positive or the negative side—more worryingly the latter for business owners and the former for customers!

Less Polarizing Opinions

Customers with moderate opinions (the vast majority of customers) often find their online product reviews and online business reviews to be “drowned out.” At the very least, they will be rendered less attention-garnering than they should be because of polarized positions taken by other reviewers. And of course, customers who hold moderate opinions feel less of a need to review businesses, and therefore have a smaller number of reviews published than passionate customers do.

Research has demonstrated the existence of this phenomenon—individuals’ tendency to leave more emotional, less helpful reviews when they lack an incentive to do otherwise, resulting in an overall bias in online reviews. In one study, researchers found that providing reviewers with a nominal fee—say, fifteen cents—significantly improved the flow of moderate and positive review opinions. It made review text more accessible and balanced and resulted in a more positive overall tone on businesses’ review pages. In short, reviewers only review if they feel as though they have something pertinent to add to the whole discussion.

Of course, business owners who’ve poured their time, money, and hard work into their companies probably won’t feel comfortable leaving their prospects of success up to the seemingly random amount of online reviews! Thankfully, these business owners don’t have to leave their livelihood to chance, as several essential steps can be taken to attract more moderate and positive customers, and to amplify the quality and reach of a business’s review page as well.

What Steps Can You Take To Change This

First, as was mentioned, fewer online reviews are left by moderately opinionated customers if no incentive to review exists; these incentives can also draw-out more honest opinions. As such, businesses shouldn’t hesitate to provide rewards for customer reviews. These bonuses, though, unlike the example specified above, shouldn’t concern money. For instance, a “Buy One, Get One Free” or “Free Side Dish” coupon could be provided to customers who show proof that they left a positive online review for restaurants; the equivalence of these rewards could be offered at other businesses.

In this way, positive and moderate reviews can be garnered, and customers can be provided with a reason to come back to said businesses in the future. It’s a win-win for both parties involved, and one that’s taken advantage of far less often than it should be.

Get Your Business Right

This point is obvious, to say the least, we can’t even have this conversation if it wasn’t included: businesses looking to improve their reviews should assure that they’re providing a satisfactory customer experience.

This doesn’t mean that businesses in-question don’t generally provide such experiences, because they very well might. Instead, it does mean that a single lacking element of a company—say, slow service during a busy time or a lone, rude employee—can directly impact how customers feel. Even if two or three customers are affected by such occurrences once in a blue moon, their impassioned negative reviews will compound and create considerable trouble, because of the above-mentioned herd mentality.

Paying Attention to What Is Said Online

Lastly, positive online users and reviews can be attracted by completely overhauling a business’s online presence. Many companies find that the time they put into this pays for itself by attracting new orders—and ultimately, producing additional profits.


Hopefully, this information made clear why online reviews are valuable, why their bias is really important, and what steps can be taken to create a positive online presence and be as successful in business as possible. If one thing’s for sure, it’s that staying afloat is somewhat challenging in today’s ultra-competitive business landscape, and companies need to take advantage of every opportunity to get ahead that they can—including excelling in the online sphere.

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