5 top tips for your online review strategy

Don't fear the bad review

1. Don't fear the bad review

People have always had opinions, the only difference is, it's much easier for those opinions to be seen and heard by the masses nowadays through the use of smartphones and the internet.

Whether factually correct or not, those opinions expressed by individuals, and the feelings they have about your brand will impact the reputation and attractiveness of your business.

By the law of averages, you will eventually get a bad review - don't fret. The way in which you handle this review will make the difference.

Things to do:

  • Read the review a couple of times to ensure you have understood the comments made. From experience, I have seen reviews where the customer has given 1 star out of 5, only to then go on and write an amazing review online as they didn't understand the scoring parameters - 1 star for bad ratings and 5 stars for good.
  • Learn a bit about the person who has posted the review. Check whether they have posted other reviews elsewhere as you might start to see a pattern. These individuals may regularly dine in Michelin star restaurants, not small, busy, informal restaurants like yours. If this is the case, your open reply could highlight and promote the atmosphere you seek to create within your establishment.
  • Ask your staff if they remember the customer and what information they may be able to add. Did they express an issue at the time?
  • Take a deep breath...and start to craft a constructive and polite response. A pragmatic approach always works best so be reasonable and address each of the comments made individually. Readers will then see you're dealing with alternative opinion head on, in a respectful manner and in turn, make up their own minds on the situation. Never be offensive - even if the review is. You need a calm and measured response that ends with a possible solution to the situation.
  • Seek a second opinion - ask a colleague to sanity check your response before posting.

A quick note on offensive reviews as there is a good chance they may negate the review sites T&C's of posting. If the review in question, in any way contains profanity, hate speech, prejudiced language, threats or personal insults, then it is highly likely this will be taken down by the site. Conversely, if it's a simple as you don't agree with/like the review, it will remain online.

Forbes magazine has a great article on the subject of bad reviews called - Why Negative Reviews Can Be Good For Business


Timing is everything

2. Realising that timing is everything

The sooner you can respond to an online review the better - nobody likes to be ignored nor feel their issue is not being acknowledged and dealt with - taking onboard, of course, the tips suggested above.

Things to do:

Establishing a review checking system is a strong and worthy discipline, perhaps early in the morning before the business is open or while guests are asleep?

Checking all of the different review sites, individually, is fine if you only ever appear on a few sites but as awareness of your establishment grows, reviewing the reviews can become time-consuming. Consider a more robust system in that case. There are several really good sites that can help with this process. One of my favourites is called Reviewtrackers.

Another 'belt and braces' free option is to sign up for Google Alerts. Google Alerts allows you to receive notifications when any comment is made online referring to your business - saving you time and speeding up your responses!

It is best practice to set up alerts for your business:

  • With inclusions of your business name
  • Your business name and the word "review"
  • Your industry
  • Your competitors
  • The location of your business.

Another top tip for the time-poor entrepreneur is to have a standardised sign off to your reviews eg 'Visit soon, best regards.' This will ensure a consistent and professional close to your response whilst saving time in your responses.


Timing is everything

3. Take the conversation offline to get it resolved

If you do receive a truly awful review it can sometimes be tricky to respond in a detailed manner online. In this instance, my recommendation is to take the matter offline - it's good to talk! Write a short response to acknowledge the review and for true customer service and value, detail a personal email address or phone number to enable that individual to reach out for further dialogue.

Having a dedicated email address which is monitored on a frequent basis is another way to facilitate online comments and reviews - good and bad.



4. Look local, look further

The beauty of the online review is that you can see how other businesses are performing making this research hugely valuable to your business. Learn from the successes and learnings of those around you.

As an example of your strategic research:

  • Take a look at the reviews of 3 businesses which you consider competitors. 
  • Check out the reviews of 3 businesses that are not related to your industry in the slightest, but ones you really admire and respect.
  • Take a holistic approach, looking out for the bad and good reviews alike, all the while seeking out new ways to learn and applying those lessons to your business.
  • Explore the social media feeds of your competitors and set up an email account that is dedicated to gathering and receiving email communications to uncover what others are doing. (Probably best to use a generic Gmail address rather than an associated company email address).

What we seek to achieve in this exercise?

  • Establishing areas of high performance which can perhaps be replicated
  • Highlighting areas of critical improvements
  • Understanding how these organisations/brands adding demonstrable customer value
  • Exploring how their online interactions demonstrate their values and approach to digital conversations with clients

Make the findings a regular discussion point within your team agenda.


phone and food

5. Encourage an open dialogue

Gone are the days when customers would be reserved in expressing their views on the food they ate, the service they received, the staff that looked after them. Nowadays, they are likely to expressly tell the management their views in person and then go onto multiple review sites and social media channels to let their thoughts be known.

Let's be clear, people will write about your business because it has never been easier to do so!

So my last word of advice is to embrace that dialogue. Actively encourage people to check-in, review, comment and post. It all will create that 'buzz' around your business and help to get your customers involved.

Small gestures can make big steps in encouraging customers so I would suggest:

  • Making the WiFi code easy to find for your customers.
  • Get your staff (if they are not too busy) to offer to take photos of a group. These pictures are most likely to be shared on social media channels.

The more user generated content you can enable the better. Recommendations and positive views expressed by your customers are much stronger, and add huge credibility and reassurances to other potential new customers.

On all of your marketing literature, tell people where they can leave a review and what social channels you are using. Include the special #Hashtag you have for the business or campaign. Think about all of the different touch points you have with your customers and make sure that you actively encourage reviews as these will help build and grow your online presence.

Also, there is another reason that you want more reviews, especially as you start to act on those improvement areas. The ratio of bad reviews to good reviews will reach a tipping point - for the better. So in the case of TripAdvisor, your score out of 5 will go up and you will get more complete circles in their scoring system. Secondly, the bad reviews will be pushed further down the list and they won't appear on the front page of your review site page (dependant on the site in question).

A word of caution, never, ever be tempted to write your own reviews for your own business to get your rankings back up - this will come back and bite you.


The idea of reviews and feedback, in some form, has been around since humans have traded with each other. The difference is that now the review is in a domain where many more people can view those opinions. For this reason, you can't stop it, you need to EMBRACE it, get involved in it, learn from it and improve day by day.