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How much should we trust customers' online ratings?

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FARGO—They're one of the first things to appear when you search for a business on google — reviews.

It's happened to all of us: You're looking for a new restaurant to try so you check the reviews. It's promising until you see one bad review that sticks with you.

Can you trust it? We spoke with a professional reviewer and a marketing expert to see just how much a few stars can mean to a business.

Trevor Harder knows a thing or two about leaving feedback.

"I've reviewed everything from disposable razors to a car rental," Harder said.

He's a professional who's paid to leave his opinions online.

"Mostly Facebook and Twitter," Harder said.

So I asked the online opinion guru: Why do so many amateurs review restaurants and other businesses?

Harder said some people feel compelled to help others avoid bad service.

"Usually inform people of a bad experience," he said.

He also said it helps some people validate their opinion to share it.

Harder warned that the word of a few "keyboard Eberts" isn't always accurate. He feels more people will complain than praise.

"Most of these places are good, and the interviews reflect the few instances where they were not up to their standards," he said.

Marketing experts say a positive online presence is vital, but that you can't always trust the internet.

"The customers do put a lot of stock in it," said Ken Meyer, MSUM director for entrepreneurial studies.

"There's been restaurants that have been rated before they've ever opened," he said.

Despite plenty of fakes, a bad score can leave a business "yelping."

"As much as 85 to 89 percent of customers trust online rating sites," Meyer said Meyer. "Anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of your business will be affected by every star that you lose based on a 1 to 5 rating."

Still, experts say a rough score won't always keep a business from "starring."

"Word of mouth sometimes outweighs what we find in the ratings," Meyer said.

Studies show 40 percent of people form an opinion on a business after reading three or fewer reviews.

Experts say if a company's reviews seem exceedingly generic, or are posted in a short period of time, it's an indicator of phonies.

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