How to Vet Anything (Website, Product, Business or Person) on the Web

By Hector Cisneros
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Today’s world is a mixture of profound opportunity and unprecedented threats. The dangers come our way because we have created the Internet, a worldwide communications network that provides instant access to people and computers. But this same wonderful tool comes with a very scary dark side. This same doorway that gives us access to a universe of information can swing both ways. It can allow cybercriminals to come into your digital house and steal all your most valuable digital possessions. It can give them access to your digital identity, your account numbers, passwords even your digital memories like photos and videos. In this episode of Working the Web to Win, we will explore how to vet companies and websites on the web to lower your risk of exposing your digital life to the ravages of cybercriminals and hackers. You will learn about websites and tools that allow you to check to see if a website or company is legitimate or a scammer waiting to sink its claws into your digital devices. So, let’s start digging into the research that shows us how to vet websites and companies online so we can avoid scams and stay safe while using the internet.  



Now I want to provide a word of caution about using rating sites in general. Don’t rush to judgment on a company or website because you see a few bad reviews. We live in a world where it's common for
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competitors and other miscreants to post bad reviews on Facebook, Yelp, and other review sites. Try to look at the big picture and evaluate all the reviews. What I mean by all the reviews is to look in multiple places. I always check at least five different review sites and also do searches looking for reviews and comments from consumers. Read the entire review. Is the complaint about a specific product or service or employee the company has or is it about some political or social attack based solely on the company’s religious, political or social stance? Today, anyone who is angry, disgruntled, has a grudge or was wronged by someone can attack anyone, even the wrong person. I have seen many instances where bad reviews were posted on a business’ Facebook or Yelp page that was posted on the wrong company. The person who made the post was never a customer or had never even contacted that company. Their mistake was that they could not find the real culprit whose name was very similar to the business in question. I have even seen instances where criminals were impersonating a local business and then simply absconded with the customer's money without doing any work. Who do you think got blamed and lambasted in social media for that?

We all think of the web as a great place to vet companies and products. But there is another low-tech way to vet a company or person. Ask a person you trust for a recommendation. I have been a member of BNI
Courtesy of Wikipedia
(Business Networks International) for over 20 years, and one of the benefits I receive is the advice (when I ask for it) from hundreds of other BNI members here in Jacksonville and around the world. If you know an expert in any field and you trust them, ask them for a recommendation. This can include your lawyer, CPA, I.T. support person or anyone you trust to give you a recommendation. It still makes sense to vet them on the web, but there is nothing like a good referral and recommendation from someone you trust. Now let’s let look a few rules you can use to decide if someone is legit on the web.

What do you look for when you are scouring review and rating websites? Here are my top seven rules to go by when interpreting reviews.

  • First, a legitimate company will always try and address a complaint and try to resolve the complaint to the satisfaction of the customer. This is not always possible, but the legitimate company will go out of its way to make the customer happy because it is the right thing to do and because it’s in their best interest as well.
  • Second, if you see a lot of complaints with no replies, this is a red flag that this company has done something wrong. This is especially true if you see lots of complaints on multiple sites.
  • Third, how many reviews and rating do they have? If they only have a few reviews/ratings, you’re going to need to do more due diligence by calling multiple references to check out their work or products in other ways.
    Courtesy of Pixabay
  • Fourth, how old is the reviews/rating? Are they restricted to an older point in time? Are the complaints restricted or tied to a specific person or product? Did they resolve any of the complaints?
  • Fifth, what is the ratio of complaints to positive reviews? Are they averaging 4 out of 5 after all the reviews? Any company or product that has a high average after lots of reviews is generally a good company or product. One caveat, if they have all five-star reviews and nothing but five star reviews, be wary of the veracity of them. Nobody gets five star every time!
  • Sixth, there is no such thing as a perfect product or company. Every company or product will fall short of someone’s expectations one day. What’s important is how that company responds to the complaint of a consumer who has been disappointed. Look for positive resolutions to complaints.
  • Seventh, if you're researching a person, look for pictures and photos you know to be them. If you search for my name, you will find many Hector Cisneros’. I know that there are literally dozens of Hector Cisneros in the USA, but there is only one Hector Enrique Cisneros with my SS#. However, having said that, this can even be faked sometimes. Read my article – “Getting Faked Out On Facebook - Copycat and Facebook ID thieves – It can Happen to You.”

Courtesy of Max Pixel
Now, let’s look at where and how to do your research. Start with the basic’s - do a search on the company’s name, website or product in Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Use words like “Reviews of” or “Rating of,” followed by “insert company/website/product name here.” Make sure you look at least three pages deep in your search. In most instances, you will find good, mediocre and bad reviews of companies and their websites or products. However, you still need to take everything with a grain of salt. I did a search on "Wokingthewebtowin.com” and found a listing in Google Search that led to a website page that used an HTML frame around our blog to trick users into thinking it was all our site. What they did was put a banner atthe top of the page that says get a free report, that takes the user to a different website which has nothing to do with Working the Web to Win.  (Even worse, when I tried to call the company that perpetrated this trick, I found out their phone was out of order.) It is our opinion that any company that tricks people on the web is not legit.

The point I am making is this, no one technique, review website, or browser tool will give you the complete picture of a company’s website, or its products veracity or usefulness. You must do a comprehensive due diligence.
Courtesy of Pixabay

Here is my list of favorite evaluation sites and tools for vetting people, companies, products, and websites. These are not listed in order of preferences because I usually use all of them if I am researching someone or thing on the web.

  • www.siteadvisor.com/ Aka WebAdvisor is a product that is provided as a free service by McAfee. It is a browser plug-in that helps screen websites before you go to them.
  • www.mywot.com/ Like WebAdvisor, MyWebOfTrust is a browser plugin that screen websites and provides ratings, however, this one is based exclusively on user input.
  • https://www.sitejabber.com/ Sitejabber is a review research site that allows people to review companies and products. You can do a search based on a website, business or keyword.
  • www.homeadvisor.com/ is a home improvement review and recommendation site for those people looking for honest home improvement professionals.
  • Angie's List was one of the first websites to offer reviews of home improvement professional. You used to have to pay to join, but because of competition, it now has a free option.
  • Facebook Ratings – If you have a Facebook account, you can look up a company or person to check them out. You can also do a search by typing in “Facebook ratings of” + “insert company name, ” and you will find them in search. Here’s what you find when you put our company name Workingthewebtowin.com - Home | Facebook. Here’s where to go If you are a business owner and someone has posted a fake/bad review.
  • Google+ reviews and Google My Business – Not too long ago, Google moved all of its reviews to Google My Business. This is a two-way communications platform between consumers and businesses where the reviews and complaints can be responded to by the businesses.
  • Yelp – Yelp has been the go-to research site for a lot of people. You
    Courtesy of Flickr
    can
    do research on restaurants, nightlife, home service contractors, and delivery companies.  However, recently I have heard complaints about reviews disappearing off of Yelp unless you are paying money for advertising with them. If you search for “complaints about missing yelp reviews” you will see what I mean. This doesn’t mean that Yelp is useless, it just means that their algorithm filter is pissing off lots of businesses.
  • www.rtings.com/ - RTINGS is a website that provides buying recommendations for TVs and sound equipment. Since almost everyone who is reading this article owns a TV or sound system, I thought it would be worth including. The ratings come from contributors who test and rate the products. They sell no advertising and follow a uniform set of testing protocols for rating products. If only there we a lot more free websites like this.
  • Trip Advisor – Trip advisor is a good place to do some research for vacations, hotels, flights, restaurants, etc. Anything related to a trip you are taking. I can’t vouch for their accuracy, but I know a lot of people who use them and are happy with the results.
  • Yellowpages – The online Yellow pages can be another place to look up a business. I did several searches in the online yellow pages and found that they are missing many listings. On top of that, few had more than one rating. Having said that, it’s another place to look.
  • Researching products - Amazon and eBay ratings are a good place to start if you’re doing product research. This can be true for most retailers like BestBuy, Target, and Walmart as well.
  • Foursquare – If you’re looking to research a restaurant, Foursquare is a good place to start. Like most of these rating sites, they want you to sign up to be a member. Don’t forget that most rating sites also get their revenue by selling advertising to businesses and the businesses that pay the most get the most exposure.
  • Merchant Circle and Manta are places to look up businesses. These websites sell advertising to businesses, and both rely on businesses claiming their listing and filling out their profiles. Like all listing sites, they may or may not provide the information you are looking for, but it does not hurt to look.
Courtesy of Wikipedia

Here are additional website links that will also provide information when doing your due diligence.

Before we accept a new client, we recommend that they vet us as a company and as individuals. In fact, it’s a really good idea to vet any company you plan on doing business with if you are not familiar with the owners, the company or its products and services. Likewise, we also vet any company before we agree to handle their marketing. The last thing we want to do is drum up a lot of business for a company that doesn’t have the best interest of its customers in mind. Having said that, I want to encourage anyone reading this article to do their due diligence, when searching the web, researching a product or service, talking to a service provider or future contractor. The reality today is this, the world wide web is not only a wonderful resource, it is full of fraud, deceit, fake website traps and cybercriminals looking to steal your personal information. We must engage in extensive research if we want to be sure that the website, business, product or person we are looking to use or do business with is legit and worth our hard-earned money. Please share this article with your friends, family, and co-workers and help make the web a safer place for us all.

That’s my opinion; I look forward to reading yours.

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This article explores how to vet companies, websites, products, and people to make sure you don’t get scammed and to lower your risk of exposing your digital life to the ravages of cybercriminals and other hackers. It provides resources, links to websites and browser plugin tools that allow you to check to see if a website, company, product or person is legit or a scam waiting to get their claws into your digital devices.

If you feel your business could use some help with its marketing, give us a call at 904-410-2091. You can also fill out the form in the sidebar of this blog. It will allow us to provide you with a free marketing analysis to help you get better online results. Our claim to fame is that we are one of a few companies who actually provide ironclad guarantees.


Hector Cisneros is COO and Director of Social Media Marketing at Working the Web to Win, an award-winning Internet marketing company based in Jacksonville, Florida.  He is also co-host of the weekly Internet radio show, "Working the Web to Win" on BlogTalkRadio.com, which airs every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern. Hector is a syndicated writer and published author of “60 Seconds to Success.” 

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