Yelp for Dummies

Yelp is a website that lists businesses and allows the average joe consumer to post reviews about them. It's like a location-based search directory with reviews. There are dozens of sites very similar, but Yelp pretty much gets the most traffic of its kind. Businesses have a love/hate relationship with Yelp. Recently, Yelp has changed up their game and got actively aggressive with their marketing. There are rumors about review placements and scare tactics and bullying.

Still, Yelp must remain profitable. When you get as much traffic as Yelp gets, you need to have many servers to handle the load - you also have to employ many people to monitor the site carefully. It's a crazy business. A site like Yelp makes their money from advertising and that's about it - it's free to view and post reviews, and it's free for restaurants to get listed. Free advertising.

So many restaurants and small businesses have had business driven to them for free by Yelp. Before, outside of word of mouth, they would have to rely on expensive advertising in the Yellow Pages or newspapers. Yellow Pages still charges businesses hundreds to thousands of dollars to show up in their book - which today, nobody even reads. All you need today is the internet to find what you want. Call 800 343 7390, Mon-Fri 6am-5pm PST to cancel your Yellow Pages and save a tree.

Google has been the go-to for a few years now and pretty much sealed Yellow Pages' fate. Businesses can pay Google to show up at the top of searches now and they can also claim their own "Places" page for free... Google can be a free directory as well if you know how to use it. They even aggregate reviews like Yelp does. However, Google isn't specialized like Yelp is.

Business owners need to learn how to manage their online presence. It's a given that most Americans have a computer these days and a way to connect to the internet. Hell, there will be an estimated 80 million smartphones in the US by year's end. That's 80 million Americans who have access to the internet ALL-THE-TIME! If you don't show up on the internet, you're going to be lost.

I've been a "Yelp Elite" for about 4 years now and have written hundreds of reviews for local restaurants and businesses, and have had my reviews seen hundreds of thousands of times. Now that I'm working more closely with restaurants, I have found myself going back to old reviews and feeling genuinely bad about some of them.

I've worked retail. I've worked in the service industry. I even ran my own business for 14 years. I've been an internet expert since it came into existence. I've been a writer since I was in grade school. I've had opinions since I could talk. I've been an eater my entire life. With all that experience, there are still lessons to be learned.

First: Business Owners -

  • Take control of your Yelp page... you can do it. It's easy, and I believe it's still free to do so.
  • Correct information, submit photos, write a short bio explaining the history of your place.
  • See those reviews? Those are your existing customers talking to your potential customers.
  • Engage your customers. If you see a bad review, reach out to them and say you were having a bad day - as every business does - ask them to try you out again. Don't ask them to just change their review or tell them they are wrong or stupid.
  • If a review is particularly mean, your first instinct will be to find them and kill them. No need. Just reach out to them and try to make it right. You may dislike this person, but think of them as a gateway to other/better customers.
  • Potential customers read all reviews and generally take extreme reviews with a grain of salt. Don't sweat a negative review here and there.
  • Best rule of thumb here on reviews is to simply realize that you can't please everyone - not all reviewers are even please-able. Try to just focus on your positive reviews and thank your loyal customers for the business.
  • If you claim your business page, you can respond to reviews - do NOT argue with a bad review. Simply thank people for good reviews and invite them back, and ask a bad reviewer for the opportunity to try again.
  • Do NOT write reviews for yourself under fake profiles - Yelpers can see through this easily and will call you out on it.
  • Reach out to Yelp staff to see if they would do an event at your place, or you can simply post an event in the "Events" section for free. You may or may not get anyone to come, but it's more free exposure.
  • Owning a business comes with a certain amount of ego and it's easy to take things personally. You are your own PR. Treat others how you would want to be treated - not necessarily as a reflection of how they treat you. There's no shame or harm in asking for a second chance from some "nobody" who has been to your place only once and doesn't seem to have a clue.
  • Finally, the more active you are, the more people will respond to you. Just be awesome.

Yelp Reviewers -

  • Write more than once or two sentences. If you want people to read what you have to say, then have something to say. Otherwise, why even bother?
  • Check your spelling and grammar. Misspelled words and poor grammar leaves the reader assuming you aren't very bright and they aren't likely to take your opinions seriously. Learn your homophones!
  • One star scathing reviews are for places that have no redeeming qualities at all. A hair in your food doesn't mean the place should be condemned. Waiting 10 minutes for a drink isn't the end of the world.
  • Everybody has a bad day. Before you lambaste a place, consider that you may have only been there once and it may not be the norm there.
  • Be descriptive - liken the decor, atmosphere, service, food, etc... to a more common experience.
  • Always give both good and bad examples - a good review shouldn't be all praise or all complaints. There should be a balance. It shows that you are genuine.
  • Consider the feelings of the people who work there or who own the place. A bad review may feel like a satisfying way to take a stab at them for cold fries or bad service, but take it easy.
  • Have a look at your review overview - you should have mostly 3s and fewer 2s and 4s and even fewer 1s and 5s - if not a fairly even distribution. If you're all one way or another, you're probably doing it wrong.
  • Give a place a second chance - if an owner reaches out to you and invites you back so they can make it right - take them up on it, or at least adjust your review to indicate they at least tried.
  • Your review score should reflect the level in which a business owner cares about his business and customers.

I just want to remind everyone to not be an asshole. Life is too short.

Finally, I just want to remind you to support local businesses. Business owners, you should support your local community. I'll be writing a more in-depth "Best Practices" article for restaurant owners and how to control your presence on the internet. That's coming soon, so come back.

If you have any feedback or anything to add, feel free to leave a comment.

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  1. Great advice! Yelp is an awesome resource for businesses AND patrons… especially when people really get involved in all it can offer. I rarely try a new place without scoping out reviews- in my opinion, reviews (yelp and otherwise) are becoming one of the most important marketing pieces that a business can manage.

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  2. greatarticleidisagreeaboutthegrammartho ;-P

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  3. It’s not good when your only punctuation is part of an emoticon.

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  4. Absolutely.

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