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Experiments: Leaving reviews on Google Maps

by Tom Johnson on May 27, 2021 •
categories: technical-writing

A few months ago, I decided to start leaving reviews on Google Maps of nearly every place I visited. The result has made me feel more empowered.

The other week I was at Duthie bike park for the first time with a friend who had visited the place more times than he can count. I asked if he’d ever left a review of the place on Google Maps. He paused a minute and said no. Meanwhile, I was thinking about just what I’d say in my review, even as a first-time visitor.

Ever since I started working for Google (in a maps-related group), I wanted to use Google Maps more and so started interacting more in the reviews section. This reviews section is a little hidden, but just scroll down a bit after reading the details for a place, and you’ll see a “Write a Review” button.

Google Maps Write a Review button

Prior to this, I’d never thought of leaving reviews either. But as I started leaving reviews of the various places I’d visited, I began to realize a couple of things. First, reviewing places is actually fun. Second, I personally rely on reviews a lot, not just within Maps but for products and services I buy as well across the web. Reviews have been a key influence in many of my consumer decisions, from buying socks to cooking new recipes to scheduling car repairs. Just as I read reviews of others, I want to participate in reviewing products and places myself.

You can see my list of reviews on Google Maps here. I have about 80 reviews so far, and I’d like to think many of them are quality reviews. Also, here’s a tip: It’s sometimes fun to follow other reviewers to see what places they visit as a way to discover new stores/parks/restaurants/places from others who might have similar interests.

In my reviews, I try to include a photo where possible. Sometimes I’ll focus my comments on a particular aspect of something I’m interested in. For example, suppose I go to a park for the purpose of shooting baskets there. If so, I’ll focus my review specifically on that. If I’m a first-time visitor to a place, I’ll often note that as well.

Reviews give people power. If you decide to review a place negatively, and the place doesn’t have many reviews, your negative review can discourage more business to the place. On the other hand, if the place has thousands of existing reviews, one negative review might not mean much. Overall, I tend to leave more generous ratings of places and to review the place for what it aspires to be, not based on some ideal. For example, if a park is a small urban park next to a busy intersection, I won’t hold it up to the same standards as Central Park in New York.

I’ve also come to despise websites that distort reviews. For example, I tried leaving reviews on a jacket I bought from ShowersPass site, only to find that my reviews were filtered out (or unfindable) both times. When I wrote the company to ask why they filtered my reviews, they said there is a lag between submission and publishing of the review, and that they do moderate for profanity and to identify bad actors. They explained that some negative reviews are in fact helpful, such as people who comment on size, fit, or mismatched expectations. But the person also said that moderation helps keep the reviews section “useful,” which I find interesting given that the jacket has an average of 5/5 stars from 180 reviews. It’s pretty clear what reviews the company finds “useful.”

I have since come to entirely dismiss reviews that appear on a vendor’s site. As another example, I recently bought some bathroom faucets on Wayfair. I initially tried to cancel my order (because I found other faucets on Amazon that I initially liked better), but after the Wayfair faucets arrived, I decided to keep them after all (for their long spout reach). I tried to leave a review on Wayfair about how to reduce the noisy sound from the aerators and to comment on the spout reach, but I found that I couldn’t review the item anymore. When I asked Wayfair, they said their website automatically removes the “Write a Review” button for any customer who cancels their order. Really? If you send a product back for some reason, you can’t leave a review. Hmmm. I ended up posting a negative review of Wayfair on Consumer Affairs. The irony is that I was going to review the faucets positively and add a helpful tip regarding the aerators. Again, I have lost credibility in sites that host and manage reviews of their own products.

Which brings me back to why I like posting reviews on sites like Google Maps and Amazon: I don’t feel like that same level of moderation exists. You can leave a negative/helpful/interesting review of something and not see it be filtered out because it’s not “useful” to the company. That said, as I indicated earlier, I try to be honest with my reviews and note if I’m a first-time visitor or if I’ve only barely started using the product, and what my particular purpose or usage is. Then I try to give the place or product the benefit of the doubt. But not too much, because doing so can be a disservice to other people evaluating whether to visit the place or buy the product.

I’ll continue leaving reviews of places I visit and products I buy. On Google Maps, I think I need to leave about 100 more reviews of places to move up from Level 6 to Level 7 (even though the levels don’t mean much to me). The levels do make it a bit more fun, though.

For info on how to write reviews in Google Maps, see Write reviews and add ratings of places. Also see Tips for writing great reviews. Here’s a video on how to leave a great review:

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer / API doc specialist based in the Seattle area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.

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