Rank High or Die!

July 20, 2011


  1. Social Ranking sites are MOST important for small businesses over large businesses.
  2. On a 5 star ranking scale, 4 is good and 3 is bad. There’s no such thing as average.
  3. There’s only one true way to rank high – consistently deliver on quality and service to earn 4 and 5 star rankings.

I live in Long Beach, not far from where the McDonald’s chain was started, which is why I chose them. I’m not singling them out here – they are an exceptional company. They have always had the challenge of delivering on the promise of quality and service at a very reasonable price. $20+ Billion annual revenue says they’re getting the equation right.

Look up any large fast food chain on Yelp, and usually, you’ll see 2 and 3 star ratings. Some places, like In-N-Out Burger in California get 4+ stars, but your average McDonald’s or Burger King is generally going to get 2 – 3 stars. The oldest McDonald’s still in operation, a few miles away in Downey, California, ranks 3 1/2 stars. The closest McDonald’s to our office earns 2 1/2 stars.At the average fast food chain, complaints vary, review counts are low, and in general, nobody cares. Many of the low ratings are just haters, picking on the biggest target. In most cases, restaurant managers aren’t responding to bad online reviews.

Again, nobody cares. McDonald’s has been around a bit longer than Social Media and online reputation management. I can’t imagine anyone is EVER swayed by a bad Yelp review when choosing McDonald’s.

Down the street from the 2 1/2 stars McDonald’s is a small chain “Louis Burgers III” rated 4 stars on Yelp.I’ve never been there. There’s a review for “Louis Burgers IV” so, there are at least 4 of them, if I’m getting my roman numerals right. This location is also rated IV stars.

If I really want a cheese burger and I want to try something new, I, like many others, am turning to Yelp. Check my profile picture, and you’ll notice I do this too often. I have a star ranking cut-off (not just for burger joints), and I’m generally going to avoid anything below 3 1/2 stars. Four or above, and I’m curious. Four or above AND a ton of reviews, I’m there.

I’m not reading beyond the highest three reviews on the locations I do look at. Oh, and I don’t really post reviews – I’m just a lurker. Oh, and I’m not alone. Yelp appears to get reviews from less than 5% of site visitors – most people are there to review the rankings. According to Yelp, for the people who do post reviews, 66% of rankings are 4 or 5 stars. While there are always haters, people want to be nice, so really an average of 3 or below is really bad. Amazingly bad.

So, with user written online review sites, the reality is rank high or die. And, there’s only one way to rank high* - consistently deliver quality and service.

So, if McDonald’s were an upstart in the Social Media era, where would they be? In my zip-code, on page 3 of the listings. Not anywhere on my radar. Again, nobody cares, they’re McDonald’s.

But, if you’re starting up, and have aspirations for growth, no matter your industry… manage your reputation, care about your social media, aim for great reviews, and train your staff to deliver the best customer experience every time.

* Yes, there are shady reputation management firms who know how to game the system on Yelp. Just like shady SEO firms, they get found out and shut down, hurting your business in the process. Always check references before retaining a reputation management or SEO firm. Cheaters never prosper. 

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About Jim Nista

Creative Director, Insteo

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One Comment on “Rank High or Die!”

  1. Tony Hymes Says:

    Excellent article Jim, probably one of the more useful pieces I’ve seen about how ratings-sites affect small businesses, I never use anything that is ranked less than 4 stars on Yelp, Amazon, or the like. I wonder how this trend is hurting the hotel industry, it used to be a 3-star hotel was nice, 2-star was fine for the weekend wedding in Milwaukee, and 1-star was a bed at a monastery in Italy! Those stars actually mean something, other than users’ reviews, but one thing I would add to your thoughts, the number of times something has received a rating also factors big time into a decision. Three 5-star ratings means a lot less than 200 4-star ratings.


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