Faced with large amounts of competition, businesses are constantly fighting for their customers’ attention. Word-of-mouth marketing is a powerful driving force in today’s society and has the ability to sway decisions like what to buy and where to eat. This type of marketing may seem difficult to harness, but with programs like Yelp, businesses have a way to engage with customers and help mold their opinions.
Yelp is a great way for small businesses to compete with larger chains by showcasing what they have to offer. In Q2 of 2016, Yelp had a monthly average of 23 million unique visitors who went through Yelp’s mobile app and another 69 million unique visitors who visited Yelp via the web. A Nielsen study reports that 78 % of users rely on Yelp to find restaurants (out of all categories), capturing the highest percentage of the categories. Needless to say, Yelp is a well-used resource for restaurant-goers whose importance is often under-estimated by restaurant owners.
How It Works
Imagine you’re on vacation and it’s your first time at a destination. Up and down your hotel’s strip, there is dinner option after dinner option. As a consumer, the choices are overwhelming. How do you even begin to choose? You could just waltz into the first place you come to and take your chances. Or, you could leverage the experience of thousands of Yelpers that have visited before you and have left reviews of just about every restaurant in town. Without the uncertainty and risk of visiting an untested spot, you and your family can get down to the business of enjoying your vacation.
According to their website, Yelp’s purpose is to “connect people with great local businesses”. Their automated software program scours the top reviews that are written by users (“Yelpers”) based on quality and helpfulness, and it ranks businesses according to a proprietary algorithm. So how does your restaurant get the highest ranking? Typically, a larger number of reviews lead to a higher ranking in Yelp search and many other search engines. The strategy then with Yelp is to get your restaurant as many good reviews as possible. In this article, we are going to show you how to get started.
Claim Your Business
Claiming your business is the starting point for all businesses on Yelp. To be proactive with a Yelp strategy, you must claim your business to have control of that page. After you claim your page, you can then personalize it to help distinguish it among other pages. The goal of this page is to drive traffic to your own site. Optimizing this page will help your restaurant appear, not only in yelp searches, but also in search engine queries like Google.
It is interesting to note that according to a Boston Consulting Group study, businesses that simply claimed their Yelp profile generated incremental revenues of $8,000 annually just from being on Yelp. Wouldn’t it be nice if your business could bring in an additional $8,000 per year by spending a small amount of time setting up you page and managing your reviews? By the way, according to the same study, those who claimed their profile AND advertised on Yelp through PPC campaigns (more on that later) generated additional revenue of $23,000.
Rack Up the Reviews
Although it is the core function of Yelp, many businesses may wonder how customers will know to leave a review. Be cautious of how you approach this topic. Yelp prefers “organic” review, which means reviews that have not been solicited or, worse, paid for. It’s understandable if you think about it. Most businesses only ask for reviews from their happiest customers, not those who have had a bad experience. That might be great for the restaurant, but it damages the overall credibility of the review system. Yelp wants your restaurant to earn great reviews through exemplary business practices, not through solicitation and/or reward.
Even though Yelp discourages direct solicitation, they do leave the door open for more subtle ways of generating reviews. The first, and most obvious, is to make sure that your customers know you actually have a Yelp account. You may have a customer that comes to your restaurant every single day for their morning coffee, but if they don’t know you’re on Yelp, how will the world know that you have nurtured and cared for this customer, so much so they visit your business every day? Make customers aware that you use Yelp by using this form to receive a window cling for your business. Also, remind customers to visit your Yelp page with a link in your email signature and/or a badge on your website.
To attract customers that are in the decision stage, use a Check-In Offer to entice them. A Check-In Offer is a reward a customer receives when they check into a business on Yelp. This reward is redeemed by mobile device at the place of business. After a checking in from a mobile device at a restaurant, the user is later asked to write a review of where they checked in at. Be careful not to offer incentives to customers who give better reviews, which is against Yelp’s policies.
While the tactics above are handy with a new restaurant or during a slow time to jazz up reviews, you should always try and go above and beyond for customers. Have the mindset of what kind of experience you want your customers to walk away with, and then double it. What sets your business apart from the competition? Is your atmosphere, food, staff, or price point? Find what makes your restaurant original and makes for a memorable experience for your guests. Inspire people to choose your restaurant, enjoy themselves, and then right a smashing review because their experience was just that good.
Take a look at this improvement calculator to see how many reviews it will take to attain a certain rating for your restaurant.
Interact with Customers
You’ve put the work into claiming your business, spruced up your Yelp page, and the reviews are pouring in. All of a sudden, your first bad review comes in: a piece of coal in your carefully cultivated glittering diamond mine of positive reviews. Your first instinct might be to ignore the review, hoping it gets lost in the sea positive reviews. Maybe no one will see it? That is a big mistake. You should always respond to a negative review, even if the response is private. The last thing that you want is an already upset customer feeling like you’re ignoring them. You’ll definitely want to reach out to that Yelper in a way that lets them know that their concerns have been heard and you will take their input into consideration when shaping future decisions.
Whether you handle bad reviews publicly or privately is up to you, but maintain consistency – don’t respond publicly to the reviews where you feel like a customer is wrong, and privately to the reviews where you know you messed up. The flow chart below outlines Yelps best practices for responding to reviews publicly or privately.
Finally, remember that your public responses will be seen by existing and potential customers so always be courteous and understanding. Practice up on your PR skills and don’t isolate customers. You don’t want jeopardize your future business with a poorly worded response.
Free Assets for Business Owners
Yelp has many free resources for business owners to use, making it effective and easy on a budget.
Yelp for Business Owners app is the most comprehensive of these resources. With the app (available in the App Store for iOS and Google Play Store for Android), businesses track engagement, leads, and clicks to their site from Yelp. The app also has the capability to track the number of check-ins to a business, calls (from clicking the phone number), and the reservations made off of Yelp. Not only do these factors help you gauge your success on Yelp, but could justify an increase of foot traffic in your restaurant. Through the app you also have the capability to respond (publicly or privately) to messages, upload photos, and report reviews or messages. For a busy, on-the-go restaurant owner, the Yelp app is extremely valuable in managing your presence on the site.
Again, you don’t want to come right out and ask for reviews. But if you want another, more discrete way to remind customers about giving you a review, place a Yelp review badge on your website. By placing a review badge on your site, your customers can see that people have a reviewed your restaurant and prompt them to check out your Yelp page. Potential customers will be more inclined to visit a restaurant with many positive reviews, which the badge helps them see at a glance. Every time your business is reviewed, the counter clicks up and/or reflects in the stars. Per Yelp’s brand guidelines, there are only two badges allowed on a business’ site that shows their association with Yelp.
It is important for business owners to stay up to date on ways to effectively use Yelp. Yelp offers free 30 minute webinars that improve upon your existing Yelp knowledge. Topics range from how to respond to reviews to becoming a 5-star brand. These webinars help clarify how your restaurant can use Yelp as a sustainable, effective strategy for the long term.
While Yelp has plenty of free resources for businesses, there are also advertising packages to enhance your profile even further.
Yelp’s advertising packages operate on a cost per click (CPC) basis and could be beneficial for your particular niche. There is no pre-determined set cost because the cost depends on the competition and relevance of your advertisement to the user’s search. Yelp Ads can help your business with targeted local advertising and a more prominent placement on search and competitor pages.
If you want to upgrade your Yelp experience by paying for advertising, the Call to Action button may be one you want to take advantage of.
Whenever potential customers have searched and found your business on Yelp, what is the next steps you want them to take? The best way to provide a specific direction for these customers is to have a Call to Action button. When set up, this button appears towards to the top of your business’ page, underneath the location and uploaded photos.
When narrowing down what your Call to Action should be, think of what your desired end goal is. The button will take customers to more information in the form of a specific page of your website or coupon.
In the example above, Olive or Twist’s Call to Action button promotes their happy hour and links to their specials section on their website. Make sure your button is labeled with a broad, but relevant statement. You don’t want to give away all the information on your Yelp page, because then there is no need to click. This button provides a next-steps for potential customers to take part in.
Compare the different products that Yelp Ads has to offer with this chart.
Please note that just because a business advertises on Yelp does not mean they automatically get better ratings. A business could be rated two stars and advertise, leading to more people seeing that rating. On the other hand, a business that does not pay to advertise can have a five-star rating. For more information on Yelp’s advertising policy, feel free to check out their FAQ page.
If you own a restaurant that has never used Yelp or only as a consumer, go claim your business. Doing a simple Google search will leave you with endless results on how to optimize Yelp and best practices. But the best way to use Yelp is to jump right in! There are so many free resources and options for a business getting started on Yelp. Don’t think the only way to be successful on Yelp is to shell out a portion of your advertising budget. Let your customers know that you have a Yelp presence, respond thoughtfully to their reviews, and keep providing excellent experiences to make Yelp work for your business.
Does your restaurant or business currently use Yelp as a strategy? If so, what’s your experience with having a page? If not, what are your reservations about it? Let us know!