organic search results for online reviews for sushi

Online Reviews – Loved, Hated, or a Necessary Evil of Doing Business?

Networks like Yelp & Google will say online reviews hold businesses accountable for their quality of products and services. “Joe Public” uses these networks’ reviews to decide where to eat somewhere new or if they’ll try to buy a new brand/product. In a perfect world, this would work great.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where opinions are like…well you know the rest. And most of them do stink.

If you own a local business, these reviews can have an effect on users clicking through to your business over others in organic search due to schema data showing the star rating in your Yelp organic listing or Google My Business listings.

online reviews

Online Reviews and The Issue with Accountability

Professional reviewers are held to a standard and hired based on their ability to tell a story and paint that experience for the reader in their mind. Yelp reviewers aren’t held to that standard, yet their reviews are held to the same relevance. This is like giving a child a gun and rating their performance at the range compared to a military trained sniper and saying, they both have guns so they’re both qualified.

Instead of receiving objective reviews based on an experienced palette, review readers are giving the same credibility to people with a lifetime of credentials and a complete stranger who feels “social” when reviewing.

The Worst Yelpers

Have you ever met someone who can’t wait to “Yelp” about their experience and thought “I need to be friends with him/her”? You may be part of the problem. These are the same people who feel if it’s not a 100% positive experience, they need to tell the world why it’s a 0% experience. There’s no middle ground – its pass/fail, black and white.

There’s the overwhelmingly long stories when you get 3 sentences in, you can feel their “review” may be more based on their bad day. They’ve made this is their therapy session to release anxiety looking for reaffirmation from the hive mind.

Equally as bad are the “1 star” ratings with no explanation. That’s literally like walking up to someone, taking something from them, kicking them in the balls and walking away – and when someone wants to know why they did it, they just say “no reason”.

In a retail setting, have you ever seen a line of people waiting to give accolades to the management due to an amazing experience? Shoppers generally voice their opinion in a commerce setting based on negative experiences and wanting a resolution. Even when a resolution that is completely satisfactory has been presented, accepted, and accomplished, people feel the need to have their voices heard in other arenas. Pre-web days, it would be to friends and family. Now, it’s to the world through reviews.

A small restaurant owner can go from having the best fiscal period of the year to being sickened with anxiety due to a bad review. The constant struggle for the 5-star rating and seeing it dip to 4.9 or less puts massive undue stress on a business.

Yelp Elite Reviewers

For the past few years, there’s been a section of Yelp called the “Elite Yelp Squad”. What experience or qualifications do you need to become a part of this team? Per their website:


We’re about inclusivity—whether you’re new or old school, we want you in the Yelp Elite Squad. Anyone can nominate themselves or others to join, but there are some requirements! YES! isn’t just about recognizing the raddest Yelpers, it’s also a mark of trust. Keep sharing reviews, photos, and more, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a Yelp Elite Squad member.

Although the specifics aren’t released to the public, based on the linked articles above, it’s users who Yelp a lot, like other reviews, and get involved in the Yelp forum.

What Can Be Done to Improve Online Reviews and Reviewers?

Wouldn’t it be better if the application process for a Yelp and Google reviews account actually had a few questions like these for restaurant reviewers?

  • Have you attended culinary school?
  • What’s your favorite chain restaurant? (Any answer besides “none” is wrong)
  • Send a picture of you holding a knife and fork.
  • What is in hollandaise sauce? (With 5 seconds to pick the ingredients from a checklist)

Reviewers should be only given access to review the types of businesses in which they’ve been vetted and deemed qualified to review objectively. And any reviews that are found to be overly emotionally based should be immediate qualification for a removal of their account and all past reviews.

With a system like this, we wouldn’t have a reviewer who thinks Chick-Fil-A is 5-star establishment while the Palm is 3-star because the steak wasn’t “well-done enough”.