Why Two Stars is the Worst Rating

It's never fun to receive a one-star review.

No business leader likes to see an angry customer posting in public. That one-star review can harm your company's reputation and might discourage new customers. But the reviews you should be really concerned about are the two-stars.

In this short post, I'll attempt to explain why.

Customer giving two stars on a rating scale.

Let's start with something a bit counterintuitive: a few negative reviews can help your business

Research conducted in 2015 by PowerReviews and Northwestern University found that consumers are most likely to buy from a business with a 4.2-4.5 average star rating. That's because a business with a few negative reviews seems more authentic, and over 80 percent of customers specifically seek out negative reviews. 

(More: How to Respond to Negative Yelp Reviews)

So what's the difference between a one and a two-star review? Let's look at recent reviews from a popular restaurant in San Diego. As of this writing, it has 2,503 reviews and a four-star overall rating.

Restaurant with four-star Yelp rating.

Here's a one-star review of this restaurant from Travis M:

One-star Yelp rating.

People often write one-star reviews like this as a way to express anger at a service experience, rather than a true review of the business. When you break it down a bit, you'll notice a few things that detract from the review's credibility.

  • The customer didn't actually dine at the restaurant.

  • This is the only Yelp review written by this user.

  • The nearest Jack In The Box is over a mile away, and is not a comparable alternative.

The reviewer also wrote that getting seated immediately is rare, which indicates some repeat business. If this restaurant was legitimately a one-star experience, why would you keep coming back? Chances are, this customer was really upset about their experience and wanted to punish the business. 

Now let's look at a two-star review from Kat C written just four days earlier:

Two star restaurant review.

This review is much more credible than the previous review, for a few reasons:

  • Specific details are given, giving a sense the review is accurate.

  • Some positives are mentioned, such as the taste of the Kobe burger.

  • The reviewer has 91 Yelp reviews.

Unlike the one-star review, this one is a bit more measured. The gist is the service is very slow and the food is hit or miss. And the two-stars make the review feel like the customer was trying to be fair.

Side note: The damning part is the three-star review immediately before this one and the five-star review immediately after it both mention slow service. And despite a four-star average, when you filter for just recent reviews the restaurant's rating dips to about 3.8.

You don't have to take my word for it. Try reading one and two-star reviews of businesses in your area. See which ones tend to be more credible and let me know what you come up with.

Bonus Resource

You can learn more about serving customers via social media from my LinkedIn Learning training video. You’ll need a LinkedIn Learning or Lynda.com subscription to view the entire course, but you can get a free 30-day trial here.

The Most Important Review Site for Small Businesses

Love them or hate them, online review sites are an important part of small business.

Customers use sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and others to search for businesses like yours, read customer reviews, and even leave feedback. In fact, a 2018 study from BrightLocal found that 86 percent of US consumers use online reviews to help find local businesses.

The challenge is there are so many review sites that it's hard to know where to start. And you have a small business to run, which means you don't have a lot of time to mess around.

Fortunately, I've done the research and found which one site customers rely on the most. Here are the results along with how you can easily take advantage of these insights.

Website with customer ratings.

The Most Popular Review Site

I surveyed 1,004 adults in the United States in January 2019 to ask which online review site they rely upon the most. Google is by far the most popular.

Graphic showing the most popular online review sites. Google has 60% of the market.

There are two caveats to be aware of.

The first caveat suggests Google’s percentage may be overinflated. I used Google Surveys to do this study. It gives you a fairly random demographic sample, but in this case it also increases the likelihood that respondents would prefer Google, since they found my survey on Google. That's a huge grain of sand to keep in mind as you look at the data.

Just to check the results, I conducted an informal survey within my own network. And guess what? Google was still tops, followed by Yelp and then Facebook.

The second caveat suggests Google’s percentage may be underinflated. Think about how you naturally search for a business. I recently went to a used furniture store to look for a new table for The Overlook. When I got there, the store was unexpectedly closed so I needed to find somewhere else to go.

Instinctively, I opened the web browser on my smartphone and Googled "used furniture store." Google instantly gave me a list of stores near my location along with their ratings.

According to HubSpot, Google owns 70 percent of search engine traffic. That number jumps to 85 percent for searches on mobile devices. In other words, Google is how customers search for reviews when they don’t realize they’re searching for reviews. 

What Can You Do About It?

The first thing you should do is claim your free business listing on all the major platforms your customers use to look for you. While Google is the most popular, the other sites get their fair share of traffic, too. Womply has published some helpful guides.

Make sure you respond to every review a customer leaves you. Keep in mind your response isn’t just to the reviewer; it’s a signal to other potential customers that you care about service. BrightLocal's data reveals that 89 percent of customers read business's responses to reviews. 

Now here's where focusing on Google can pay off. Remember how I quickly found a highly-rated used furniture store by searching on my smartphone? 

Google uses reviews to help prioritize which businesses it shows when potential customers search for businesses like yours. So you can improve your search rankings without hiring an internet wizard. All you have to do is work on getting a lot of good reviews for your business. And here's the kicker—unlike Yelp, Google is perfectly okay with you encouraging customers to write reviews!

The company even provides this helpful guide.

More Resources

Here are a few additional resources to help you drive more customers to your business with online reviews.

You may also benefit from my LinkedIn Learning course, Serving Customers Using Social Media.