Why Yelp Is Awesome For Small Businesses


smallYou know what’s awesome? Yelp. Yelp’s awesome. Not only did the site help me to not starve to death when I moved to Troy last year (z0mg it’s been a year!), but they’re also doing a great job helping small business owners leverage the power of social media and manage their online reputations. Pretty sweet, eh? Totally.

Over recent months, I’ve gotten a chance to play with the other side of Yelp – Yelp for Business Owners. And since then, my love for the site has grown even more. Why do I heart Yelp and think small business owner should be claiming and optimizing their profiles RIGHT NOW?

Well, I’ll tell ya.

z0mg Traffic

I’m not sure if you know this but Yelp is growing at 80 percent a year, page views and time spent on the site are up 150 percent, and they received 25 million visitors in August. Yes, just in August. In case you’re not aware, that’s a ridiculous amount of traffic. Especially when you consider that each one of those 25 million people who visited Yelp last month was on a mission. They got hungry, pulled up Yelp and typed in “tacos” in “Troy, NY” while looking for some place to go grab dinner. And even though they were disappointed that THERE ARE NO TACOS IN TROY, NY, had there been any, Yelp would have been their gateway to them. And to your restaurant or store.

Twenty-five million people. Performing targeted searches. Looking for you.

View Traffic Patterns

Okay, enough about Yelp’s traffic, it’s time to worry about your traffic. Inside Yelp for Business Owners lies a quick and dirty traffic analysis to help you quantify the eyes that your business listing receives on any given day. Sure, you can use it as a benchmark to see if your local café is gaining or losing popularity, but you can also use it to see which days people are most likely to be doing a search for you, what types of seasonal fluctuations you may be facing, whether or not certain ad campaigns have worked, or when you should be running promotions to get people in the store. Any data that helps you understand a bit more about your business or audience is good data.

Local Citations

local citationsLocal citations are really important if you want your small business to rank and appear in the search engines’ local search indexes. Local citations are any time your business name and address are mentioned on another Web site, regardless of if there is a link or not. Because so many local indexes pull information from Yelp, creating a complete profile on the site is a great, great way to start building these citations. Once you claim your listing in Yelp, you’ll be able to fill out a complete About the Business section that will allow you to tell the search engines where you’re located, what’s near you, what the major cross streets are, etc. You want to give the search engines (and users) as much information about you as possible. The richer the profile you create, the more likely it is your site will show up for important local searches.

Local Networking

This will probably sound a little nerdy, but my favorite part of Yelp listings is the area where business owners are able to recommend other businesses in their area. I mean, HELLO, what better way to create strategic partnerships that you can leverage to benefit everyone? If you’re a florist in Albany, NY, you can create arrangements with the different catering halls in your area, with local halls, bakeries, etc, and drive traffic to each others sites. If I’m on your Yelp page looking for a florist, it’s very possible I’m doing so because I have an event happening. I don’t just need flowers, I need a cake, I need some place to hold the reception, I need someone to DJ the event, someone to provide keepsakes. If I trust you and you’re recommending some of your friends, my job’s done. I’ve found all my vendors. Sign me up.

You Can Engage Users

Engagement objects are all the rage. In fact, according to some, you won’t even be able to get your Web site to rank in a year if you don’t have video (yeah, I’m a bit skeptical on that one, too). Regardless, get users off your Yelp page and into your store by placing coupons, specials, announcement, and photos directly into your listing. Give them something that will catch their eye and put your company listing on top of all the other florists they’re checking out on Yelp. If I’m looking for flowers and you’re offering me free chocolate just because, well…you basically just got yourself a customer for life.

Respond to Reviews

outspokenYelp gave business owners a louder voice when it opened up the feature to allow them to publicly respond to negative reviews left on the site. And as long as you’re not a dumbass, this feature has proven to be quite powerful. Small business owners have used it to:

  • Correct inaccurate statements
  • Subtly guilt people into leaving higher reviews [“We are SO sorry for your bad experience. Please come in and ask for me and I’ll make sure that you’re taken care of!”]
  • Let people know you took their criticism of not carrying Harp beer seriously and are now a proud supplier. Then, invite them in for a pint.

If you’re a small business and not totally comfortable jumping into the world of social media, Yelp makes it really easy to benefit by just dipping your toe in and seeing what’s out there. They provides business owners with a way to measure traffic, deal with minor online reputation management issues and engage users into their store. It remains one of my personal favorite sites for small businesses.

If you’re interested in small business stuffs, you may want to check out our Small Business Marketing section of the blog.  I also blog about small business issues over at SmallBizTrends each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Yep. I’m done plugging now. ;)]

Your Comments

  • Chase Granberry

    Yelp has the local deal figured out. They actually get people from the web, to the door. If a review gets featured anywhere it pretty much guarantees a great day for that business. The way they’ve fostered community is pretty remarkable as well. My girlfriend is a Yelp Elite here in Phoenix and she gets free shit just about wherever she goes. She also gets in some heated arguments with business owners if they don’t like her review. It’s amazing how wrong people handle things sometimes.

  • Michael D

    They’ve got it figured out better than any other local review writing company (especially in the SEO department imo) but there’s still a ways to go in improving communications with small businesses. I like Yelp and hope they continue getting better at what they do.

  • Lisa Barone

    Chase: Very much agreed. It’s pretty cool to see how well Yelp is getting people offline and into the door. Few sites, if any, have been able to replicate it. And yeah, some businesses have a hard time being criticized. It’s a trait that will serve them very well in business. Or, you know, not.

    Michael: Speaking as a business owner, What would you like to see from Yelp? Is there a way they could be more useful to you or doing things better? I’d love to hear it (and they probably would too).

  • Alan Bleiweiss

    While the vast majority of Yelp listings may be legitimate, and their reviews also valid, there’s a huge list of business owners who have complained about negative reviews and many complainers who have seen their reviews removed. There’s also been allegations (in various pending lawsuits) that Yelp employees manipulate listings and reviews as a form of leverage to coerce business owners to pay for featured services.

    Reviews are also easily manipulated by friends, family and employees at listed companies if they know just a little bit about the web. Of course, these are potential problems on any “review” site.

    At the same time though, Yelp has clearly helped thousands (tens of thousands?) of small business owners gain new business.

    It’s just important to be aware of the controversy because with Yelp it’s rather substantial.

  • John Pruitt

    Yelps integration to mobile technology and mapping makes it the only choice for me. Now I only want for a 3Gs iPhone so I can do the Augmented Reality with Monocle :)

    I’ve had my reviews responded to four times from Yelp. All four were great interactions. Two were to respond or correct issues that lead to bad reviews and two were to thank me for reviews. In all cases I came out satisfied. A business that approaches customers with a solution sense deserve to be in business and deserve my business.

  • Phil Buckley

    I just started using Yelp when I got my iPhone, I have no idea how you can find a decent restaurant without them.

    I’m sure some parts of it are ripe for manipulation, but I think for the most part it’s reliable. I know I now leave reviews when I try some new place.

  • Evan Morris

    This feels a little forced for some reason? Maybe it was the “um how about some comments” tweet I just got, but since you asked for it here goes. I really liked this post (hence the retweet) and I agree that Yelp is extremely bad ass. Chase mentions how they’ve fostered community and I think they get people from the web to the store by making it easy to join the conversation about local shops, stores, restaurants, etc. People want to experience the places they read about or talk about and Yelp is better at moderating the conversation than anyone else right now.

    And like you said, they make it easy for the business owners to get involved in that conversation too and gives them a direct voice, or a LOUDER voice, to consumers.

    I just stumbled onto the Talk feature, which is basically a forum to ask specific questions and anyone with profiles responds. In Chicago for example, a guy just asked what coffee shops had wifi in my neighborhood, and within about 26 minutes there were around 8 responses to 8 or 9 different businesses in the area. It shows the power of word of mouth and I think Yelp does the best job of embracing it and helping it filter into the right channels.

  • Lisa Barone

    Alan: I’ve definitely read the reports about reviews being manipulated or flat out made up. You’re going to find that on any review site, unfortunately. I had a chance to speak to Luther Lowe, manager of Local Business Outreach, and he was really firm with me about what business owners should and should not do in terms of soliciting reviews. So I definitely think it’s something they’re taking seriously and responding to. You’re right though, once people start questioning the reviews…you’re basically done.

    John: That’s another great thing about Yelp. They’re definitely listening and if you have a question, they’re often the ones who reach out to you.

    Evan: Ha, sorry for twisting your arm. I’m really trying to get people’s thoughts on Yelp. But, um, thanks for humoring me. :)

    I wasn’t aware of the Talk feature. See, that’s really awesome! Thanks for sharing.

  • Evan Morris

    No I was just being lazy earlier. I was trying to get away with giving you a thumbs up on the post without putting much thought into it by retweeting. So thanks for making me exercise my brain a little. Speaking of the talk feature, just noticed it is also on the iPhone app version, which is how I usually Yelp so that is good.

  • Mike Blumenthal

    I just got back from a week in NYC and I agree that Yelp is one of the local apps that just works both across the internet and mobile.

    The one suggestion that I would make would be for them to give the iPhone app better ability to share the details of the restaurant via mail, SMS and or Twitter.

    Great article

  • Byron

    My only quibble with YELP is that sometimes the reviews are just not consistent. What I mean is you really can’t get an indication one way or another just how good or bad the business might be. Case in point: doctors. I found my dentist through YELP because this dentist uniformly received great reviews across the board. But then when I tried to find other MD’s, I found nothing consistent at all. A few bad reviews, a few good reviews and I could not make up mind on whether or not this doctor was worth visiting based upon the quality of the reviews. And frankly, the power of YELP does come from the integrity and quality of its reviewers. Otherwise, it’s not very helpful.

  • Juliemarg

    Are you serious? Yelp’s set up encourages the lousy, snarky reviews to float to the top. The thumbs up for funny, useful or cool mean that sarcasm is rewarded – it’s a lot easier to be funny slamming than praising.

    Unless you’re a place that can generate many reviews and find the wisdom of the crowd, you run a huge risk of getting hurt by obnoxious people out to intentionally damage.

    For example, there is a very cool lakefront cafe walking distance from Harrah’s in Tahoe called the Lakeside Beach Grill. It’s got a fantastic location, right on the beach, and is one of the very few commercial places in South Lake Tahoe where you can enjoy the most beautiful lake in the world. I’ve eaten their 4 times – every time the food was great – lobster salad, cheeseburger, microbrewery beer, etc.

    Three of their seven yelp reviews have given them a one. Reading their reviews, it’s clear that they did that to be mean and inflict harm.

    I have no financial or personal relationship with them, but I feel bad that a nice place suffers so that yelp can make a buck.

  • Juliemarg

    They really do agitate me …

    This is the mentality at Yelp. If you contact them to make a complaint about questionable content – the radio button choices are:

    Type of Concern:
    General concerns (e.g., a suspicious 5-star review, an obscene photo, an unhelpful or inappropriate review, etc.)
    Select this option if the content violates your legal rights (e.g., copyright infringement, defamation, privacy violation, etc.)

    The idea that questionable content is a suspicious 5 star review — what about a suspicious 1 star review? How often do competitors try to improve their own position by destroying your good rating?

  • goldendog

    Having just moved to the UK I was disappointed to discover that craig’s list and Yelp are anemic version of their USA counterparts. These types of services are only as good as the people who input the information:(

  • Yawn Webmaster!

    Local citations are important for SEO, and in cases where platforms get it right (Tripadvisor being another) plugging your business into some of the major platforms for listings and visibility, such as Yelp, is a good thing for visitors and search. Mobile tech means that sooner or later there will be some database merges, so if you’re a Taco shop in [location] being in the database is going to be key. Think Augmented World a la Nokia.

    One of the problems for us as internet marketers is making this cost-effective to offer as a service. I often find it’s easier to bring the client into the Local World with me as those businesses that do really well out of the internet in the future will be the ones that get some instruction and guidance now.

  • Lisa Barone

    Mike: Long time fan of yours, thanks for dropping by. :) I don’t use an iPhone, but that’s a great suggestion for those that do. Probably be a lot of value there.

    Byon: But is there really a way Yelp can make reviews “consistent”? I mean, that’s not really on them. People have different experiences and they share them. Can’t really fault Yelp for that, can you? Or am I misunderstanding you? [which we both know is totally possible :) ]

    Julie: Wow, that really hasn’t been my experience with Yelp at all. Most of the Yelpers I know are a lot like Rhea.


    They’re not trying to be snarky. They’re trying to be helpful. They’re trying to share their experiences with other people. Sure, you’re going to get the occasionally smartass, but, at least in my experience, that’s been the exception. Interesting to see your talk though.

    Have you tried contacting them in other ways than through the radio buttons on the site? I know if I just mention the word “yelp” on Twitter, I get at least 3 people replying to me asking if they can help. I don’t know who’s watching the site, but there are surely A LOT of Yelp employees on Twitter listening and reaching out.

    Goldendog: Yeah, that sucks. :(

    Yawn: [head nod] Good points. :)

  • Jim C.

    I took a look at the Lakeside Beach Grill reviews that Julie was complaining about, and to me it doesn’t look like the reviewers were being mean. Harsh perhaps, but not mean. The fact that she liked the food doesn’t mean everyone else shares the same opinion, perhaps she was just lucky and was there when a good chef was there.

    That said, I’m not sure Yelp works well in tourist locations, but I definitely think that if you live in a Yelp covered large city it works well – you get to see a lot of the same reviewers at work, so get a much better feel for a place than just the star ratings or anonymous reviews would give you.

  • dhiraj

    Yes truly agree that “Local citations are really important”

  • Robert

    If I were starting a new small business and wanted to get my product or service featured on the web and with TOP placement on Googles search engines, I would consider the 3 to 6000.00 thousand dollars per year Yelp extortion fee as an absolute marketing necessity.

    Don’t get me wrong, Yelp is a legal extortion game, pitting small business against one another by using Yelp employee or customer created review content which is protected under the freedom of speech laws to get me to part with my dollars.

    Small establishments essentially are under constant threat created by a combination of unpoliced bad and or erroneous reviews which appear at the top of Googles search results due to Yelp’s savvy search engine placement software.

    Some good reviews but all it takes is a single top placement bad one
    for Jeremy Stoppelman and his Yelp team to use that bad one as a leveraging (EXTORTION) tool to get the business owner to agree to a monthly fee that will allow them to “sponsor” a better review that is now at the top of the Yelp “enhanced” Google’s search results.

    Yelp continues to blackmail the small biz to pay to prevent their reputation from being ruined by user contributed and or yelp employee created review content, offering to sell the owner a optimization contract for 300.00 – 600.00 dollars a month.

    After a business is added to Yelps site with an initial review, it is placed on yelps $$$ sales rep call list, “hi this is a bottom feeder yelp sales rep, I would like to help you optimize your yelp page for as little as 300.00 per month we can among other things, highlight a favorite review to appear at the top of the page about your business instead of the lousy one that we wrote that currently shows up at the top of Google’s search engines.

    The unlucky or unwise small business that has not the money and or willingness or mind to play the Yelp extortion game will soon find itself at the mercy of the extremely intelligent greedy unscrupulous bottom feeder CEO and co-founder of Yelp Mr. Jeremy Stoppelman.

    If you don’t pay, your good reviews are whittled down to roughly 20 and new bad reviews written by Mr. Stoppelman’s employees and their friends magically appear and are moved up to the top in Google search engines for you and all your customers to see.

    Icing on the extortion cake that’s being shoved down your throat, is a “paying” competitor business is now a sponsored advertiser at the top YOUR Yelp page.

    You gotta smile when you see how easy it is for Stoppelman and Yelp to get almost any establishment to part with 300 dollars or more per month to try and save the reputation of their business that prior to getting that yelp review had no problem. It’s free money for the taking…extorting = )

    On the flip, as a marketing tool for top placement in the prized Google search engines, 4-6 thousand dollars per year is a cheap price to pay Stoppelman to place your business as the first and best above your competitors, he also lets you pay to keep as many reviews posted on your yelp as you desire.

    A site that pays Mr. Stoppelman more per month simply has more good reviews and in some cases thousands of them. Any real bad reviews are pushed down to the bottom of the list and are “optimized” NOT to be found by Googles search engine.

    As soon as you begin to pay, your business is now “optimized” as it sits atop Googles search results and more importantly atop the next poor schmucks yelp page that Mr.Stoppelman and his team of scum are already calling to help “optimize” their yelp web page.

    Want to create havoc for a small business that is not on yelp, just ad them as a new yelp review page and watch the fun unfold…Mr.Stoppelman and his team of Yelp leeches “employees” will take care of the rest….,sadly eventually ALL businesses will be listed at yelp, it’s just a matter of time before one of your unknowing customers, or one of Mr.Stoppelman’s friendly staff takes the time to add your business to the Yelp site, with a stellar or awful review. Understand it makes no difference who writes the review, because eventually the BAD REVIEW will appear, be it written by your customer or a Yelp employee, and there is little you can do to protect your self except……PAY PAY Mr.Stoppelman or …… PAY the new Yelp attorneys that specialize in removing your business and erroneous content from yelp, but that is a whole different class of bottom feeder = )

    Cheers and happy yelping.

  • Iagomega

    So i just happened to stumble upon this, and wow. I think i’m learning more from the comments! So I started out using it for my business listing, but now I’m on it for myself! I used to be (ok still am) a hardcore 4square user, but this seems to be a bit more helpful. In fact i kind of wish they could integrate a bit. It would be much easier to add my friends from Facebook and Twitter, rather than just by email (really? do people email friends anymore?! lol) And it would be even nicer to go onto Yelp and as I’m putting in my review or scouting reviews, to check into 4square as well! Just a thought….