Yelp for Small Business Owners


With over 33 million reviews of everything from local restaurants, hotels, to attorneys, dentists real estate agents, even churches, and an average of 84 million unique visitors in Q3 2012, Yelp is undeniably on the list of Top-10 online tools featuring UGC (user generated content); in the form of personal reviews based on individual experiences.  It is one of the best ways for local businesses with limited budget and manpower to get noticed and found by customers.

As a business owner, critical information can be gathered through regular review of what people have to say about your goods and services…both positive and negative. Today, online reviews are not something your business voluntarily decides to opt in or out of. People are posting reviews of your products and services online, whether you are listening or not.  If you are not paying attention to the feedback, then you are missing a tremendous opportunity to not only to overcome your shortcomings but to socially market your business.

For example, when you go to a new restaurant and have a good experience, it is very likely that you will tell others about the delicious food, outstanding service or the inviting ambiance. The same goes for many other types of businesses, particularly in the service industry.  Asking a friend or coworker for recommendations is not a new phenomenon.  A person looking for an honest, affordable attorney, who offers great results, will most likely talk to people they know first for a referral.  In today’s marketplace, not only have 85% of consumers have used online search to find local business…online reviews have credibility1.  An added benefit of a positive online recommendation is that it also becomes public, sharable and searchable, thus positive reviews become marketing for your business.

Even negative reviews can potentially be good for business2.    The first step in dealing with negative reviews is learning not to take it personally, try viewing it as an opportunity to demonstrate your company’s superior customer service.

Responding to Yelp Reviews

Yelp provides actual testimony from real consumers.  The challenge most business owners face is learning to respond to positive or negative reviews in such a way that you not only engage the reviewers or change negative experiences in to positive ones but also build ongoing goodwill.

When contacting a positive reviewer, a genuine thank you will do more good than a gift certificate, invitation to an event, special discounts or request to let their friends know about how awesome you were, etc. Anything more than a ‘thank you’ may seem a good idea but, it can also be misinterpreted as a bribe or payment for the review. The important thing to remember is that the customer already likes your business, so just use this opportunity to thank them and introduce yourself but don’t oversell.

Yelp allows businesses to respond publicly and privately to user reviews.  When it comes to negative reviews, it can feel like a punch in the face or a personal attack.  However, by contacting your reviewer and establishing unpretentious relationship, you may be able to change the customer’s perspective for the better.   Everyone knows that mistakes happen.  This is an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to outstanding customer service.

Business Owner Advice: How do you respond to your Yelp reviews?

But Yelp isn’t just about reviews.  If you are holding an event, use the event feature and be sure to create event reminders.  Use the special offer feature. When you create a special offer, it appears in the offers and announcements listing for your city.  People who have never heard of your business can discover you there.

According to the American Express Open Forum, Yelp tends to favor small businesses over chains.  Use this to your advantage.  Make a point to spend some time updating your profile and interacting with the Yelp community on a regular basis.

Yelp for Business Owners

To Note

Yelp does offer ads and there may be “sponsored results” that show up on the same page as your business, but this is no different from a google, bing or yahoo search, so don’t let it discourage you from reaping the benefits of the free features of this tool.  Additionally, Yelp does have some issues also regarding filtering of reviews3.  As with any free online tool, you should not rely solely on one site for reviews of your products and services2 as well, if your customers are savvy, they will read more than one review!

According to Yelp community manager, 50% of users are well-educated and earn more than $50K annually, making them an ideal target audience for small business owners.  The key is to make optimum use of this low-cost resource (primary cost = your time) to reach out and convert these potential customers into sales. Yelp exists for one purpose – connecting consumers with local businesses. As a business owner, you cannot afford not to listen, respond, engage and actively manage your presence here.


1Study – 72% of Consumers Trust Online Reviews as much as Personal Recommendations

2Negative Reviews Good for Business?

Yelp is not Unbiased

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