Online ratings are a very powerful tool. A few good reviews can really make a business flourish, the same way a couple of bad ones can make it go under. Online ratings have brought the power to the users, allowing them to make their opinion count way more than it did in the past (a single tweet can influence thousands of people as opposed to a just a hand full of friends at the dinner table as it used to be). However I believe there is a lack of a standardized rating system which makes it sometimes hard to interpret these ratings… The fault for this relies partly on the users, but also on the brands themselves who having teams of expert marketers, psychologists and sociologists should have come up with a better solution by now.

The issue comes when you need to rationalize your experience at a hotel, restaurant, etc. and translate it into a single number. What should this number be? Some websites ask you to rate on a scale from 1 to 10, others using 5 stars… at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter if you use stars, numbers, letters or teddy bears, there is always a maximum score, a minimum, and all the different options in between. People tend to position themselves on the extremes of these scales, usually their experience was either excellent or terrible, but let’s be honest, if you think about it most of the times you go to a hotel, restaurant, etc. your experiences is just average… you probably won’t remember what you ate that day or if the room was on the 5th or 10th floor a month from now.

I had a literature teacher once who didn’t believe in extremes when it came to giving scores. If you showed up to an exam and wrote you name that automatically gave you one point. On the other hand no matter how well you did on the exam you’ll never get more than a 9 out of 10. Why did he do this? Simple. Giving you a score of 0 would’ve mean there was nothing you could’ve possibly done worse, and giving you as score of 10 would’ve mean there was no possible way you could’ve done better. Now if you think about it writing your name on a piece of paper and handing it in isn’t much, but showing up in the middle of the exam smoking, walking to the teachers table and writing your name with pee on it is way worse, so if politely writing your name and handing it in was a 0, how would you rate the second scenario? (ok, maybe I’ve exaggerated a little bit, that would probably get you arrested). The same way if you answered everything correctly and he gave you a 10 but another student wrote something that not only was right but it also had style and passion and character in it, something that made him cry to his knees when he read it for the first time, what score would that deserve?

Hopefully you got my point by now. If you go to a pizzeria and the pizza was a bit too salty for your taste, that doesn’t deserve the worst score. Was the place nice? Were the waiters polite? Was the salads or deserts any good? Other people might like their pizza with more salt than you do, or maybe the chef was distracted that day and salted yours twice, so definitely be sure to mention your pizza was a bit too salty for your taste on your review, but don’t give them the worst score, it probably could’ve been worse. The same way if you go to a hotel and everything is just fine, a regular hotel room with a decent bed, a mini bar and a nice lady at the front desk, don’t give them the highest score, by doing so you are saying your stay couldn’t have been better, but what if they gave you the same room only 20 floors higher with a better view, that would’ve actually been better right? (Assuming you are not afraid of heights of course).

It’s ok to give reviews that fall towards the middle of the scale, actually I think most of them should. Think backwards, try to remember all the restaurants you went to last year and make a list, most of them you won’t be able to recall, those were average, and a few you’ll remember perfectly (the ones you wrote down), some because they were very good, others because they weren’t, those are the ones that deserve really good or really bad reviews. Now after doing this exercise go to your trip advisor account, I’ll be surprised if you reviews actually matched the list you just made.

Like I said at the beginning this is not entirely the client’s fault as many websites try all sort of tricks to make you give higher scores. I’ve seen a lot of website with five stars rating systems who only assign positive adjectives to the fourth and fifth star… why not the third one? Three out of five is over 50%, means its more on the good side than it is on the bad side. Websites do this because after all if you see a hotel with a score of 6/10 you’ll probably have your doubts before booking it, but if you find the same hotel with a score of 9,6/10 you’ll be much happier with the reservation you’ve just made.

So to wrap it up, I’m sorry to break it to you, but it’s still your responsibility to interpret those reviews and make a decision, reviews won’t tell you which is the best hotel to stay or the best restaurant to go to. Read their comments and try to figure out if they were just ranting about it or something was seriously wrong, or if the quality of that pizza is actually amazing or they were just saying so because they were on their first date, got laid after dinner and they remember anything they did that night as being perfect.

Good luck with that!

Guillermo Carone
I’m a designer founder with a background in architecture and business. Ever since I was I kid I’ve wanted to create things that people would want to use. I’ve lived in Barcelona, New York and London and traveled around more than 20 countries. I like design in all its shapes and forms, but web design seems to be what I enjoy doing the most lately. Find me on Quora.