Love it or hate it, just about every small business owner now has a business page on Yelp. With 142 million unique users per month, Yelp is one of the hottest marketing spaces online, competing with the likes of Google and Facebook. According to a Nielsen study, Yelp isn’t too bad at driving sales either – 4 out of 5 Yelp users stated that they visit Yelp when prepared to spend money and 35% of Yelp users will visit a searched business within 24 hours of searching. Cha-ching!
So, should a small business owner jump at the opportunity to partner with the trendy review site? Not so fast. Unfortunately, Yelp has racked up a questionable reputation over the years due to lawsuits that accuse the corporation of shady practices such as extortion and manipulated reviews. Horror stories of Yelp proliferate the internet, even inspiring an upcoming documentary about its alleged business practices.
This doesn’t mean you should avoid the site completely; in fact, you should do the opposite and try to understand it. To help clear the waters, here are 5 questions and things you should absolutely know about Yelp as a business owner. This info will demystify the review site and let you determine for yourself whether you want to invest in Yelp as a local business.
1. Users find information, post photos, rate stores, and write reviews on the business page, but what exactly does a small business owner do on Yelp?
Good question. While Yelp is targeted to consumers, there’s a lot your business can do on the site. First you have to officially claim your business listing. Your business might already exist without you knowing and you don’t want a stranger writing your business profile.
After your store is verified, you should then make sure your page is up-to-date with accurate information, like your store phone number, address, menu items, etc. The more information you provide, the more reasons customers have to make a visit! You can also optimize your SEO (search engine optimization) by adding in keywords about your business, just like you would do on a website. Doing this will give you useful information such as demographic information about reviewers and number of site visitors through Yelp’s analytics page that you can use to understand your market better.
FUN FACT: Contrary to popular opinion, restaurants are not the most dominant business category on Yelp. According to a recent Yelp report, shopping is the biggest category at 23%, so if you own a retail store, time to get on board if you aren’t already.
2. Now that I have officially claimed my business page, what should I do to encourage positive reviews?
Positive reviews should happen organically because customers love your store! Yelp does not recommend that you ask customers to write reviews or bribe customers with discounts – huge no-no. However, you can still attract customers to your Yelp page by putting a link to your page on your website, on your email signature, social media, and by encouraging people to check-in to your store. The key is to spread awareness and engagement.
As for an insider tip… While it’s debatable whether customer service is the most important aspect to a business, it does make an impact on Yelp. A Yelp study shows that if someone had a good customer service experience, they’re over 5 times more likely to give a 5 star review on Yelp! Make your customers feel special and reap the rewards.
FUN FACT: What’s the secret to the “People love us on Yelp” decal on store windows? They have to be earned. Yelp gives them out once per year according to the history and rating of each store. If you feel like you qualify, you can also try applying for one here.
3. I love the positive reviews I’ve been getting, but is there anything I can do about negative reviews?
Yes! Business owners can, and should, reply to these reviews. Yelp also provides an option to respond to reviews privately, which gives you an opportunity to not only resolve the issue, but establish goodwill with your customer. Be sure to ask if they are satisfied with the outcome and if they are willing to revise their Yelp review, so there isn’t a lasting negative impression on your page.
If this does not work out, you should respond publicly, in a level headed fashion. Yelpers are likely to read both the negative review AND the merchant’s response before making up their mind. By explaining the situation and how you have dealt with this privately, you can make the situation work in your favor by showing that you do care about your customers.
FUN FACT: While Yelp has a reputation to be a space for complainers, 67% of Yelp reviews are actually 4 stars or above. Don’t be turned away from a few bad apples; Yelp can be an awesome way to boost your public image online.
4. Why are some Yelp reviews removed and added to a “not recommended” section at the bottom of every business page? Can I remove negative reviews from this section, even as an advertiser?
“Not recommended” reviews are reviews that Yelp suspects are biased and filters based on their automated software. These reviews are only accessible through a tiny link at the bottom of every business page. This practice is one of the main reasons behind much of Yelp’s controversy around extortion.
Can you pay to remove the negative reviews from the “not recommended” section? The short answer is no. Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO of Yelp, writes: “Advertisers never get special powers to remove a negative review, add a positive one, or move reviews around on their page.” Business owners cannot change the content on their business page.
FUN FACT: About 22% of “biased” reviews are filtered into “not recommended.” What does Yelp consider a biased review? Reviews from Yelpers with little activity, reviews from the same computer, and reviews that are too extreme on either end of the spectrum. Sound unreliable? Many legitimate reviews do end up hidden for this very reason.
5. Now for the big question: I’m done with all of the free options on Yelp and I’m ready to do more. Is Yelp worth my marketing dollars?
That depends on, well, a lot. For one, you should know that advertising on Yelp will cost $350 minimum to have your business sponsored on search listings. This means it is 1,000x more expensive than your average online advertising. According to MarketWatch, a recent Pacific Crest report deemed that ads were not only expensive, but also overpriced: “On average, independent restaurant operators spend roughly $7,200 a year on local advertising, compared with $4,600 in revenue on Yelp.” Ouch.
But, there are also arguments that suggest advertising might be worth your buck. For instance, this TechCrunch writer, argues that while the price of ads are expensive, they should be seen in context to Yelp’s unique online space, especially for expensive services. “A single visit from a customer could earn an advertiser hundreds of dollars, their long-term business could be worth thousands, and they’re unlikely to switch if satisfied . . . they could earn significant long-term ROI.”
With this information at hand, hopefully you now have a much better understanding of how Yelp works for small business owners and can make a decision that is right for you!
FUN FACT: Whether or not you decide to go with advertising, keep a sharp eye on your store rating. According to this Harvard Business School case study, every star in a review leads to a 5-9% difference in revenue. That’s a lot of money lost on one little star.
Is your business on Yelp? What are your thoughts on the review site?