How to Write Honest Reviews That Help Local Businesses Thrive

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For customers, online reviews are a way to rave about their favorite local businesses, give constructive feedback, and share their experiences with their community. According to Yelp Community Manager Bailey Dixon, they can be even more.

As part of her role as a community manager, Bailey writes lots of reviews, something she says is one of her favorite parts of her job—not just because she can leave feedback but because she gets to express gratitude to businesses she loves.

Over time, she’s accumulated her own collection of tips on how to write great reviews and maximize Yelp as a research tool so users can best find what they’re looking for, whether that be a stellar hair salon or a memorable place to take friends to brunch.

One of the most important things Bailey keeps in mind is to focus on the positive when writing a review and think about how useful her words will be for readers.

“In our digital world, we often have this kind of courage behind a screen that we may not have in person. If I had poor service one time because maybe the waitress wasn’t in the best mood, I might not even mention that because she might be a totally bubbly, different person the next day. I still had a great meal. I still liked the restaurant,” Bailey said.

“It’s those small things like, ‘Okay, is this really going to impact other customers?’ And again, I don’t wanna take away from negative experiences that people might be having. I know that not every experience is positive, but I think there is something positive to be taken from each of these instances.”

If your experience at a business is less than ideal, a significant step customers can take is to leave constructive feedback in person. More often than not, simply speaking up about something you think should change can lead to a more positive experience overall, like asking for more ice in your drink or letting the waiter know your food is too salty.

“If you’re not even saying something small, how are you going to go on and address something large that’s not in person and just put it in a review and not give a business owner a chance to fix that experience for you? Constructive feedback is so important,” Bailey said.

One mantra Bailey keeps in mind is: When having a less than thrilling experience at a business, think about whether whatever is wrong can be changed in fifteen minutes. If your chicken came out cold or you don’t like your table, a simple conversation could easily fix those problems. If you come to find those issues can’t be solved through in-person communication, a critical online review could be the next step.

To make both positive and critical reviews helpful to users, Bailey says there’s nothing more important than adding specific details about your experience.

“When you’re going back and you’re deciding if you want to check out that new brunch spot or that new coffee shop, you are going to appreciate somebody leaving lots of details for you to read through,” Bailey said.

In addition, Bailey makes an effort to keep in mind both the customer and business owner when writing about her experience at a new place.

“You want to remember your audience, the things that are going to matter to people coming to that business later or things that the business owner was very intentional with. If you’re going to the dentist, if you’re going to a mechanic, a hairstylist, any of those, obviously you’re not talking about food, right? But you can still include what the service was like. You can start with how you booked that service. Did you have to call? Did you do it online? What was the price comparatively? That sort of thing. So the details matter, but the details are different depending on what business you’re reviewing.”

As a final tip, Bailey reminded that critical reviews are meant to be a form of constructive criticism to help businesses improve. While it can be tempting to rant, the negativity can have a tremendous impact on business owners, who are people too.

“Whatever that experience may be, reviews matter. Even if you’re just reviewing a dentist and you’re saying, ‘I got in, they fixed my tooth in 30 minutes.’ That review can go on not only to brighten that business owner’s day but to help someone else make an informed, conscious decision about where they want to go to have that experience.”

More tips from Bailey that could help you write your next review or better use Yelp as a research tool include:

  • Take photos and voice memos to remember specific details. The photos don’t need to be Instagram-worthy, but having a reminder in your camera roll or voice messages about what you had or what the business looked like can help you evoke relevant details you don’t want to leave out in your review. Plus, you can post those photos (or videos) to the business page.
  • When scrolling through reviews, use specific keywords to find the place that fits all your needs. Keywords can include parking, reservations, or anything that can help you have your ideal experience. This is also helpful for business owners who might be unsure of what kind of information to include on their Yelp Page.
  • Take advantage of all the features that Yelp offers. Yelp Waitlist and Yelp collections can help you find great local businesses and conveniently get in line before you even arrive.

Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Bailey, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.

Available on: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and Soundcloud.

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