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Yelp is one of the first places consumers look when they need a review of a local business or a suggestion for a new, unique restaurant. Whether someone is planning a fancy date night, trying to find the most family-friendly local attractions, or making sure a service provider fully supports their offerings, Yelp has become one the top “go-to” review sites.


Yelp Image source: Yelp Factsheet which can be found in its entirety here

That means that this is a resource that small businesses can’t afford to ignore. Let’s look at just a few of the stats. According to Yelp:

  • There was an average of 132 million monthly unique visitors in Q1 2014
  • More than 57 million local reviews have been written
  • In Q1 2014, there were nearly 61 million monthly unique visits from mobile devices

The simple fact is that the modern consumer is, on average, very web-savvy, and that means they’re going to turn to the internet for more information before making a purchase. Some other studies suggest that once these consumers find favorable information about a product or service, it can have a real impact on their buying choices. Despite these numbers, though, as much as 87% of small businesses don’t take advantage of review sites.

Understanding Yelp’s Platform

It ought to be said right up front that there has been some controversy around Yelp because of the way they make money. Any business owner or manager can setup a free account and post their photos and messages to customers. So the site isn’t making any money that way. Instead, it generates revenue by selling ads to local businesses – these are the things you see labeled as “Yelp Ads” around the site, so there’s no confusion about it.

Yelp tries to make it clear that it uses automated software to recommend the helpful and reliable reviews for its users. This is the source of the controversy, though, because many companies have claimed that Yelp is actually delivering recommendations or highlighting negative reviews based on whether or not the company buys advertising or not.

Of course, Yelp denies that this is the case, and they point out that only 75% of reviews are shown at any given time. The rest are flagged by the automated software as either fraudulent or useless.

In the end, though, despite some of the accusations, Yelp is still a powerful tool for reaching your local customers, and one that people in your area are using to discover new businesses. It is an opportunity to engage with your customers and build a reputation. Of course, given the history of the platform, there are some best practices you need to follow, and some bad practices you need to avoid like the plague.

The Best and Worst Practices on Yelp

Because this is the internet, and some things are inevitable – especially when sales and leads are at stake – a lot of people have tried to use Yelp in less than legitimate ways. In other words, many companies have tried to game the system, and just like when they try to fake out any other search engine, it comes back to bite them. So when you start including Yelp in your marketing strategies, keep some of these things in mind.

The Worst You Could Do

Yelp sees a lot of fakers – either businesses trying to make themselves look better or customers/former employees trying to make the company look worse. For a review site that depends on being able to deliver reliable results, this is more than a little problematic.

For companies that try to fake their results, though, it can actually be even worse. Recently, New York regulators cracked down on fake internet reviewers. Agreements have been reached with 19 companies to cease their misleading practices and pay a total of $350,000 in penalties. Most of these companies were spammy SEOs, the kind that give the rest of us a bad name. So keep this in mind if you’re working with an agency – if their answer is to try and fake some reviews, your answer should be to run away.

It’s not that hard for Yelp to detect the fakers. Most of them just use slight variations of the exact same content, or their reviews stand in stark contrast to the vast majority. On top of that, your own customers – all those web-savvy people searching for you on their smartphones – have an innate sense for what’s real and what’s not.

Don’t prioritize the Yelp algorithm. Prioritize your customers.

The Best You Should Do

There are a number of things you can do to make Yelp a more effective element of your local marketing campaign. The way you include a review site in your daily activities can make a huge difference, but only if you do it right. Consider, if you will:


Yelp page elements Double check to make sure all your information is updated

1. Complete your entire profile. When list your businesses on Yelp, be sure to include every bit of information that could help a potential customer find you. This should include your store hours and address, as well as links to your website, online menu, or other useful resources. And don’t forget your phone number, either.

2. Be Visual. Add a nice range of pictures to your profile. In particular, you should have some nice interior shots to create a sense of what the customer can expect. More than that, though, a nice shot of the exterior of your location can make it much easier for someone to spot your location when they drive by.

3. Remind customers you’re on Yelp. Whether you use the “People Love Us on Yelp” stickers (provided by the website if you ask nicely… or whatever) or just casually mention it to someone you’ve worked with for a while, sometimes you have to let people know, one at a time, that there’s a good opportunity for them to express their opinion online. There’s an amateur critic in all of us, just waiting to share our favorable opinions.

4. Deal with positive and negative comments. Yelp allows you to respond to comments on your listing, and it’s critically important that you do so. Here’s the important thing, though. NEVER RESPOND ON IMPULSE. Meaning, no matter how bad a comment may seem at first, you can always make it worse by responding with an angry, defensive rant.

This is not the time or place for a flame war. Thank your customers for their feedback and make it very clear that you are working on improvements or addressing their concerns. If you handle negative comments correctly, you may even change their minds, turning them into brand advocates – or at least someone who would be willing to go back in and leave a more positive review.

And speaking of positive reviews, don’t be afraid to leverage some of the nice things people do say about you. Use the quotes on your website to show how people have used (and approved of) your products or services. Be sure to cite the reviewer’s name so it’s actually credible.

5. Consider advertising on Yelp. While there has been some controversy and conspiracy theories around how Yelp treats its paying customers, you simply can’t get around the fact that this is an extremely popular site with a lot of traffic. If you manage your funds carefully, you can start getting your business in front of a lot of new potential customers.

Building a Reputation

Yelpers expect businesses to be real and direct. They are looking for reviews from actual people that will provide honest and objective opinions on a wide range of products and services. They just want to know if you really deserve their hard-earned money or not. The last thing they want to see is a fake review meant to build your overall rating. Both Yelp and most serious Yelpers can spot these kinds of reviews from a mile away. Yelp will just bury the review and leave it at that. A Yelper, on the other hand, will never let you live it down.

A reputation on Yelp isn’t strictly about the number of positive reviews that you have. It’s about how you interact with your customers and respond to their needs. Yelp can be a powerful tool in your online marketing kit, just make sure you understand how to use it effectively.