Whatever you may think of it, Yelp is a major social media influence on businesses in just about every industry. While most people think of Yelp when they want to find their next great meal, the online review site covers a lot more than restaurants and nail salons. Any business can have a Yelp page, so long as it has a physical location for customers to buy a product or service. It’s now the most popular review site for people to find a doctor, attorney, accountant or home-service provider.

Yelp’s ubiquity and visibility make it an important part of every business’ marketing strategy. “Yelp tends to rank really well in Google. Even if someone is just searching to find directions or looking for the phone number, they’ll see the ratings,” says Brian Patterson, partner at Go Fish Digital, a Washington, D.C.-based online reputation management firm.

Given its importance, understanding Yelp is key to a business’ overall marketing strategy. Here are four tips to help you get more out of Yelp:


1. Spruce up your profile.

The first thing to do—if you haven’t already—is officially claim your business listing on Yelp. Your business might already be on the site, even if you didn’t put it there. Keep in mind that in many cases, Yelp may be the first and only point of contact a customer has with your business. So it’s better that you, the owner, write the business profile, rather than some stranger. Claiming and updating your profile on Yelp is free, so at the very least, make sure the phone number, address, menu or services are accurate and up to date. Adding photos is also a good way to make your profile shine.


2. Manage reviews.

Next is dealing with reviews. In a nutshell: there are no shortcuts. Owners who tried to improve their ratings through dishonest means or through legal action have lost. Businesses that claim to be able to inflate ratings have been sued.

You also can’t flag a negative review just because it’s negative. Yelp won’t be the arbiter in a “he said, she said” type of case. What you can do is respond to those reviews with grace. In some cases, it may be best to ignore a negative review. However, it generally makes sense to publicly respond to negative reviews, if the reviewer appears to have a valid concern. Patterson advises addressing the reviewer by name, apologizing for the issue at hand, and saying you want a chance to make it right. Offer to take the conversation offline by giving your name, direct phone number or direct email. Don’t give a boilerplate response or a general email. Following these points gives a personal touch and shows everyone that you are serious about resolving issues.

One thing you should know: You can flag reviews when they don’t follow Yelp’s content guidelines. For instance, reviews in which the reviewer mentions that their spouse had a poor experience can be flagged, because Yelp accepts only first-hand customer experiences. Reviews that criticize business practices in general (“These guys are scam artists”) can also be flagged for removal.


3. Encourage comments.

It may feel awkward to ask, but you should encourage happy customers to go on Yelp and write a review. Yelp discourages owners from giving incentives to write positive reviews, such as gift certificates or other prizes, but there’s nothing wrong with talking to satisfied customers and encouraging them to help you out. “Twenty years ago, you might have said, ‘Make sure to tell your friends about us.’ These days, it’s ‘Make sure you leave an online review for us. It would really help,’” Patterson says.


4. Become a participant.

One last point: If you’re not already using Yelp, open an account and be active on it. This might seem obvious, but it’s easy to overlook. Becoming a Yelp user “puts you in the mindset and helps you understand what Yelpers look for when they review businesses,” Patterson says. You should also read less-than-flattering reviews of your business with an open mind. Criticism can be hard to take, but identifying shortcomings and shoring them up can ultimately improve your business and your ratings.


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