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Grow Your Business Sales & Marketing

Making the Most of Yelp: A Small Business Guide

Making the Most of Yelp: A Small Business Guide
Credit: Gil C/Shutterstock.com

Is your business on Yelp? If not, it should be. With an average of more than 132 users per month, Yelp is the top review site for local businesses. Being on Yelp helps you attract new customers, and also helps you see exactly what existing customers think of your business and how it can improve.

Moreover, your Yelp page can also boost your overall online presence, from how high your business ranks on search engines to how easily customers can find your location and contact information.

Ready to get started? Here's how to claim your business on Yelp, with plenty of tips on setting up your page, handling negative reviews and managing your account. [5 Influential Review Sites That Matter to Your Reputation]

1. Claim your Yelp Business Page

The first step to using Yelp as a small business is claiming your Yelp Business Page. Your business may or may not already be listed on Yelp, but when you officially claim ownership, you get full control over how it appears in listings. Doing so also grants you access to a wide range of tools to manage your page, interact with customers, purchase ads and more.

"Chances are, if you haven’t already created a Yelp listing for your company, someone else has," said Rochelle Sanchirico, head of marketing and analytics at Webs. Sanchirico suggests doing a search to see if a listing has already been created, perhaps by a customer. Yelp also prompts you to find your business at the beginning of the registration process. "If your business is already listed, Yelp allows business owners to claim or 'unlock' their business page."

2. Optimize your Yelp Business Page

After claiming your Yelp Business Page, the next order of business is to optimize it with the right information and to upload plenty of photos. Optimizing your page won't just help paint an accurate picture of what your business is all about and what it has to offer, but it can also help customers easily find you and even boost your search engine rankings.

To optimize your page, make sure that all your information is up to date and visible, Sanchirico said. This includes your location, contact information, hours of operation, price range, parking options and other details. Location is especially important, as 27 percent of Yelp searches are made specifically to find a business's location, she added.

"If this information isn’t complete and immediately available, these prospective customers may choose a different business," Sanchirico said. "It is important to make sure that all pertinent information is readily available and accurate."

Be sure to also add color to your Yelp listing by posting photos of your business, products or services. Don't be afraid to get creative, either. Some photo ideas to consider are the front of your business so it's easier for people to find, interior photos so customers get an idea of your establishment's look and feel, and photos of your staff, which help to humanize your business.

"A picture is worth a thousand words, especially when someone is looking for a good restaurant to eat at, or something they might be interested in purchasing," Sanchirico said.

3. Managing negative Yelp reviews

A note on why managing negative reviews is more important than ever: A recent court ruling essentially gives Yelp a legal right to manipulate reviews to sell advertisements. The lawsuit dates back to 2010, alleging that a Yelp sales representative offered to lower negative reviews if the plaintiff businesses purchased ads — or push negative reviews up if they didn't; earlier this year, the FTC also revealed that the agency has received more than 2,000 complaints with similar extortion claims. Yelp denies the allegations, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed the lawsuit on Sept. 2, 2014. The court ruled that "it is not unlawful for Yelp to post and sequence reviews," and that "the threat of economic harm Yelp leveraged is, at most, 'hard bargaining.'" Take from this what you will, but if you have absolutely no control over how negative reviews are presented on your Business Page, what you do have control over is how you react to them to still show your business in its best light.

No one likes negative reviews. It's even worse when the customer isn't always right, or when a customer simply just wants to complain. However, negative reviews can also be due to miscommunications, unintentional oversights on your part and genuine snafus by your staff. Whether those negative reviews and low ratings are warranted, managing them is critical to how your business looks to future customers and, ultimately, your business's success.

The key to successfully managing Yelp reviews is to strategically interact with negative reviewers — without being too defensive or, worse, lashing out at the customer.

Although there's virtually no way to change or delete reviews — and Yelp definitely doesn't allow you to pay or incentivize customers to do so — your response to the reviewer can make a world of difference. Jenn Boutwell, vice president of marketing and strategic alliances at Sage One, offered the following best practices on how to handle negative Yelp reviews as a small business:

  • Be professional, take a deep breath and stay calm. Even if a customer is raging, remember that the individual is still a paying customer whose loyalty you can still save.
  • Respond quickly, but keep responses "short, sweet and to the point."
  • Always thank reviewers for their business and feedback.
  • Be honest with yourself and address legitimate issues. Build trust by explaining to customers how you're going to remedy those issues, for instance, with changes you're planning to or have already made.
  • Think a review is phony? Flag it. Yelp is aware that some reviews are false, and thus the site allows businesses to flag them for removal. These include reviews that are hearsay or contain misleading information.

Turning the negative into a positive

Negative reviews aren't the end of the world. Sanchirico says bad reviews aren't always a bad thing and suggests taking this opportunity to turn negative comments into a positive image. If a customer had a particularly bad experience, one way to redeem yourself — and maybe even turn a disgruntled customer into a loyal regular — is by getting them to give your business a second chance.

"Did someone complain that they bought a T-shirt from your clothing store that fell apart in the wash? Offer to replace it. A customer had a terrible meal at your restaurant? Invite them back to try again, this time on the house. Even after a poor rating or a nasty comment, your response to a customer can truly impact their overall experience with your business as well as their opinion of your brand," Sanchirico said.

4. How to get higher placement

Like with many things on Yelp, you can't pay the company to boost your ranking. And unless customers are searching specifically for your business name, listings for a type of business are, by default, sorted based on the customer's selected location. Yelp's algorithms are also a big mystery, meaning no one but the company knows how or why one business ranks above another (one example is when a zip code-based search is done and the top listing is farther in location than the second listing).

Nonetheless, there are a couple things you can do to help your business place higher than your competitors: buying advertisements and increasing your exposure.

Can buying advertisements give you a higher ranking?

Yes and no. Purchasing ads on Yelp won't necessarily place your coffee shop above Joe's Coffee from down the street, at least not within the listings themselves. What purchasing ads can do is promote your business using ad banners that appear above all listings.

For example, if a customer searches for "personal training" near that person's zip code, your gym — where a reviewer mentions personal training — that's a few miles away may appear as an advertisement above all personal trainers in the area. This isn't always guaranteed, and the banner will be clearly marked as an ad with a note that your business paid for that space.

Increase your exposure

Yelp listings are all about exposure. The more reviews your business has, the higher it will appear in both Yelp listings and on search engines. To rank higher than your competitors, your game plan is to get more reviews than they do.

"One of the best ways to ensure that your Yelp listing ranks well is to get as many reviews as possible," said Brandon Seymour, an SEO Analyst and owner at Beymour Consulting, an online marketing agency.

This is particularly the case with search engines. For instance, the more reviews and online presence your business has, the higher it will appear when customers do a search on Google.

"After Google released their Pigeon update, Yelp listings are appearing higher in search results," Seymour said. "I have even seen some businesses that have their Yelp listing outranking their own website."

5. How to get more reviews

Getting more Yelp reviews isn't rocket science. You don’t need fancy marketing campaigns and gimmicks to entice customers. You don't even need money (paying customers or offering incentives for reviews is a big no-no that can result in huge legal fines and even Yelp publicly outing you). If you offer quality products and provide top-notch customer service, regular Yelpers will want to leave reviews. There is, however, one other simple thing you can do to help drive reviews: Just ask.

The obvious way to ask for reviews is to verbally request them from customers. But if you're shy or don't want to seem pushy, another option is to bring it to their attention using assets you already have.

"Have recommendations to leave your business a review on Yelp saturated throughout your business in-store and online," said Bradford Hines, a digital marketing strategist and founder of YumDomains.com and HungryKids.org.

Be careful, though, to not annoy customers, Hines warned. The idea is to strike a balance between omnipresence and subtlety. "[Place] a sticker on your window, a friendly reminder on your menu and marketing materials, and then the Yelp review plugin in the footer of your website," he suggested.

Another option is to place a link to your Yelp Business Page wherever you can.

"Try linking your Yelp listing in your email signature or on your company website," Seymour said. "One of the best times to ask for a review is right after a transaction. If you include a link to your Yelp profile on your Thank You page after a user fills out a form, you don't have to worry about hurting conversion rate."

Sara Angeles
Sara Angeles

Sara is a tech writer with a background in business and marketing. After graduating from UC Irvine, she worked as a copywriter and blogger for nonprofit organizations, tech labs and lifestyle companies. She started freelancing in 2009 and joined Business News Daily in 2013. Follow Sara Angeles on Twitter @sara_angeles.