Founded in 2004, the online review site, Yelp, often confounds business owners. It is, without question, one of the dominant review sites and one that often outperforms company websites on search results. What that means is that a search for a particular restaurant on a search engine, for example, could pull up a Yelp listing ahead of the restaurant's actual site. Now, if the reviews on Yelp are positive, this may increase the chance of a customer booking. However, if reviews are largely negative, the opposite could be true.
A 2011 Harvard Business School study found that each "star" in a Yelp rating impacted sales by between 5-9 percent. Another study suggested that increasing a star rating from 3.5 to 4 on Yelp would increase a restaurant's chances of being booked during peak hours by 19 percent.
Some businesses have seen dramatic marketing results from actively working with Yelp and engaging the community.
If handled correctly, Yelp has the potential to help generate business for companies with listings, but the site has some idiosyncrasies that need to be addressed and managed.
As a business, Yelp is another example of a classic Internet-created company. Prior to sites like Yelp, many service businesses only marketed through personal referrals and Yellow Page ads. But the Internet, which democratized so many aspects of commerce, enabled companies like Yelp to tap into consumers directly and solicit first-hand reviews about a wide range of companies: from restaurants and hotels to roofers and locksmiths.
The site's content is provided exclusively by its users with curation by the site--primarily to eliminate fake reviews and limit the influence of reviews that the site managers believe are not legitimate. Yelp has developed an algorithm that, among other things, attempts to sniff out fake reviews as well as anything else it believes may not have been generated organically.
Yelp wants its reviews to be genuine and unencumbered, so it works hard to prevent the publication of reviews that may have been faked in some manner. It strives to be a grassroots site, and the company's executives are extremely cautious, perhaps overly so, when it comes to attempts to manipulate reviews.
I sat down with Darnell Holloway, director of local business outreach for Yelp, to get some direct recommendations on how business owners can better work with the site. He offered some common sense recommendations as well as some insider tips.
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Claim your business' page. Yelp derives its revenue from advertising and business partnerships. While offering what it believes to be objective information about various types of businesses and service providers, it makes its money from sponsored posts and by earning commissions on certain types of transactions. Exactly when and how Yelp gets paid for these transactions is less important than knowing that the company wants the site to be as useful as possible and densely packed with information for its users. The site promotes engagement between businesses and the site's users. This makes the site denser, but it also keeps users on the site longer. It's the old website "stickiness" argument. If you keep visitors on your site longer, then they are more likely to click on your sponsored ads or use the services from which you derive revenue.
Holloway's first recommendation is that you "claim" your business page, and that's good advice. Remember, it's a fallacy to think that you can stay off the grid. If your page is "unclaimed," then your company's reputation on Yelp is completely in the hands of its users without any of your input.
Claiming your page has practical advantages, too. Remember, Yelp wants you to be engaged, so the company offers a suite of free tools for every business listed on the site. While the site offers promotion opportunities, this main set of tools is the same for all companies.
By claiming your page, you can post your hours of operation, detailed directions, contact information, product information, menus, and so forth. It offers an opportunity to tell your company story (hopefully consistently and authentically), and as Holloway points out, humanize your business. Again, it makes sense. If you are researching a business and compare listings between company "A", which has a bare bones listing, and company "B", which has in-depth information, photographs, and details about its latest offerings, which one has a better chance of earning a new customer? I'm going with "B."
Claiming your page enables you to better monitor reviews as they come in, and also reply publicly and/or privately to users who review your business. This aspect of engagement is critical. No greater reason exists to claim your business on Yelp than to be notified about new reviews so you can respond.
On the road again. Use the mobile app. Holloway's second big picture recommendation involves Yelp's mobile app. Business owners should get it and use it. Most business owners don't sit at their desk all day. In fact, some don't even have desks anymore. We spend time out of the office, away from our desktops and we're only reachable via smartphones. Yelp recognizes this and created a mobile app that gives business owners access to its tools when they're on the road.
Here's a quick and simple tip that could help you make money with Yelp right away. Yelp offers an option for users to request a quote through a business listing. And this quote request can be sent directly to your phone via a texting feature. If you are in a business that requires quick responses to customer inquiries, then you could be missing out. And we all have to be exceptionally quick and nimble today, not just towing companies and the personal injury attorneys who follow them. Accessing Yelp via a mobile device also puts you in more immediate touch should you wish to reply to a review.
Use your Yelp-given talent for good. The final piece of advice I gleaned from Holloway was to use the tools offered by Yelp to engage with your customers. View it as a way to have a conversation. Reply to reviews, both positive and negative. You can do this either publicly or privately. Upload photos of your business and its friendly employees. Use the quoting, reservation, and engagement features.
Many other nuances about Yelp exist, including ways to manage and remove negative reviews. The site's terms of service offer details on this, and business owners can also use Yelp tools to shine the best possible light on their business listing.
Review sites are not going away. Business owners need to engage now--or risk their online reputation.