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A Step-by-Step Guide to Responding to a Bad Yelp Review

Have you been hit with a nasty Yelp review? Follow this detailed plan to deal with the issue the right way and save your reputation.

A Guide to Responding to a Bad Yelp Review | SEJ

Every company out there will deal with a negative review on a site like Yelp or TripAdvisor. As long as these sites stay active, and as long as people have wee little fingers to type with, negative reviews will pop up from time to time. That much is inevitable.

But you know what else is inevitable? Owner brain freeze. When you’re attacked in a negative online review, your brain can shut down and shut off. You can forget your manners. Your goals. Your rationality. You can head right into attack mode, without a backward glance.

This 7-step action plan can help.

Here’s exactly what to do, in step-by-step fashion, when you’re hit with a negative online review.

A Guide to Responding to a Bad Yelp Review | SEJ

1. Read the Review Carefully

Few of us read every single piece of online content on a word-by-word basis. As research highlighted by the Washington Post points out, years of online reading have changed the way we consume content. No longer do we move slowly from one word to another, taking time to decipher meaning. Now, we race from short sentence to short sentence, just picking up the highlights along the way.

If you’re skimming through a negative review, you could be missing a lot of data that could really help you, including:

  • The date of the incident in question
  • The specific location the writer is talking about
  • The tone of the piece (funny or really angry)
  • Names or descriptions of potential witnesses
  • Descriptive words of the incident that took place

These are the little bits and bytes of the review you can use to either defend your position or refute the attack altogether. If you respond too quickly without picking up on this information, you could sound as though you’re not aware of the issue. Or worse, you could squander a wonderful opportunity to build your reputation back up.

So, when you’re reading through that review, go slowly. Take notes, if that helps you to slow down, or read the comments aloud. Whatever you have to do to make your brain really pick that series of comments apart will help you in the long run.

2. Research the Issue

In a perfect world, an online review wouldn’t come as a surprise. You’d be there, at the source, when the customer lost faith in the company. You’d be waiting for the attack, and you’d have a response all ready to go.

But, as one small business owner, tells the Washington Post, 80 percent of complaints come to the notice of SBOs via review sites. Most come as blind attacks, so that means you’ll need to use the review to figure out what happened.

Talk to the people mentioned in the review, and ask for their take on the situation. Talk to the departments involved, and determine if there were extraordinary circumstances that could have explained the problem. Look closely for issues you can explain, or causes for the complaint, so you’ll have something to discuss in your response.

Finally, if the issue is really serious, discuss the problem with your legal team. There may be specific legal steps you should take in response to some reviews. If your team is available, use them and their expertise in order to stay safe.

3. Research the Yelp Writer

As part of your research, you’ll also need to dig deep into the details of your reviewer. Sure, some of them are anonymous, and a recent court case defended Yelp’s ability to maintain anonymity for those reviewers, but some people put their names and details on display in their Yelp reviews.

Try to understand:

  • How often this person posts negative reviews: All the time? Just sometimes?
  • Other places this person goes: Are they local? Far away?
  • Tone of reviews: Is this a funny person writing for the LOLs, or is this someone who tries to be thoughtful?
  • Popularity of the writer: Someone with a lot of followers and a lot of clout might merit a much deeper, more considered response than someone writing to an audience of 1 or 2.

Knowing more about the writer can, in most cases, help you keep your emotions under control. If you’re dealing with someone who always writes negative reviews, you’ll know the attack on you doesn’t merit deep research or severe company overhauls. And, if every review is negative, you’ll know that your writer is a picky person that might not ever be happy, no matter what you might do.

say sorry

4. Start with an Apology (But be Careful!)

The typical response to an issue brought up on a review site starts with the words: “I’m sorry”. I think those are two very powerful words that can soothe many concerns brought up by consumers in reviews.

But you’ll need to be careful about how you build on that tiny apology.

In some cases, the screwup is really yours. In others, the issue doesn’t lie with your company at all. In most cases, you’ll know exactly where your review falls on that spectrum, after you’ve done your research. And that can mean the difference between: “I’m sorry we messed up,” and “I’m sorry you feel that way,”.

Note that both of these sentences start with an apology. But they quickly move in two different directions. Know which direction your sentence should take.

5. Explain the Issue, and Your Solution

Here’s where all of your beautiful research goes to work. In this portion of the response, you’ll outline exactly what happened on your end of things, and what the consumer did or did not do to make things worse or better.

This is the spot where you’ll detail how you’re fixing your company ensure the same event never happens again. It might sound like this: “On Saturday, the hot weather had people craving white wine. So we ran out before we could serve you. It’s terrible to have to dine without wine, and we’re working with our supplier to ensure that it never happens again. Won’t you come back?”

Or, this is the spot in which you’ll defend your company against an attack that has no merit. That review might sound like this: “On Saturday, we had plenty of white wine on tap. I’ve checked with all of the staff working that night, and not one person remembers a party of 10 that was declined a glass of wine. Maybe this is a mistake? We hope so. And we hope to see you soon!”

Both approaches make the business owner seem caring and smart. And both address a review directly. But it’s the research that’s vital. With that research, you’ll know which is the best approach for you to take.

6. Remember Your Yelp Audience

As you’re writing, it’s easy to get really personal about the attack and your response. You might feel as though you’re writing to just that one complainer, in that one space.

But remember: Yelp has a 1/9/90 Rule, per the corporate website. That means 1 percent creates content, 9 percent edit content, and 90 percent just consume content.

When you’re writing, aim for that 90 percent. Those are the people who haven’t yet had the pleasure of your company’s goods and services. They’re not biased against you or what you can do. At the moment, they have no opinions at all.

And since an estimated 90 percent of consumers say Yelp impacts purchase decisions, it’s vital to win over these undecided votes.

Do it by remaining professional and impersonal. You’re writing about a specific moment in time in which there are two points of view. You’re not defending your firstborn child. Be passionate about your business, but don’t get personal. Your future consumers will thank you for that.

7. Monitor Your Reputation and Repeat, as Needed

Finally, don’t rest when your response is complete. Be on alert for another review that needs your attention. Keep checking back to gauge the response to the words you wrote.

And if you see another negative review, don’t despair. Now you know just what to do to handle the issue.

Anything I’ve missed here? Any special tips you Yelp experts think should be mentioned? Hit me up in the comments section. I always love to hear what readers have to say.


Image Credits

Featured Image: GongTo via Shutterstock
Image #1: GongTo via Shutterstock
Image #2: bykst via Pixabay

Jean Dion Senior Journalist at

Jean Dion is a writer, editor, avid blogger and obsessed pet owner. She’s a senior journalist with, and writes ...

A Step-by-Step Guide to Responding to a Bad Yelp Review

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