5 Things to Know About Reviews (That I Wish I'd Known Before Owning a Business)
Updated: Jan 15
Reviews have become a routine part of our lives regardless of whether you own a business or are simply a customer. At the very least, you most likely read reviews before purchases or trying a new business and seeing a star rating next to a product or business name is standard and expected. You may even be someone who leaves reviews whether occasionally or on the regular, which is appreciated! Owning a business comes with learning a lot of lessons, most of which I wish I'd known when I was in the "customer only" population. So here are 5 things about reviews that I wish I'd known years ago!
1. Reviews are SO Important for Small Businesses
I definitely underestimated the importance of reviews before owning a small business. Most small businesses don't have large advertising budgets and people leaving reviews and sharing their experience via word of mouth has a large impact on many small businesses. I always had the mentality that reviews weren't that big of a deal and someone else would probably leave a good review that would say the same thing I would have anyways, right?? Well turns out if a lot of people share that mentality, there's not many reviews being written unless they're bad reviews (more on that later). Another aspect of the importance of reviews that I wasn't aware of, is even if there's a few people who make it a point to leave a review, recent reviews have a bigger impact than older reviews as potential customers put more trust in those. Bottom line, reviews are really helpful and this year when many businesses are working through this new crazy market they mean even more. Does that mean you should spend hours each day reviewing every business or restaurant you visit? No, nobody has time for that. However, I challenge you to write 1-2 reviews a month especially for a local business that you like; I promise you'll make a difference for a business that supports your community!
2. Let's Talk Bad Reviews
Poor or subpar experiences are inevitable. Just like no one is perfect 100% of the time, no business large or small is perfect 100% of the time regardless of their best intentions. It's most definitely not my place to tell you what kind of reviews to write, but I'll share lessons I've learned from being on the other side of reviews.
I have been guilty in the past of being quick to write a negative review and I often see advice given in online forums to "blast" a business online based on a poor experience. As a business owner, I'm not going to lie, bad reviews sting; but it's definitely worse when we feel like they came out of nowhere. The ones where we had no idea the customer was unhappy are the worst because we feel like we weren't given a chance to make the situation right for them. Is that to say we've never deserved a bad review, nope...as I mentioned we're not perfect. However, when a customer reaches out whether via email, text, phone call, or in person and shares their experience we almost always do everything in our power to make the situation right. Reviews aside, we truly don't want a customer to have a bad experience with our business; we put a lot of work into it and want to give the best service and results possible and I'd venture a guess that most businesses are the same. So, as I mentioned before, I'm not here to tell you what kind of reviews to write but I encourage you to give the business a chance to make it right (if applicable, I understand some situations are beyond that step). Even after you post a negative review, if the business asks to make it right why not hear them out, you might be pleasantly surprised.
3. Is Yelp Really the Most Reliable?
Out of everything I've learned about reviews as a business owner, Yelp has been the most surprising. Years ago, Yelp touted themselves as the most reliable because they were able to filter out fake reviews. I, like many others, wholeheartedly believed that until I was on the other side. As of late, Yelp is no longer using that narrative; more on that below. Now, don't get me wrong, Yelp is a great resource and I use it regularly myself but I see things through a different lens now. An important note, if the business is listed as "unclaimed" then no one with the business is seeing or responding to reviews; this is especially important if this is your way of getting the business's attention due to a negative experience.
The thing most of us forget (or don't realize) that Yelp is a business and is trying to make a profit just like any other business. They push hard on small businesses for advertising and have been rumored to "punish" businesses who refuse to advertise or stop paying for advertisements. There is a lot of information about this online that can be found via a quick search and even a documentary "Billion Dollar Bully". As with everything, do your own research and decide what you think. The most important thing I can tell you is Yelp's algorithm for recommending reviews has changed a lot from solely fishing out fake reviews. Below is their current (as of Oct 2020) description of their recommended and filtered reviews.
As you can see, they often filter real reviews based on their standards of an established profile. These very real reviews no longer count under total review numbers or stars that are displayed in Yelp's search results. As a business owner, this is definitely frustrating that happy customers can be silenced and something we have zero control or influence over. Even more frustrating is that they will deem a review recommended for a few months and then remove it from the count and place it in the never to be seen "Currently not recommended" section. My biggest piece of advice when using Yelp is to take a moment to scroll down to the small "currently not recommended reviews" hyperlink and factor those into your opinion of the business. They are listed by lowest to best star ratings with the most recent for each star displaying first. Chances are the majority of those are real customers leaving real reviews.
4. Google Prompts User Reviews Based on Location History
I did a little research into which review platform was used more or trusted more and I did not find a straight answer. I'd say that Google and Yelp are probably equally used by customers when reading reviews. However, many businesses will request feedback via Google more than Yelp due to Google reviews helping SEO and Yelp's filter. This is why you'll see some businesses with 2-3x as many Google reviews over Yelp. Similar to Yelp, if the business is unclaimed no one at the business is monitoring or seeing the reviews and you are simply reviewing to help other customers. If you are a business owner, take the time to respond to your reviews, especially the ones on Google. Responding to reviews shows customers you care and responding to Google reviews can further help your SEO.
A couple of things to note about Google reviews. Google does not filter reviews at all, but they will sort reviews automatically by relevancy which is determined on their own algorithm. Obviously, Google does not require you to write a review just a star rating but will reward reviews that are longer and more in depth, as well as including pictures. Google also gives points and ranks reviewers based on their contributions. This will sometimes lead to people going through their location history prompts from Google and mindlessly reviewing businesses in one sitting. Those reviews tend to be less helpful, if not less accurate. Google is definitely a worthwhile place to read or see reviews, and a great place to leave a review for a business you enjoyed if you are not an avid reviewer and don't want your review hidden by Yelp's algorithm.
5. Facebook Reviews Can be Turned On or Off
Facebook ranks after Google and Yelp in terms of volume of reviews. Facebook garners more reviews for smaller businesses that don't have a Google or Yelp profile. The thing about Facebook reviews is they can be a little confusing to customers. I've often seen customers post on the business's page as a visitor giving their positive or negative review. If you post as a visitor to leave your positive review, while the business will still appreciate your support, your review is not as helpful to them. It's very hard for others to see your post as you have to visit the business profile then click on see visitor posts, steps most people do not take when looking into reviews. If you leave your negative review as a visitor post, the business is able to delete it without it notifying you and if they really want to take it a step further the business can ban you from interacting with their page so you're unable to post, comment, or leave an actual review.
Another common misconception for Facebook reviews is that the business is able to delete the review. This is untrue if you leave an actual review and not a visitor post. However, while businesses cannot delete reviews, they can turn the review feature off which will hide all reviews (positive or negative) and prevent any future reviews being left. While Facebook reviews are valid, they tend to be less helpful to businesses in general because it's often overlooked by potential customers.
Phew, that was a LOT of info; but I truly hope you learned something helpful. My advice to those of you looking for reviews, compare Google and Yelp reviews and take into account the "currently not recommended" reviews on Yelp. If you're wanting to help businesses by leaving more reviews, consider if your profile and reviews are robust enough to not be filtered out on Yelp and then decide between Yelp or Google. Even better if you write a review and quickly copy/paste it to all three review sites to really benefit the business; I guarantee your support will not go unnoticed and will be greatly appreciated!