How To Read Online Reviews

Where can you find good reviews?

Where should you find good reviews? This depends on the type of business that you are considering buying from.  Small Business Trends reports that the top three review companies for hotels are TripAdvisor,, and TripExpert. The top three for restaurants are Yelp, Zomato, and dine.TO.  And, the top three medical rating sites are Zocdoc, RateMDs, and Healthgrades.

As you can see, there are many different options for finding reviews and word-of-mouth information online.  Two more universal options are from the modern-day giants of the web, Google Reviews and Facebook Pages – or you can search a term like “Social Buzzing Reviews“. Both of those, and a majority of all rating sites use the five-star system – so it is worth looking in more detail what the stars mean.

Starred reviews

While there is no clear consensus on whether individual star ratings mean exactly the same to all their users, one thing all star review systems have in common is that 1 is the worst rating and 5 the best – except in some situations where users can give half-stars.  However, what more commonly happens is that users give a whole number of stars (1, 2, 3, 4 or 5) and then the site aggregates all the star counts that have been sent in by users.

Yelp’s review system lists the following description for stars:

1 star: “Eek! Methinks not.”

2 stars: “Meh. I’ve experienced better.”

3 stars: “A-OK.”

4 stars: “Yay! I’m a fan.”

5 stars: Woohoo! As good as it gets”.

Yelp’s use of interjections to describe the star rating would suggest that the star rating system is analogous to how a particular product or business made its customers feel.

Descriptions accompanying reviews

While a star rating may suggest a summary of emotion by a user, what is arguably more useful is the description written by a user. This, in combination with their star rating, gives the average reader a good picture of how that user felt about their experience of the product or business.  What is most useful, both to users and to businesses, is when the user posts a short description of their experience using the product or business, containing both a summary of facts, such as “I bought 20 pencils on 20 September” and their feelings  “I was upset that half the pencils broke in the sharpener, but happy that the other half did not”.


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