In today’s world, online reviews are ubiquitous so it’s important that consumers have access to review platforms with reliable and trustworthy information. A new survey* commissioned by Yelp and conducted by Kelton, a Material Company, polled 1,500 Americans to uncover what makes a review trustworthy to them. Of the people surveyed who read reviews, 7 in 10 say it’s rare for them to go to a new business without first checking out the reviews. And 3 in 4 say that they are reading more online reviews now than they ever have in the past. Overall the survey found that people who read reviews value quality over quantity, unbiased reviews, and transparency — all of which align with Yelp’s policies for maintaining content integrity.
Consumers value review quality over quantity
For an overwhelming majority of people surveyed, their ideal review includes a description of someone’s experience. 97% of respondents believe that written reviews, alongside a star rating, are the most helpful type of online review of a local business.
Nine out of ten people surveyed who read reviews are more likely to trust those that include a written review over just a star rating with no words. A star rating without review text makes it hard for consumers to trust it, which is why Yelp has always required ratings to be accompanied by actual reviews. In fact, only 3% of respondents say they prefer ratings with no text. Additionally, close to three in five (59%) believe that a rating without review text should not be considered a review at all, yet platforms like Google will incorporate ratings with no text into a business’s overall review count. According to a 2020 report from FTC Economist Devesh Raval, nearly a quarter of the Google reviews he analyzed had no text associated with them.
Relatedly, nearly three in five survey respondents (59%) believe the most helpful review would be between 16-50 words in addition to a star rating. Of course, business owners are consumers too and they mirrored those same sentiments — 72% of those surveyed say they prefer reviews with at least 16 words and a star rating, and a mere 4% say they prefer only seeing ratings.
Google My Business product expert Joy Hawkins, who owns Local Search Forum, Local U and Sterling Sky, wrote in Search Engine Land, “One-star ratings with no text offer little value to customers since they provide absolutely no context to support the rating. They are also the most difficult type of negative review to get Google to remove. Since there is no text, there is often absolutely nothing you can point to that will convince Google that it violates their guidelines.”
Not only are ratings with no review text unhelpful to many consumers, they also deny business owners the opportunity to respond and address a negative customer experience. Many businesses pride themselves on their customer service, so it’s challenging to make an issue right if there’s no feedback to respond to.
Consumers are less likely to trust reviews when businesses ask for them
Nearly two-thirds of respondents who read reviews (64%) believe that those that were contributed after a business asked for the review are biased. Similarly, half of the people surveyed (50%) don’t trust reviews if they know the business asked their customers to leave them a review.
One of the trust and safety policies that differentiates Yelp from other platforms is that we do not allow businesses to ask for reviews. When a customer is asked to write a review by a business, they may feel pressure or influence to positively inflate their rating compared to someone who was inspired to write a review on their own. In fact, more than one in five of the people surveyed (21%) admitted that if a business personally asked them to write a review it would make them more likely to leave a positive review. Businesses are also likely to only ask for reviews from satisfied customers who they anticipate will give them a great rating. This makes the information less helpful to all consumers and creates an artificial appearance of popularity for the business compared to other businesses that don’t have the time or marketing dollars to invest in soliciting reviews.
At Yelp, our automated recommendation software looks for reviews it suspects a business owner or employee may have asked for. We will also place a Consumer Alert on business pages when we receive enough evidence that someone associated with the business asked people for reviews in exchange for compensation or other incentives.
Unfortunately, seven in ten respondents who write reviews (71%) would still write a review if the business offered them a discount, gift or other incentive. This demonstrates that there’s still more work to do on educating consumers about the harm caused by deceptive testimonials — a topic state and federal regulators are increasingly focused on.
Transparency is key for consumers, from both businesses and review platforms
The average respondent who reads reviews looks at approximately 5 reviews about a business before deciding if they’ll patronize it. So new customers aren’t easily deterred by businesses with a high overall star rating and only a few one-star reviews. In fact, 88% of respondents are more likely to look past a negative review if they see that the business has responded to it and adequately addressed the issue. That complements a prior Yelp finding that users are 33% more likely to upgrade their critical review if a business responds with a personalized message within 24 hours.
Additionally, for most respondents (90%), it’s important to understand how reviews platforms determine which reviews they trust and which they don’t. Many review platforms use some sort of algorithm to weed out potentially fake reviews, but 80% of people surveyed say they would prefer to see all the reviews for a business or product, including those that the review platform believes are fake or untrustworthy.
Yelp’s automated recommendation software displays reviews it finds most helpful and reliable on a business’s Yelp page, and it also provides a link to reviews that are not currently recommended at the bottom of every Yelp page so consumers can still consider them. The software’s recommendation of these reviews can change over time as it learns more about the reviewer and the business.
While there are countless reasons people are motivated to write online reviews, many consumers view review writing as an opportunity to support local businesses. More than 3 in 5 respondents who have written reviews (61%) would be likely to do so if they couldn’t find many reviews about the business. And more than 9 in 10 people surveyed who write reviews (92%) would do so if they were very satisfied with their service. To protect the people who consume these reviews and the businesses who work hard for their ratings, it’s important to consumers that review platforms have high standards for content reliability and usefulness.
*About the Survey
Sample: This survey was fielded among 1,500 people aged 18+ in the United States. The survey was conducted online during the period of October 13-20, 2021 and has a margin of error of +/- 2.5%.
Methodology: Results of any sample are subject to sampling variation. The magnitude of the variation is measurable and is affected by the number of interviews and the level of the percentages expressing the results.