Yelp: The Local Business Secret Weapon

YelpTwo weeks ago Reno’s Yelp Community Manager, Michael Tragash, came to speak to my personal branding class. While I use Yelp several times a month to look for reviews, I never thought about the power it held to help small businesses. That changed at the beginning of Michael’s presentation with the following statement, “The mission of Yelp is to connect individuals with great local businesses.” His presentation confirmed that statement for me and I wanted to find out more.

I was able to follow-up with Michael one-on-one and he made me a true believer. As a business development advisor with the Nevada Small Business Development Center, I am constantly looking for new ways to help my clients. I learned that Yelp is a full member of the Social Age and provides people a truly useful tool; for individuals and businesses. My biggest takeaways from the conversation are below:

  1. What is Yelp at its core and how does it impact the community?

Yelp is really about connecting individuals with local businesses. The initial tagline was “real people, real reviews,” and it is those real people who share the reviews, photos, and tips that help connect users and visitors to great local businesses. Yelp is now the real-time platform for customers to give and receive reviews. If you use the site and/or app effectively, there is no longer a need to buy a city’s review book.

New businesses rotate on each community’s homepage, which is free advertising directly to individuals looking for a new experience. Locally, Yelp also puts out a weekly newsletter that features local businesses and is distributed to an impressive subscriber base in the Reno/Sparks area This is an immensely powerful tool available in each major community around the country. However, the only way to take advantage of these free resources is if the business owner is proactive and deliberate about social media and Yelp.

There are constantly conversations about local businesses going on, sometimes critical, and these conversations have a real impact. As an example, Michael found a new Chinese restaurant in town that had been highlighted on the homepage of Yelp as one of the “New Businesses In Reno”. Within a few days, the business – which had really done a good job updating their page – went from 3 reviews to almost 20. That is a HUGE impact and shows the immense power Yelp has to influence decisions.

  1. What does a business owner need to do regarding Yelp?

Michael had three main suggestions. The first is to simply claim the page. This is an easy process and allows a business owner greater control over their brand and ability to interact with customers. Second, post relevant photos of the business, along with populating as much of the business profile as possible. Doing this puts the business owner in the driver’s seat and projects more professional content. The benefits in doing this can be seen through the data; people spend 2.5 times longer and pages with photos, according to Michael. And third, promote that the business is on Yelp; a sign out front, table tents, information at the register, links on other social media sites, etc.This will be the best way to get unsolicited Yelp reviews and becomes the new comment card.

The benefits of these action allows the business owner to boost their social media presence. It is likely that Yelp will come up higher than even the company website in Google. By linking the business website to all of the social media platforms, and posting reviews from each, will boost SEO. There are so many ways to use Yelp as a launch pad for social media marketing and Michael is always willing to discuss how a business can make the most of Yelp. Those who have a negative or neutral view of Yelp should especially reach out to Michael to learn more about how to maximize the opportunity. Regardless of your sentiments on social media, customers are talking about businesses online, and Yelp is an opportunity for business owners to participate in those conversations.

  1. What do business owners need to avoid doing on Yelp?

There are also several “don’ts” on Yelp. It is important to understand the power of Yelp is in building trust through real people giving real reviews. Promoting anything counter to that message should be avoided; such as incentivizing reviews. It is also a platform to respond to negative customer experiences, but should be done in a professional manner; don’t be reactionary and make sure the message is well crafted. Finally, don’t forget to use the business owner tools available to help track and respond to information.

  1. Quotes from Michael that made the biggest impact on me.
  • Out-of-towners make decisions about where to spend their time and money while traveling. Locals have the ability (and responsibility) to promote small businesses by sharing honest reviews that will drive traffic.
  • Yelp gives business owners a platform to receive valuable information that allows them to understand what they’re doing well and not so well in order to make improvements. Owners can also respond directly to customers using the tools in the Free Business Owner Account.
  • Yelp helps businesses to connect with customers after they’ve left the establishment. Public comments or private messages from business owners can be powerful tools when used properly, creating a dialogue with Yelpers that can result in review updates and opportunities to see those who said they would never return back for another try.
  • Trust is our top concern, and there has never been any amount of money a business could pay Yelp to alter or remove reviews. Yelp also doesn’t skew anything in favor of advertisers or against those who do not.
  • The Yelp logo is sort of like a dog whistle for customers at this point. Businesses don’t need to ask for reviews, but rather just let customers know that you value their presence. The reviews and photos will follow, starting dialogue within the Yelp community.

Talking to Michael was truly eye-opening about what Yelp can actually do for local businesses and its impact on the community as a whole. If you are a business owner, or work at an establishment, that has not fully embraced Yelp, reach out to Michael on his Yelp page. Taking a little bit of time to use this free resource should be a priority.

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