Know your way around Yelp – The online review site that can make or break your business.
[Some type of gorilla graphic? And Yelp logo?]
In the years since 2004, when it was launched as an email-based referral network by former PayPal employees Jeremy Stoppelman and Russel Simmons, 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. At one time an acquisition target of search giant Google, and 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.
[“Yelping All Over the World” graphic from https://www.yelp.com/factsheet]
No question about it – a lot of your potential customers use Yelp. Yelp’s own data reveals that the Yelp website and mobile app draw over 188 million unique visitors every month. Users search Yelp by entering key words relevant to the goods or services they are looking for, or they can find a company 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. The fact that 79% of all searches are carried out via mobile devices indicates that users often access Yelp while actively shopping, and research shows that customers do base spending decisions on their selections from the more than 142 million reviews that have been posted to Yelp.
[Average monthly unique visitors graphics from https://www.yelp.com/factsheet]
[Review Statistics as of September 30, 2017graphics from https://www.yelp.com/factsheet]
What is a Yelper?
Yelp user statistics clearly show how influential the site has become. Millions of consumers every day go to Yelp.com or use the Yelp mobile app to get directory information and check business ratings and reviews. Yelpers are the segment of users who have profiles that allow them to sign in to publish their own ratings and feedback about almost any type of business or service you can imagine, including government agencies and public service providers. 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. And because most Yelp users 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 Yelpers have to say.
[US Demographics of Yelp Users graphic from https://www.yelp.com/factsheet]
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 noncommercial 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. Customers are most often motivated to write reviews by either extreme satisfaction or dissatisfaction, and they are likely to read and pay more attention to negative rather than positive reviews.
Obviously, Yelp ratings 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 and found that a one-star increase in a restaurant’s Yelp rating was related to a 5-9 percent increase in revenue. Lucas 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.
[Reviewed Businesses by Category graphic from https://www.yelp.com/factsheet]
So How Do I Get More 5-Star Yelp Reviews?
Most of the reviews on Yelp are pretty good, with 68% of them 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. Although some very personal or extreme 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. Yelpers are also often concerned with maintaining their own reputations as reflected in their Yelp profiles. So 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 more 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 can make 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.
Business owners can claim a Yelp profile that gives the ability to track their Yelp traffic and respond to reviews. A mobile app lets owners keep in touch with customer response trends while away from their desks. The ability to respond is an incredibly valuable tool that you must leverage to your advantage. 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 gratitude 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 lets you offer discounts to your regular customers.
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.
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 intended 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.
Call in the professionals.
With the importance of solid Yelp reviews a well-established fact of business life, hiring online reputation 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 offer user-friendly software tools that make it easy to collect and manage reviews from multiple sites across the web. Besides allowing business owners to track customer experience trends and use good reviews in marketing campaigns, an important benefit of such software 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.
The relationship between Yelpers and businesses, particularly small independent operations, is complicated. 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. While nobody (or business) is perfect, and there will always be a few slip-ups that generate less-than-stellar reviews, taking proactive charge of the review stream generated by your customers will move you out of that scary place by putting you in control. 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.