They’re a powerful yet controversial entity in the local search and review management space.
I’m talking about Yelp.
A quick Google search provides searchers with a list of auto-suggested options, exposing what many think and feel about Yelp.
This doesn’t have to be the case for you. As you’ll soon see, Yelp can be one of your business’ most powerful allies. With a careful approach, Yelp can produce incredible results for your business generating more traffic, leads and sales.
Here’s everything that you need to know about Yelp:
Why is Yelp important to your business
Yelp is a local search behemoth. They’ve accumulated 200 million reviews since their inception. As of Q3 2019, Yelp:
Find more statistics at Statista
What’s also notable about Yelp is its industry diversity. Their most reviewed industries are:
What about Yelp’s impact on brands?
Here’s what’s interesting.
Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of reviews on Yelp are actually positive! They’re recommendations from satisfied customers who are looking to spread the word about your business.
That’s a good thing, right?
While there are a few bad apples on their platform, most customers seem eager to share the good news.
Who visits Yelp?
According to ComScore, Yelp has a diverse mix of users. When it comes to age, their user base seems to be segmented evenly.
What about education?
Nice! The majority of their users are college-educated.
What about income?
Here’s where things take a surprising turn.
Debt notwithstanding, it seems the majority of Yelp users have more income, comparable to what we’ve seen with TripAdvisor users. What about user behavior?
Before spending any money:
This is significant, especially when compared against results from other review platforms.
How Yelp compares to other review platforms
Yelp’s numbers are much lower.
Don’t let this fool you. Yelp is still a local search and online review powerhouse.
Because the customers who use Yelp are highly engaged. According to a Nielsen report, Yelp users are more likely to write reviews than users of other review sites. That’s significant if you’re looking to achieve specific goals in your business.
What your business goals should be on Yelp
Yelp has a variety of tools, resources and programs brands can use to achieve broad business goals.
Fairly standard, right?
If you have a Yelp account, you’ll be able to use Yelp’s listing, messaging and advertising programs for your business. What if you don’t have a Yelp account?
I’ll show you how to claim (create) and optimize your Yelp account.
How to claim/create your Yelp listing
Yelp’s registration process is pretty easy. I’ve added a video below along with step-by-step instruction to guide you through the process of claiming, creating and optimizing your own Yelp listing.
1. Head over to biz.Yelp.com. Click the “Manage my free listing” button
2. You should see the business lookup page. Enter the zip code and name of your business.
3. If your business is recognized by Yelp, you’ll be asked to enter your email address to create a free business user account. By doing so, you agree to Yelp’s terms and conditions.
4. If your business isn’t in Yelp’s directory, you’ll be asked to enter your business details.
When you add a category, you’ll be prompted to enter your business categories. These categories will auto-populate as you type. Simply choose the categories that best apply to your business.
If there’s no option to claim your business listing your page:
The good news: Yelp can add existing users to a business account with the consent of the original account holder.
The bad news: If you don’t know who claimed the account originally, Yelp can’t tell you due to privacy concerns.
If you’re not able to claim an existing listing, you can contact Yelp support for help.
5. Once you’ve completed the registration process, you’ll receive a confirmation email from Yelp asking you to confirm your email address.
Your business won’t appear in Yelp’s search results until the information you’ve submitted has been verified by moderators. Once it’s approved, you’ll receive further instructions on your page.
From there, you’ll be able to update your listing, add additional photos and optimize your listing. A great listing depends on a few important ingredients.
What does a great Yelp profile look like?
A great Yelp profile tells the whole story. This means your listing provides customers with any of the information or details they need to decide before visiting your business. It means local businesses provide customers with a fully fleshed out listing.
Pineapples Island Fresh Cuisine is a great example of a strong listing. This restaurant is located in Hawaii. Here are some exceptional highlights from their listing.
See for yourself.
See what I mean?
Telling the whole story is absolutely crucial to the success of your listing.
What is it about “telling the whole story” that’s so important? I want you to think of one specific customer in particular. Any one of your existing customers, doesn’t really matter who.
Now picture them as a prospect.
A new customer who’s in the market for your product or service. You know they eventually choose you. What you don’t know, in most cases, is why they chose your business.
You don’t know, do you? It’s okay, neither do I. In fact, there’s a good chance your customers aren’t aware of the answer either. This is why it’s so important for you to tell the whole story. Your customers will ignore insignificant details, choosing to hone in on the data that matters most to them.
Telling the whole story ensures they get it.
Asking for reviews on Yelp
Just don’t do it.
Optimizing your listing isn’t rocket science. It all boils down to honesty and consistent effort. This sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? How do honesty and consistent effort help you optimize your Yelp listings? These factors protect your business in two ways:
1. It protects your business from spammy review rings
2. Insulates you against accusations, algorithmic reviews and damage to your reputation
Many Yelp “experts” recommend that you join local review rings (e.g., Facebook groups) and trade reviews with other entrepreneurs.
This is a horrible idea.
Yelp stated pretty clearly that they’re against solicited reviews.
“Asking for reviews at all, even if the business breaks norms and attempts to ask more than just their happy customers, can create a bias away from organically motivated reviews. And when some businesses ask for reviews and others don’t, it becomes difficult for users to compare reviews across businesses. Not only does solicitation lead to bias, it’s a bad experience for customers, too. Take this review of a moving company, for example:
‘Impressively quick to unload our fully packed 17′ U-haul in only 90 minutes. They were pretty careful and didn’t break anything. Would be 4 stars for good service, but -1 for being unreasonably pushy about a Yelp review and making me write it in front of them.‘ [Emphasis added]
That’s why we’re continuing our efforts to weed out solicited reviews and elaborating on Yelp’s position on asking for reviews: Yelp does not want businesses to ask their customers to write reviews and our recommendation software actively targets reviews that have been solicited.”
Their content guidelines are unambiguous about this; they state their policy clearly:
“Don’t ask for reviews and don’t offer to pay for them either: Please don’t ask your customers to review your business on Yelp. Over time, solicited reviews create bias on your business page — a bias that savvy consumers can smell from a mile away. Learn why you shouldn’t ask for reviews. You should also never offer compensation (discounts and freebies count too) in exchange for reviews.”
Yelp has taken things several steps further. Each year, they get better at flagging solicited reviews, placing them in the “not recommended” section of a business page. They’ve also gone ahead and created a list of do’s and don’ts to make their wishes explicit.
1. Don’t post reviews of your business or of competitors — our content guidelines prohibit it.
2. Don’t offer freebies, discounts, or payment in exchange for reviews.
3. Don’t work with companies or 3rd-party vendors offering to “fix your reviews.”
4. Don’t ask anyone to write reviews of your business, including friends, family, and customers.
5. Don’t pressure (or pay or sue) people into altering or removing critical reviews.
Rules 1-3 and 5 make sense. It’s simply a matter of ethics. If you’re honest, you won’t do this.
What about rule #4?
Sure, requesting reviews creates bias. That bias may even be unhelpful. Solicitation may apply social pressure, coercing customers into an uncomfortable situation. Yelp shared research from Northwestern University shows that customers who are prompted, via email, to write a review submitted ratings that were 0.5 stars higher than self-motivated reviewers.
Pundits argue that this doesn’t make sense.
Wouldn’t adding “Find Us on Yelp” and “People Love Us on Yelp” stickers and signage to your website or storefront introduce the same bias?
Customers know what you want.
Wouldn’t this create the same kind of bias for existing customers? Yes, you can rationalize it away as you invite prospects to check out your listing and strong review portfolio on Yelp. Even if I’m right, there’s a more important point here.
When it comes to Yelp, your feelings don’t matter.
My feelings about this issue don’t matter. It’s Yelp’s business, their platform and their website. It doesn’t have to make sense to us. They’re under no obligation to give us what we want. If we want the benefits of their service, unfortunately, we need to play by their rules.
What about responding to Yelp reviews?
You’ll always want to take the high ground when you respond to your customers. Here are a few examples to show you what I mean.
First a negative review from the Four Seasons hotel in Las Vegas:
As far as reviews go, this one stings. They’ve wrapped their message in abusive language. What’s worse, this reviewer has given staff members very little to work with. It’s a disaster in the making – until you see how Kim handles it.
“Thank you for taking the time to write a review. As indicated in our private message to you, our hotel manager would like to speak with you directly to address your concerns. Please contact her at your convenience. She welcomes the opportunity to connect with you and looks forward to hearing from you.”
This is the right response, you meet inappropriate behavior with ethical and honorable behavior.
Why is this important?
Yelp is transparent. This means they’ll preserve each of the reviews written by customers, whether they’re good, bad or ugly. You’ll want to ensure you maximize the goodwill you receive from each of these.
What about positive reviews? Here’s an example from the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Las Vegas.
This customer is exceptionally happy with the level of service she received. She’s a Las Vegas local and she was looking to avoid the Las Vegas strip. Definitely not a common approach.
Here’s how staff responded to her review:
“Thank you for taking the time to write a review. We are thrilled to hear that you chose to spend your staycation at the Waldorf Astoria and we are pleased that we were able to exceed your expectations. We look forward to your next visit!”
With each of these, it’s important to have a presence on the Yelp listing by responding to both positive and negative reviews. Don’t have the time or staff to respond to every single review?
Not to worry.
There are other effective ways to 2x the impact and success of your Yelp listing. Let’s take a look at some of the strategies and tactics you can use to optimize your Yelp listing.
Optimizing your Yelp listing
If you’re running a local business, you need Yelp. If you’re not on Yelp, your local business won’t be (as) successful.
You’ll need to optimize your listing.
Why optimize? Yelp is doing their best to personalize the user experience. Here’s a quote from their recent update.
“For the first time, when two people with different lifestyles open the Yelp app from the same time and place, their homescreen and the entire search experience will be organized and personalized for them. For example, a gluten-free pet owner who likes hiking and brunch will see a very different home screen and search experience than a vegetarian parent who loves donuts, farmer’s markets and breweries.”
Optimizing your listing means you have a chance to appeal to a wide variety of users, across a diverse set of interests, tastes and goals.
Here’s how you do it.
First, you’ll want to complete your Yelp profile. You need to provide customers with the information they need to make their purchasing decision. You want to verify your profile is updated and complete. This means taking advantage of free and paid resources.
Free optimization strategies
1. Update business categories
If you haven’t already, take the time to update your business categories. You can find this in the “categories and services” section of your business account.
2. Create or update your list of services offered
You’ll want to ensure your products and services are updated consistently.
3. Respond to reviews
This is an enormous part of the listing optimization process.
Your customers want a response to both negative and positive reviews. The better you are at responding to customer reviews the more revenue your Yelp listing will generate for your business. Here are some comprehensive guides you can use to respond to customer reviews.
Your review portfolio on Yelp is the foundation. Yelp listings with a strong review portfolio perform best whether the traffic generation strategy is free, paid or a combination of both. If you like to increase your return on ad spend (ROAS), focus your attention first on building a strong review portfolio.
Paid optimization strategies
1. Yelp Verified Licenses
Earlier this year, Yelp rolled out Yelp verified licenses for service businesses and other high trust business categories. The verified license feature is available to paid advertisers. It’s a conversion booster that gives customers confidence, reducing buyer’s remorse.
2. Request a quote program
If you are enrolled in Yelp ads and have the “Request a Quote” feature enabled in your business owner account, advertisers may receive a request to provide a quote from a Yelp user that wants to receive quotes directly from the advertiser’s business.
This counts as an Ad Impression under the CPC Program. Advertisers will only be charged for a click if a quote request is delivered to the advertiser’s business owner account through this feature. If the advertiser has turned off the “messaging” feature in its business owner account, the advertiser will need to re-enable messages for “Request a Quote” to be active and for these Ad Impressions to be displayed. Advertisers agree to allow Yelp to frame the advertiser’s website within the site to help users access information from the advertiser’s website while making quote requests.
3. Targeted local advertising
Targeted advertising places your business in front of customers who are looking for your product or service. Eighty-two percent of these customers will purchase a listing, 89 percent of those customers will do so in one week.
4. Premium ad placement
Yelp ads are visible on search result pages, competitor business pages.
5. Prime placement Yelp properties
According to Yelp, half of their searches come from users on mobile devices. With Yelp ads, your listing is promoted across all Yelp platforms – desktop, mobile, website and app.
6. Competitor ad removal
Spend a bit of money on Yelp ads and you’ll be able to remove the ads of local competitors from your business listing (select categories only).
7. Yelp Nearby Jobs Program
For a fixed monthly fee, this Yelp ad program enables eligible advertisers to see a dynamic feed of job quote requests from Yelp users within the advertiser’s business owner account. After enrolling in this program, advertisers will be able to respond to as many of these job quote requests as it deems it can perform. The number of quote requests received by the advertisers is a function of the advertiser’s location and category, amongst other factors, and this program does not guarantee that the advertisers will receive a minimum number of quote requests in the job quote feed.
8. Enhanced profile program
This program allows advertisers to access premium features in connection with its business profile page, such as competitive ad removal, photo slideshow, call to action feature, and account support.
9. Share business highlights
These highlights may include: Years in business, budget or eco-friendly, free estimates, locally owned and operated and more. A compelling list of highlights eliminates objections and increases customer confidence. This program enables advertisers to choose from a list of attributes about their business that will be promoted on the site.
A word of caution: Yelp reserves the right to remove a Business Highlight chosen by the advertisers that Yelp reasonably believes may be inaccurate or deceptive.
10. Yelp deals and gift certificates
These are promotional items you can use with your yelp listing to convert casual browsers and on-the-fence shoppers. Yelp deals are pre-paid vouchers that provide customers with a discount (e.g., $10-$20 off) at your business.
Yelp users can buy your deal or gift certificate directly on your business listing page via the website or mobile app. There’s no upfront cost however, Yelp does collect a percentage (30 percent for deals, 10 percent for gift certificates), so you’ll need to factor that into your pricing.
11. Yelp Waitlist
12. Yelp Reservations
A paid online reservation system for restaurants and food service providers; set up floor plans, take reservations, seat guests, use the waitlist, etc. like Waitlist, Reservations comes with an iPad and tools for business owners. Yelp Reservations are available via https://www.yelpreservations.com/demo/ or via phone at 1-888-254-5315.
Unless stated otherwise, each of these free/paid options are available via your business account.
Additional optimization strategies
Here’s a video breakdown with five additional tips you can use to optimize your Yelp listing.
Here’s a summary of the video details.
1. Follow Yelp's terms and policies
Yelp penalizes businesses that break the rules. Spammers and rule-breakers need to be consistently lucky. Yelp only needs to be lucky once. The damage to your business, the loss of customer goodwill, it’s really not worth it.
2. Place a Yelp badge on your website
Log into your account and click on the “review badges” tab. Next, copy and paste the code into your website. Here’s where I’d recommend that you do things differently. Most businesses take a shotgun approach; they post their badge on every page.
Instead, display your Yelp badge (and other trust seals) prominently on decision or conversion pages, sales, check out, landing or opt-in pages.
3. Have the Yelp sticker visible on your storefront
Place the Yelp sticker in strategic points. On or near the register, in your customer’s line of sight. On the doors (entry and exit) and in your bathrooms. Bathroom doors and stalls are ideal.
4. Include your Yelp listing with your email signature
Adding an email signature inviting customers to “Find Us on Yelp” provides you with the low hanging fruit you need to attract a significant number of reviews. You can also do this with form signatures, infrequent social media updates (e.g., Find Us on Yelp, People Love us on Yelp) and creative advertising.
5. Share your amazing reviews on social media
You can share amazing reviews on social media with your audience. The best reviews are win-win-win, a win for your customers, a win for future prospects and a win for your business. These are the reviews you should highlight and share on social media.
Reviews that are focused exclusively on you and your business may come off as one-sided or self-serving.
What if something goes wrong?
What if you need help to solve a specific issue that isn’t covered in Yelp’s knowledge base or FAQ?
Your Yelp point-of-contact
Unlike Google My Business, Yelp offers straightforward contact information for business owners.
You can contact them via:
Customer contact is initially automated so you’ll still need to work through the usual prompts to get on a support rep on the phone.
Goal tracking via Yelp
Yelp provides business owners with detailed analytics. With Yelp analytics, business owners can track:
Here’s a look at their dashboard:
Here’s how this dashboard is broken down.
1. User Views: The total number of people who clicked through your page during a specific time period.
2. Period: This is the time period being measured. You can choose to view the past 30 days, 12 months, or 24 months.
3. Activity Feed: This tells you what people are doing once they get to your Yelp page—things like calling you, clicking on your website, checking in, etc. You may also see demographic information about these people, depending on whether they choose to make that information visible.
Can you see what I mean?
It’s easy to 2x your five-star reviews on Yelp. As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t rocket science. A strong and profitable Yelp listing depends on honesty and consistency.
You just have to do the work.
The work is never-ending, but your return on investment dramatically compounds if you put in the time.
Local businesses need Yelp to survive
Yelp can be one of your business’ most powerful allies. With a careful approach, Yelp can produce incredible results for your business generating more traffic, leads and sales.
It’s a win-win-win.
While Yelp has received a significant amount of bad press, the data tells a different story. Your success is their success.
You just have to play by their rules.
Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of reviews on Yelp are actually positive! They’re recommendations from satisfied customers who are looking to spread the word about your business. Yelp wants your business to win. Customers are looking for fantastic businesses like yours to support.
You can do this.
Chip away consistently and you’ll find it easy to dominate the local search and review management space in your area, no controversy necessary.