Last week, I gave a two star Yelp review to the Sea Lion Caves, a tourist stop on the south Oregon coast. You can read my review here, but the gist is this: I saw the caves under what were probably the best possible conditions — lots of sea lions, no crowds, etc — and it still disappointed. The problem, as I wrote, was that the $14 admission price was mismatched to the relatively brief, through-a-fence viewing experience.

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A two star Yelp review is not great. So while I think it’s accurate it did make me pause to consider when and why it’s justifiable to write a bad review online. I know there are some people who argue that it’s almost never a good idea to write bad reviews, and there is indeed plenty of hyperbolic negativity out there.

But a lot of us also do use sites like Yelp to find great places and avoid bad ones. It’s a service, and it serves a purpose. So, here are a few things that are worth thinking about while navigating the world of online reviews:

1. Is the review providing a service?

We’ve all be there: After a negative-but-likely-isolated experience (e.g. a bad cashier) the first impulse is to rush home and take revenge via a bad review. It actually seems like these kinds of reviews make up a good portion of the content on sites like Yelp, and I’ve definitely been guilty of wanting to do this.

But it’s worth considering if that one isolated experience is likely to be reproduced for other customers. It’s also worth considering if the review is being written with a clear head, or in a moment of passion.

2. What impact will reviews have on the business?

A slew of negative yelp reviews probably won’t do anything to the local McDonald’s franchise. On the other hand, a few bad reviews can literally sink a newly-opened small business.

3. How will the review engage with others comments about the business?

This is key, but often overlooked. On Yelp, my review of the Seal Lion Caves is just one of many. Some potential customers will be like me and will want to avoid the caves, and some will be like the people who gave it five stars. I wrote my review with that in mind, and with the understanding that my two-star rating will only nudge the overall total.

In the end, there are a lot of different strategies for reviewing businesses online. Everyone is different! But more than anything else, I hope that all of us (especially myself) try to be thoughtful and nuanced when providing information to other travelers.

— Jim Dalrymple II

Related reading: 

This Oregon shipwreck is like a ghost from the past

Four videos that prove you have to visit the Oregon coast

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Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Editor in Chief of Tripping Over the World. Also, reporter at BuzzFeed News.

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