You check online reviews to see whether a new restaurant is a good dinner choice or to get recommendations about hiring handymen, but when it comes to your wedding, do you really trust online reviews?
Some couples do and others don't, but before you say "I do" to the idea of Internet recommendations, consider this: About 20 percent of reviews on Yelp are fakes, according to the company and a study by Harvard Business School and Boston University.
While companies, including wedding vendors, want good reviews to help their business, the reviews aren't always trustworthy. That's because some companies hire people -- for as little as a quarter -- to write bogus praise for them or complaints about their competitors. Recently, New York state's attorney general fined 19 companies over $350,000 for writing fake reviews.
"People tend to only leave reviews if they're very happy or very unhappy," says Marta Segal Block, wedding editor for the website GigMasters, who suggests keeping an "open mind" when reading reviews.
"If a vendor has 20 fantastic five-star reviews and one horrible review, you can probably discount the one horrible review," she says.
Florist Laurel Ann Winzler of Laurel Designs says most reviews "are genuine."
Still she recommends brides and grooms go beyond online reviews to gauge whether or not a wedding vendor is a good choice for them. Check the vendor's website and see which other vendors recommend this person or company. Experience and professionalism are essential.
"If you see the same photos over and over on the site or it looks like there are photos from the same couple of events throughout the site, this is a red flag," says Winzler. "It means this vendor hasn't been in business long enough to have a variety of images to show."
Don't be afraid to ask the vendor about questionable reviews. See how they explain the situation and then decide if you want to hire that vendor.
"If someone leaves a nasty, hate-filled review did the vendor respond in kind or did he or she leave a reasonable response explaining the situation from their point of view?" asks Segal Block.
While checking reviews is a good start to finding wedding vendors, it's smart to ask vendors you trust, such as your planner or caterer, for referrals to other wedding pros like photographers and florists.
Some of the reviews -- good and bad -- are weeded out by the review sites, like Yelp and WeddingWire. Those weeded out reviews aren't seen by the public.
The companies stand by the reviews that are posted.
"We go to great lengths to make sure that consumers who come to Yelp can trust the reviews they see on our site," says Yelp spokeswoman Kayleigh Winslow, who credits the company's "automated recommendation software" for evaluating the 57 million reviews on the site.
Winslow, who says the company's stance on reviews is "quality over quantity," notes Yelp will issue "Consumer Alert" warnings "when we catch a business red-handed attempting to deceive consumers by trying to buy reviews, offering rewards or discounts for reviews or if the business has a large number of reviews submitted from the same Internet Protocol address."
Kamari Guthrie of WeddingWire says their policy stipulates you can only review a vendor if you had "contracted business" with that vendor.
"As WeddingWire is a neutral party at all times, this policy is the guiding rationale for which reviews are accepted and which are denied in the event of a dispute," explains Guthrie. "This policy also ensures that all live reviews on the site are legitimate."
*Reviewing the Reviews
Need help spotting fake reviews? The Better Business Bureau warns against reviews that use glowing language such as "This product changed my life."
They also suggest checking the reviewer's name to see whether it's close to the business' name. If it has a few numbers at the end, it could be a computer-generated reviewer. Check the company's reputation with the BBB and conduct an Internet search to see what else people are saying about the vendor.