The Ultimate Guide to Getting More Yelp Reviews

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Getting more Yelp reviews can make or break your business.

Yelp is the 800-pound gorilla in the crowd-source review room. Love it or hate it, business owners have to acknowledge Yelp because good Yelp reviews are critical to the success of almost any enterprise.

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Former PayPal employees Jeremy Stoppelman and Russel Simmons launched Yelp in 2004 as an email-based referral network. Since then, Yelp has become ubiquitous across the world as the go-to site for useful crowd-sourced local business reviews. Yelp is active in all major US metropolitan areas, has a presence in over 30 markets outside the United States, and appears in 15 languages.

The web traffic analytics service Alexa Internet ranks Yelp’s original site Yelp.com at 40 in the US and 219 worldwide. Yelp was once an acquisition target of search giant Google, and is still the subject of near-endless commentary and controversy. Yelp has proven to be one of the truly transformative cultural phenomena of the Web 2.0 age.

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Users search Yelp by entering key words relevant to the goods or services they are looking for. They can also look up companies by name. Either way, Yelp offers immediate access to standard directory information for all businesses in the search results as well as any star ratings and feedback comments that Yelping customers have contributed. Yelp user statistics clearly show how influential the service has become. The website and mobile app draw over 188 million unique visitors every month.There is no question that many of your potential customers use Yelp.

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The fact that 79% of all searches are carried out via mobile devices indicates that users often access Yelp while actively shopping. They base spending decisions on selections from the more than 142 million Yelp reviews that have been posted online.

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What is a Yelper?

Millions of consumers every day go to Yelp.com or use the Yelp mobile app to get directory information and check business ratings and Yelp reviews. Yelpers are a user subset comprised of those with Yelp profiles that allow them to sign in to publish their own ratings and reviews of almost any type of business or service you can imagine.

After they visit a business or even while still at the place, Yelpers can give real-time feedback and join in discussions with other Yelpers about what they like, what they don’t like, and what should be changed or done differently. Most of the people who read what the Yelpers post fall into the prime spending age demographic of 18-54 and are highly educated, upper-income individuals. Any business owner who hopes to be successful should certainly be paying attention to what the Yelpers have to say.

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Can Yelp reviews really affect my business?

In fact, research shows that Yelp reviews can have profound effects on a business. Reviews are a type of Internet content known as user-generated media. They are classified as electronic word-of-mouth information: person-to-person communication in which the receiver perceives the communicator as representing a non-commercial source of information concerning a brand, product, service or provider. People are inclined to trust word-of-mouth, and researchers have found that customers tend to believe reviews they read.

Yelp ratings certainly can affect your bottom line. Harvard Business School professor Michael Luca compared Yelp reviews of Seattle restaurants with their earnings as reported to the Washington State Department of Revenue. Dr. Luca found that a one-star increase in a restaurant’s Yelp rating was related to a 5-9 percent increase in revenue. Luca also discovered that customers rely on star ratings more than reviews when making decisions, and that Yelp helped independent restaurants gain market share against large chain operations.

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So how do I get more 5-star Yelp reviews?

Most of the reviews on Yelp are pretty good, with 68% falling in the 4- or 5-star category. Customers also give businesses a “Recommended” rating 71% of the time. What this tells you is that the Yelpers who are going to be reviewing your business tend to be reasonable folks. They are often concerned with maintaining their own reputations for fairness and accuracy as reflected in their Yelp profiles. Although some very personal or extremely negative reviews do show up and tend to attract more attention than they deserve, reviewers are usually not out on any sort of vendetta against helpless business people.

It is fair to say that the most important strategy for achieving and maintaining a positive Yelp presence is simply doing the best you can to create satisfied, happy customers. This is just traditional common sense, but good customer service becomes more important than ever when almost everyone who walks through your door has the ability to publish their opinion to a huge audience within minutes. With this idea as a starting point, let’s take a look at a few strategic moves that can help boost your 5-star appeal on Yelp.

Make it easy for customers to create reviews. Let customers know that you are interested in getting their Yelp reviews. This can be as simple as using window stickers and cashier counter placards that refer to your Yelp profile. Including a Yelp badge or button on your business website and as part of your email signature makes submitting a review quick and easy. However, be careful about directly soliciting reviews in any form and never offer rewards for positive reviews. Both of these practices go against Yelp policies and promote undue influence by businesses on a review process that is meant to be neutral, natural, and honest.

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Be responsive. Business owners can claim a Yelp profile that gives the ability to track Yelp traffic and respond to reviews. A mobile app makes it possible to keep in touch with customer response trends while away from the office. This ability to monitor and respond is an incredibly valuable tool that you must leverage to your advantage. Use it to identify ways to keep positive reviews coming in, and as your best defense when negative reviews pop up.

Even the most negative reviewers often soften their stance when they receive a quick response, an explanation of what went wrong, and an offer to make things right. In fact, a glance at Yelp will show many reviews that have been upgraded after some communication between the business owner and the unhappy patron. But don’t focus only on the negative. Respond to every review with thanks for the kind folks who took the time to help you promote your business. You might also want to look into the Yelp “Check-In” feature that encourages reviews and lets you offer discounts to your regular customers.

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Don’t get personal. There have been cases where disputes between reviewers and business owners have led to harassment, physical altercations, and litigation. Never let things go down the wrong road when trying to work out a solution to a negative customer experience and the ensuing poor review. Always remain professional no matter how hurtful the review is, and though it is often difficult, remember that the customer is always right.

It is a good idea to delay response to any review that causes an emotional reaction, and that also gives you time to look into the situation. Find out what really happened to create the customer’s negative experience and formulate an appropriate response along with a strategy to turn things around to your advantage. Then get in touch with the customer, possibly via the Yelp private messaging feature, and work things out so that everyone wins. If that proves impossible, you can at least minimize the damage.

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Keep it honest. Fake reviews have always been a big issue on Yelp. Called “astroturfing”, the placement of many positive reviews by business owners or paid shills has been a problem since the earliest days of Yelp. In fact, a proprietary fake review filter was developed only two weeks after the Yelp site went online. Yelp’s fake review algorithm identifies about 25% of reviews as suspicious. There have been a number of sting operations and legal actions centered on the practice of review manipulation with the intent to bring positive or negative effects to a business. The potential harm of this type of review fraud far outweighs any possible benefit to your business, so do not even think about it.

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Call in the professionals. With the importance of solid Yelp reviews now an established fact of business life, hiring online reputation management specialists has become a common practice among successful businesses of all sizes. Along with proper website development and SEO work, managing your review stream is an essential component of any sound strategy for establishing and maintaining a productive online presence. Companies like Capture Review can help you tackle that task with user-friendly software tools that make it easy to collect and manage reviews from multiple sites across the web.

This type of software allows business owners to track customer experience trends and pull good reviews aside for use in marketing campaigns. Another important benefit it provides is the capability to filter and respond to negative reviews before they go live on Yelp. Catching bad news before it goes up online is certainly simpler than going through the months-long process of getting Yelp to take down an extreme or unfair review.

If you are really serious about building a great online reputation for your business, calling in the pros is probably the quickest way to increase your count of 5-star Yelp reviews.

Let’s review Yelp reviews.

The relationship between Yelpers and businesses, particularly small independent operations, is complicated. Nobody (or business) is perfect. There will always be a few slip-ups that generate less-than-stellar Yelp reviews. And no matter what the situation, opening ourselves up to feedback from others is always a little scary. When our livelihood is on the line, it can be a lot scary.

But most of that fear comes from a sense of lacking control and being helpless. Taking proactive charge of the review stream generated by your customers will put you in control and move you out of that scary place. By knowing how Yelp works and understanding how to make it work for your business, you can accentuate the positive and (nearly) eliminate the negative when it comes to Yelp reviews.

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