Every small business has heard of the power of Yelp. It continues to be one of the major online customer review sites. What does its influence really translate into in terms of dollars and cents? If Yelp is so important, what can you do to get your money's worth out of it?
What's the value of a star?
We all know how more reviews and better reviews translate into more business. Two very scholarly studies have actually put a number on how much more business to expect. A Harvard Business School study by Michael Luca showed how just a one-star increase in an overall Yelp rating can translate into a 5-9% increase in revenues. Another study by Michael Anderson and Jeremy Magruder of UC Berkeley showed an even bigger lift. They found just a half-star increase in a San Francisco restaurant's average Yelp rating translated into 19% more reservations during peak hours.
What's 5-9% of your business's revenue worth? Or if you are running a restaurant, how much would you pay for 19% more reservations? Given that 45% of small businesses say their biggest challenge is growing revenue, it makes sense to put some time and effort into this platform.
You can see why Yelp is so powerful and why it needs to be handled so carefully. While those good reviews can help a business, bad reviews can hurt it just as much.
No matter how busy you are as a small business owner, it's worth your time to pay attention to your Yelp listing. In fact, it's worth $8,000. That's the amount of extra annual revenue Yelp says the average business gets from a free Yelp listing.
To help you capture your $8,000 (or maybe even more), we've put together a nine-point checklist for what you need to do on Yelp to get results. Most of these tasks are free, and they're all based on tested techniques or industry studies.
#1: Make sure you've claimed your Yelp account.
This one seems so obvious. You'd be amazed how many businesses haven't done it. These are businesses with reviews, too. Established businesses.
Even if you haven't claimed your Yelp listing, the odds are high you've already got reviews. The Cedar Crest Golf Course is a live example of this. They have a nice Yelp listing, complete with eight 4.5 star reviews. They haven't yet claimed their listing:
Fortunately, claiming your listing is easy. Just go to https://biz.yelp.com/claiming. Click the button that says "Claim my business". They'll walk you through the rest.
If you haven't done this, go check Yelp and see if your business has some reviews. You might find some good news. Or you might find something that needs your attention... urgently.
#2 Make sure all the information on your Yelp account is complete.
Now that you've got a Yelp listing tied down, the next step is to just fill out all the information. If this seems easy, you're right. If it seems obvious, you're right too, but again, you'd be amazed by how many businesses leave critical information, like business hours, blank.
Tails of Boston hasn't added their business hours or many other pieces of basic business information. Their competitor, Wannagoout? Dog Walking and Pet Sitting, has. And Yelp has included a callout for Wannagoout? On Tails of Boston's listing page. The competition is just a click away...
#3 Make sure all the information on your Yelp listing is accurate.
You may have known about Yelp for years, and set up your listing a long time ago. When was the last time you checked it?
Information changes. Here's a table showing inaccurate listing information across the major review sites. It was compiled by Yelp engineers and is based on 1,000 local business listings.
Yelp's post about this study includes a lot of the finer points of accurate and complete listings, like whether you should write "Street" or "St". It's worth a read to make sure your listing appears correctly.
#4 Don't be stingy with the photographs.
Photographs make a big difference on Yelp. People spend 2.5 times more time on Yelp listings with photos than on Yelp listings that have none.
If you're short on photos, fixing that is easy. You don't have to hire a professional photographer to get photographs on your site. A smartphone and a sunny day will do. Try to get photos that show:
- Customers in your store or office (especially if they're happy)
- Employees helping people.
- Your business's entrance.
- Your checkout area.
- A few close-up shots of what you sell or offer. This could be a plate of eclairs, a dog being groomed, tires being changed, or a child getting a haircut.
#5 Respond to reviews - both good ones and bad ones.
It's always nice to give people feedback. Especially when they've just taken the time to give you feedback. This applies to both saying thank you when you get a positive review, and to troubleshooting what went wrong when you get a negative review.
Morgan Remmers, Senior Manager of Local Business Outreach at Yelp, recently published a post on the Yelp blog specifically asking business owners to respond to reviews on their site.
Here are the highlights of his advice:
- "Always respond to reviews in a diplomatic, polite way."
- "You can respond to both your negative and positive reviews on Yelp."
- Choose your channel: "You're also able to respond to each review either privately or publicly."
- About negative reviews: "send the reviewer a private message to determine if they're willing to connect with you privately to provide more details of what may have transpired."
Try to think of your reviews as more than just an end to themselves. Reviews provide vital feedback about what your company is doing right and doing wrong. They can be used to make your business better for everyone, even the people who don't ever leave reviews.
#6 Carefully get more reviews.
This is tricky territory. You do NOT want to directly ask customers to review you on Yelp.
Something like this is off-limits.
You also never, ever want to buy reviews. And don't even think about punishing people who leave bad reviews.
So what can you do to build your reviews? Well, you can't ask for them, but you can ask people to "stay in touch". Here's a review request email I got from a business recently:
It's very subtle. All they do is include the Yelp logo in the footer. If I'm a regular Yelp reviewer, I'd notice it.
You can also put up a sign in your store window, like this:
Another effective method is via postcards or point of purchase cards. Here's an example from Amplitude Creative.
There are a few key tricks to getting more, and better reviews.
- Have a system for getting reviews. You don't want to get a bunch of reviews all at once, and so setting up a company practice of how to ask for reviews and when to ask for them helps both spread out the speed at which you get new reviews and makes it a company habit to ask for reviews.
- Ask for reviews as soon as possible. Don't wait. The sooner you ask for a review after service has been rendered, the more likely you are to get the review.
- Never give an incentive for writing the reviews. This results in low-quality reviews and cheapens your relationship with the customer.
#7 Create a Yelp deal or Gift Certificate.
This is a kind of advertising, but with a twist. Yelp deals are prepaid vouchers that you can offer as an incentive to people searching for your business service. Gift Certificates are just like what they sound like, but with Yelp handling the purchase of the Gift Certificate on their site.
The real cost of these incentives is the share Yelp takes from the purchase. They skim 30% off the value of deals and 10% off for gift certificates.
#8 Create a Yelp Check-in or Check-in Offer.
These are for everyone using a mobile device. As you know, that's now most of your Yelp audience. Check-ins are a way for mobile users to show they've been at your location. They synchronize with Twitter and other social media apps. Check-in offers are basically just a way to get people to participate in the check-in.
There's no way around it. Businesses who advertise on Yelp get more business from it, and are probably treated a bit better too. Even the home page of Yelp for business owners says Yelp advertisers get $23,000 in average extra annual revenue. That's nearly four times as much as businesses with a free listing get.
An uncertain future for Yelp right now
While advertising on Yelp can be framed as an opportunity, some business owners are ferociously angry at the platform. They claim Yelp bullies small businesses and tries to force them into advertising. While none of the accusations has held up in court, sentiment is so bad there was even a movie out about Yelp's misdeeds earlier this year.
Between that and other factors, including a rumored attempt to sell the company and a 16% drop in share value, Yelp is now in a dark spot. It just reported its slowest revenue growth in 18 quarters and announced its chairman will soon step down.
All this has prompted some financial analysts to recommend Yelp try to sell itself. No buyer has stepped forward, but Yahoo has been floated as an ideal new owner. Unfortunately, Yelp is so large that even Yahoo might not be able to afford it.
No matter what changes at Yelp, it will be a major force in local business for at least some time to come. I hope you can follow through on even a couple of these optimization tips, so you can go get your $8,000 of extra revenue from this platform. And maybe Yelp will take some of its own advice and learn how to run its business better based on recent criticism.