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A Crash Course on Writing Yelp Reviews with Impact

Season 2: Episode 14


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When customers write reviews on Yelp, they help others find great local businesses and provide business owners with valuable constructive feedback. Their words matter more than they might know. This week, Yelp’s Small Business Expert Emily Washcovick is joined by Community Manager Bailey Dixon to share how customers can write impactful reviews that help their communities—both consumers and businesses—build positive experiences.

On the Yelp Blog: Get the inside scoop on what motivates Yelp users to choose a business and leave reviews.

EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Behind the Review features conversations with business owners and customers who wrote one of their Yelp reviews. In our discussions, we talk about lessons they’ve learned that can be used by other businesses to improve their own reviews…and their bottom line.

Occasionally, I also talk to industry experts who have additional insights into things like customer experience, small business technology, or just general advice for running a successful business. Today’s one of those episodes. I’m going to be sharing a conversation I had with Bailey Dixon – a colleague of mine, and Yelp Community Director currently living in Cincinnati. Let’s give our conversation a listen.

EMILY: Behind the Review is so special and unique because we have our consumer voices, but we’ve never dedicated an entire episode to the topic of ‘How to review and why to review’. So I’m super excited that you wanted to do this and share your perspective with our community. Can you start by introducing yourself and letting everyone know a little bit about who you are and why you’re an expert for today’s conversation?

BAILEY: Thank you so much for having me, Emily. My name is Bailey Dixon. I am a Yelp community manager, currently based in Cincinnati, Ohio, and my favorite part of my job is writing reviews. I get to do a lot of other cool things – working with business owners, planning events for our elite squad– but at the end of the day, spending time sitting on my computer, sitting at my phone, writing a review about my experience that other people are going to read is my favorite part of the job.

And so I’m so excited to share some of my personal tips with all of you guys today. I hope this is very beneficial to talk about and to listen to.

EMILY: I think it’s gonna be incredibly beneficial for all of our listeners. I mean, even our business owners can write reviews of their own experiences and I also think we’re gonna give a lot of learnings and takeaways that can just help you be a better Yelper too I think.

We wanted to bring this conversation, even a little bit before the writing of the review, to the deciding where to go. And you have some great advice that you wanted to share with our users for how you search for places and how you decide where you wanna spend your money. So let’s start there.

BAILEY: Yes. I not only love writing reviews, but I love using Yelp as a research tool. Whenever I’m trying to find a certain experience, we all have had that conversation with our friends, with our families, with our partners. “What do we wanna eat for dinner tonight? Where do we wanna go?” There’s always, “Oh, well I want tacos, I want pizza, I want this, I want that.”

There’s a certain vibe for every night, and I think that using Yelp to research what you’re looking for, something that will fit everybody’s needs, is a great place to start. I also think that a lot of people are using Yelp to do this already. They’re scrolling through reviews, especially when they’re traveling because if you don’t know a city, this is a great tool.

But those people that are researching, they might not actually be writing reviews about those places that they stop into. And so maybe some of the tips we get to later will help those people break that barrier. I’m thinking specifically of my brother who is notorious for this. He will always tell me, “Oh, I found this great spot on Yelp. I, you know, had the best hotdogs ever.” “Oh, send me your review. I can’t wait to read it.”

“Sorry, I didn’t review it.” So this is dedicated to all those people that are exactly scrolling through, trying to find those great spots. When I’m doing that, I have some things that I look for. Obviously we look at star ratings, five stars, four stars, even three and a half usually are going to be a safe bet. But I scroll through reviews and I look for keywords, and I wanna share some of those with you.

Reservations– does that spot need a reservation? That is something, especially if you’re trying to visit a place on a weekend, you might wanna keep that in mind.

Do they have Yelp Waitlist? This is really cool if a spot does not take reservations, but you might be able to plan ahead and say, “Oh, I know I wanna go to dinner at seven.” So if they have Yelp Waitlist, I can join the waitlist at 6:30 and then we leave the house and we get there and we get seated four minutes after we show up. It’s perfect.

And the last word I look for is parking. Where am I gonna park when I get there? If you’re like me, you like to plan ahead a little bit. And especially if a place is downtown, I get a little bit nervous if I’m like, “Oh, I need a parallel park.” So if there’s a lot nearby, if there’s a lot right next to the business, even better. Just a little bit of thoughts to keep in mind before you get in for that experience.

EMILY: And I think those are great tidbits for business owners to be aware of too, because they can put that information on there.

Like when I tell them about completing their profile and doing photos and captions, things like your parking setup are totally fine to include. It might sound boring or like who’s really looking for that, but the people who are planning and the people who are knowing they wanna come to your business, but trying to make it easy on themselves might be looking for that. So keep that stuff in mind and include that information when you put your business online.

Now let’s talk a little bit about while you’re experiencing a business, I don’t write reviews because it’s a bit of a conflict of interest with my role, but also I know that I would have to come up with some hacks so that I could write reviews because when I’m at businesses right now, I don’t do anything to help me remember for later if I were to write a review. So I thought you could walk our listeners through what you do when you’re at a business so that you can write a great review after your experience is over.

BAILEY: Yes, definitely. The biggest thing that I do to help me write a review after an experience at a business is taking all sorts of photos. I will be the first to say that I am not an Instagram pro. I am not taking the best images out here. Shoutout to all the people who are, especially the ones who are sharing them on Yelp, because I love those people. They are great all around.

That is not me. When I’m taking photos of a business of the food that I’m eating, of a menu. That’s for me mostly to remember all of those details that I’m looking forward to sharing in a review.

Especially the menu photos I think, are really, really important. Because I’m never going to remember if that grilled cheese sandwich had gouda or cheddar or whatever. I’m just gonna know that it tasted good. It was even better dipped in that tomato soup. We love a great combo, but the details are something that are hard to remember. And businesses spend a lot of time laying out those details for you. And so whenever there’s something that I know I wanna include, I make sure that I take a photo.

Sometimes these photos don’t end up on Yelp. Like I said, they’re not always these Instagram worthy, drool, like I get the cheese pull, whatever. Sometimes they’re just for me and that’s okay. My camera roll right now is full of places that I still need to review and that’s fantastic.

EMILY: That’s perfect. I want you to talk me through, also, are you bookmarking businesses in a certain collection to remind yourself to review them? I bookmark things because I know that I wanna go back to it just to visit it or look it up or send it to someone. But do you bookmark in that way where you’re keeping track of where you’ve gone but haven’t reviewed yet?

BAILEY: Yes and no. Yelp collections are a great tool for that. I use that a little bit more when I’m traveling, when I’m not as familiar with the businesses that I’m visiting. When I get excited, when I book a trip, I create a collection and I say, “Oh, I know I wanna go here for dinner. I know I wanna go here to learn paddle boarding or whatever.” So I have those businesses saved and set aside. Those collections, I just make private and I say, “Oh, this is Asheville, this is LA.” Whatever that may be for local businesses, what I do is I check into those spots and so when I’m going back and I’m scrolling through my Yelp profile and I’m like, “What do I wanna review today?” I can see that I checked in a couple days ago at an awesome coffee shop and I say, “Oh my gosh, I haven’t reviewed that spot yet. Here’s my reminder.”

So everybody does that a little bit differently. I know some members of my Yelp elite squad have a note on their phone that whenever they go to a spot they know they wanna review, they put that in there.

I like the check-in, the collections, because it’s all in one place, but whatever works for you I think is great. It’s very much a choose-your-own-adventure.

EMILY: Checking in. That’s great advice. Obviously we should be encouraging people to do that. And then Yelp reminds them too, that they might wanna write a review, it’ll maybe send them an email or it’ll give them a notification when they’re in the app the next time. That’s perfect

You got into it a little bit when we started answering that last question, but breakdown for me when you should or shouldn’t review. Sometimes people ask, “Well, I haven’t been there for a couple months. Am I allowed to review it?” What’s your philosophy on that? When are you allowed to? How soon? How long?

BAILEY: Definitely. Great question. I think that obviously anytime after you’ve had a genuine customer experience at a business, whatever that business may be, you’re entitled to write a review. Whether that was yesterday, whether that was a couple months ago. You have the power to sit down and share your experience and I think that’s fantastic.

I will say, though, for me, I usually like to write reviews about my experiences up to a week after because I know that I’m gonna forget certain details. Even if I’m going through and I’m taking photos so I remember those specific things, I’m not gonna remember my waiter’s name two months down the road. I’m not gonna remember what topping there was on that salad that I really loved. I will remember maybe, oh, I knew I liked the salad at that one place, but I’m not gonna remember what made it so special. And so I think the sooner after that experience, you can share that review the better.

I also will say, especially when you’re on vacation, you’re jumping from one business to another. You’re experiencing a lot of different things. You might not be looking to write a review a week after. You might wanna sit down a couple weeks later after you’ve had time to digest and you’re back into the swing of things.

In that case, I have a really special tip that I love to do, that I use specifically on vacation, and that is I make myself a little voice memo. I do talk-to-text and I give myself like a 30-second quick recap of what that experience was so that when I go to write that review, I can sit down and I can say, “Oh, Steve was my waiter and he was great and I loved that they had crumbled bacon on the salad” and whatever that experience may be.

So then when I sit down to write that, I remember all those details. The experience comes flooding back and it makes putting that to words so much easier.

EMILY: I love it. That’s such a great piece of advice for people and I think you’re right, especially when you’re on vacation or you have a weekend planned where you’re gonna be doing a lot of stuff – it’s a lot all at once. So giving yourself those little reminders are really helpful.

EMILY: I wanna talk briefly about times when maybe you’re not writing the review online because it would be better to give feedback in person. And I wanna preface this by saying, I think for a lot of people it’s like a non-starter, like they’re too afraid or embarrassed, or they don’t know how to bring it up in person. Like for some people, they’re just not gonna do that. So first, if we have any advice for those people on why it can sometimes be valuable and impactful to share in person. And then also maybe for our business owners who think they’d rather hear that in person, maybe you can share a little bit why sometimes that’s not the only way that feedback is going to come through. Or it’s maybe not the only realistic way to be open to feedback from a guest.

BAILEY: Absolutely. I think that in our digital world, we often have this kind of courage behind a screen that we may not have in person.

And I think that that’s something that I try to keep a conscious effort of whenever I’m having an experience in a business, not just a restaurant. I’ll think of a haircut for example, and say that if my hairstylist were to decide to give me longer layers than I wanted. You know, as a woman with long hair, I’m not going to wait until I get home to be upset about that and write a bad review and say, “Oh, she didn’t give me the haircut that I wanted.” No, I’m gonna say something in person and allow her the chance to help me fix my hair so that I don’t go home, wanting to cry or get upset about a bad haircut, because we all have had those bad haircuts. So that’s something that might be a little bit easier to share that feedback because it directly affects you.

In a restaurant, in a coffee shop, in a bar, let’s say that you’re sitting there and you ordered a specific drink and you ordered it with ice, okay? And your drink comes out and it doesn’t have ice. If I’m still sitting there, I’m gonna say, “Hey”, you know, very politely, but I’m gonna say something. I’m gonna say, “Hey, I know you guys are busy. I know there’s a lot going on, you know, maybe I misspoke, but I actually would like ice in my drink. Is there any way you can fix this for me?”

I would say 95% of the time, the person that made your drink, the business owner, whoever might be there, is gonna say, “Yes, absolutely. Let me just take care of that for you.”

That’s obviously a very minimal small example. But 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, and I think we often miss that constructive piece of it when we’re writing a bad review. Because when we have a bad experience, we just wanna rant and rave and just say all of the negative things that happened. “Well, you know, my, my drink didn’t have ice in it, and the person looked at me funny and” you know, this, this, and that.

Okay. I totally understand. We do have those experiences and I don’t wanna take that away from consumers. But there were certainly good things about that experience when you were having it.

Maybe you walked in and somebody welcomed you and said that they liked your glasses or whatever. You know, there’s always something positive to be taken out of an experience, even if that’s just you were able to find a good parking spot when you got there. There’s always something positive to be taken away.

Whenever I’m having one of these experiences with a business, I’d like to keep in mind this mantra that my husband has. It’s kind of funny but I’ll share it with y’all.

If you’re talking to somebody and they have something in their teeth or their glasses are a little crooked or there’s something in their hair or something like that. That’s something that you wanna share with them because it’s something they can fix within 15 minutes. If it’s something that they can’t fix within 15 minutes, then maybe you don’t share it at that time. Right? And so in the case of a business, if your chicken comes out cold, that’s something they can fix within 15 minutes. If you know somebody said something negative to you or whatever that experience may be, you can have a conversation about that that will solve your immediate situation. Your immediate experience. When you do leave a bad review is after you’ve had that conversation and the situation was not made right, whatever that right quote unquote looks like for you. And whenever that experience is going to impact other customers.

So if I had poor service one time because maybe the waitress wasn’t in the best mood or whatever, I might not even mention that because she might be totally a bubbly, different person the next day. I still had a great meal. I still liked the restaurant. It’s those small things that it’s 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.

EMILY: Now I think we are on the stage to talk about the actual construction of the review. What do we include? How do we even begin?

BAILEY: So if you have been following along, you’ve been taking your photos, you left yourself a voice memo, you know, whatever that may be, whatever your system is, you checked into that restaurant, you have a good starting place. You already are in a great place to sit down and write your review. The first thing I decide is whether I’m gonna write this review on my laptop or on my phone. A lot of our folks – Obviously because Yelp is an app – a lot of our Yelpers will write the reviews from their phone, and that’s a great thing to do.

I write very detailed reviews, and so sometimes I do not wanna be using just my thumbs to get all of those details into this review that I’m writing. So I like to write my reviews from my laptop. Everyone’s different. Everyone has that different time of day that they like to write reviews too. I do mine first thing in the morning sitting with my cup of coffee and say, “Oh, I really loved the coffee shop I went to yesterday. I’m gonna write this review right now while I remember it.” Other people at the end of their workday, that’s when they’re sitting and writing their reviews. That’s the little reward that they get at the end of their workday. Whatever that time of day may be, wherever you’re sitting and writing that review.

Here are a couple of things that I think are awesome to include. I will say though, everybody writes reviews a little bit differently. Everybody has a different star ranking system in which they use five stars.

I will say that most of the reviews I’m reading are positive reviews, and that’s fantastic. When I’m giving a five star review, that is a great experience. I would return to that business. I look forward to bringing someone back to that business, whether that’s my husband or family or friends, whoever.

But five stars doesn’t necessarily mean that everything was perfect for me. That’s my philosophy with five stars. I might leave a note in there that said, “The bathroom was out of paper towels” or, “Oh, it took 20 minutes for us to get our food, but the food was delicious and it was hot when we got it.” Constructive feedback that we talked about.

If I give a business four stars, three stars, you know, that’s maybe it wasn’t a great experience. It was a good experience. At four stars, you know, it was solid.

I would still come back three stars. Maybe I might not return unless somebody invited me there and I’m leaving a little bit more of that constructive feedback. But I’m still giving that business a lot of the benefit of the doubt. Like I said, everybody’s different. A lot of people I know, if the experience is not perfect, they won’t give it five stars. Whatever works for you. However you like to rank your reviews as you’re doing that, but I think that’s a good place to start because obviously when you log in to write your review, the stars are right on top. So you need to know, “Okay, I think I’m gonna go with five, or I think it’s four or, okay, maybe it’s three this time.”

As far as what to include in your review, details are always, always appreciated because when you’re going back and you’re deciding if you want to check out that new brunch spot or that new coffee shop, or whatever that may be, you are going to appreciate somebody leaving lots of details for you to read through.

And so these are a couple things that I try to include in my reviews. Obviously, not all of these always apply depending on the experience, but use your best judgment and try to leave corresponding details whenever possible. So I obviously talk about the food whenever I’m at a restaurant. I obviously am going to mention the service and the ambiance. Those three are our big three that we always like to include.

Occasionally, I will include the price. I usually, and I know I talk about parking a lot, but I usually mention parking. Sometimes I’ll mention the bathrooms. Sometimes I’ll mention if that business has something really cool about it. You know, if they have cool neon signs on the wall or something that makes them really unique. Or if there’s a favorite dish that everybody recommended to try. Something they’re known for. That’s always what I include. I wanna say that you want to remember your audience. So things that are going to matter to people that are coming to that business later or things that you know the business owner was very intentional with, those are things that I always like to include. 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. So you know, 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.

EMILY: That was great advice. I honestly took a couple of notes of what to include because I hope that I can start reviewing someday. Talk to me a little bit about why reviews matter and why they have such an impact.

BAILEY: Definitely. So I think that something we learn very young is that our words make a difference. We learn that we’re not supposed to say the mean thing to our sister, or we want to use kind words. We wanna use uplifting words. Our words matter. Our words have meaning, our words make an impact. And I think that when you have a great experience, you thank someone for it, right? And so when I have a great experience at a business, local, traveling, whatever that may be, I wanna go a little bit further and I wanna leave a good review so that that business knows that they made an impact on me. And so since they made an impact on me, I can help them by sharing how fantastic that experience was. It’s not just about the stars. I tell this to business owners all the time, every single day that I work with, it’s not about the stars. It’s about the people that you made smile, that you put a beautiful dish in front of them and it reminded them of their childhood.

Whatever that experience may be, reviews matter. And even if you’re just reviewing a dentist and you’re saying, “I got in, they fixed my tooth in 30 minutes.” Whatever that experience may be, 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.

And nobody’s having a great experience at the dentist, right? But if you have a bad experience at the dentist, I just want to implore that your words matter, your experiences matter, and at the end of the day, I think of it as just a love letter to that business. A thank you note for that experience. I can’t wait to come back.

EMILY: Fantastic to bring this all together and really give consumers that start to finish lens of how to be a consumer and be able to share great experiences online. Can you walk me through a recent experience you had with the business and how these different stages maybe were processed by you?

BAILEY: I would love to share about a recent brunch experience that I had. I know everybody loves brunch, and if they say they don’t, they’re lying because you can eat the most delicious foods literally from like 8:00 AM up until 3:00 PM. It’s absolutely the best. A couple of weekends ago, my husband and I wanted to check out a new brunch spot in Cincinnati.

It’s called the National Exemplar and it’s in the beautiful village of Marymont. It’s this cute European vibe, very sweet little town with lots of fun businesses, beautiful houses. It’s great to just walk around. But there’s this French place that is attached to a hotel and we always drive by and we keep saying, “We want to go, we want to go.” We just never got around to it.

And so the weekend rolls around, it’s Saturday morning. My husband was like, “You know what? Today’s the day we’re going to the National Exemplar.” Great. Okay. So excited. The first thing I do, of course, is go look at their Yelp page because that’s how I start all of my experiences. And I notice that they have Yelp Waitlist, which is amazing, especially for brunch places. Because how many times have you showed up to a brunch spot, maybe you know, you partied a little too hard the night before, but you’re really, really hungry. You are looking for something delicious and there’s an hour and a half wait and they didn’t take reservations and you’re stuck sitting on the concrete waiting whatever that may be.

This business has Waitlist and so I was like, “Okay, great. It’s gonna take us about 30 minutes to get there and it says the wait list right now is 20 minutes.” So just a little ways into our drive, I’ll join it. And then we can just pull up and get our table. That’s exactly what we did. So already we were starting off on a high note, there was no wait. We were able to sit down right away. And using the tips that I shared with you all. The first thing I did when I got in was I started taking photos. I took photos of where we were sitting because I wanted to remember the vibe.

It’s kind of cool, like dimly lit. Everything is dark wood, very fun, kind of like a tavern feel to this place. It makes it exciting. I took photos of the menu, which I, of course, had already looked at on the Yelp app. Right. I already knew what I wanted to get, but I wanted to remember what my options were. We were sitting near the bar. And so the bartender was actually also our waitress.

And I say that to say that this waitress was doing the most, right. She was killing it at the bar, and then she was also serving several different tables and my husband and I were in no hurry. We wanted to enjoy our brunch. We were there to, you know, have the experience. Our drinks came out super quickly and we were just chilling.

We see her working very hard and so maybe our food came out a little bit later. That’s no big deal to us because we see that this person who’s working at this business is working very hard and we want to acknowledge that. That’s not a problem for me. I worked in restaurants in high school and in college. I get it. I’ve been there. This girl was killing it. She was doing a great job. The food, of course, was amazing. I will highly recommend this business to anyone visiting town as a great brunch spot. Maybe you stay in the hotel and then pop over for brunch. Who knows? I love that. I would have to pull up the menu right in my photos to share exactly what it was that I got but it was this farm hash sort of thing, so like potatoes, very fresh vegetables. It had some whipped worsen (?) cheese, which is really interesting. I have not had that ever with a breakfast hash before, but it was so memorable. I knew I wanted to share that and the drinks were great too. Bloody Mary topped with all, you know, shrimp and bacon and celery, anything and everything. Overall, a really solid experience. The prices were spot on and I would definitely recommend it. So that was my little verbal review. Now I’m actually going to go write a review for this business. You all can check out my profile and read it, see what I had to say, and then come to Cincinnati, visit me, and we will go get Bloody Mary’s at National Exemplar.

EMILY: That was awesome. I loved how you worked us through every phase of the experience.

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