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Love it or hate it, Yelp is one of the most popular online review sites today. Not only is it recognized by consumers as a channel for sharing their opinions, thoughts, and customer experiences; it is also considered by hundreds of thousands of brands and organizations as a top business tool for generating leads.

Here are some quick facts about Yelp:

  • Yelp averages 161 million unique visitors every month (desktop and mobile), and has generated over 95 million online reviews (as of Q4 2015).
  • According to the Boston Consulting Group, brands and organizations that have claimed their free Yelp business page average $8,000 in annual incremental revenue from the review site. Advertisers, meanwhile, generate an additional $23,000 annually.
  • Approximately 82 percent of Yelp users visit the site when preparing to spend money and 93 percent go on to make purchases at the business they looked up and researched on the site.

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As a customer feedback channel, Yelp has helped redefine the classic word-of-mouth referral and expand its reach, durability, and credibility. No longer are consumers limited to their circles of friends and family when it comes to sharing — or getting — referrals and recommendations; with sites like Yelp, they can now access the reviews and ratings of millions of other people as well as share their own feedback about brands and organizations.

On the other end of the spectrum, Yelp has become an essential business tool. Managed effectively, your organization’s presence on Yelp can help build brand presence, shape business reputation, and foster bottom line improvements.

Getting started with developing a Yelp strategy for your brand? Here are some tactics employed by the smart marketers and top business performers on the review site.

Work on your Yelp ranking

Search rankings on Google and TripAdvisor aren’t the only way for your business to be discovered online.

(Check out our recent guides on how you can improve your local search rankings on Google and on TripAdvisor.)

Yelp is another great platform for your brand to connect with customers old and new. When users type search terms to describe what they’re looking for, Yelp returns with a list of results that are filtered by location.

Sometimes, a business with a 4.5-star rating average and 100 reviews will rank higher than a business with a 4.0-star rating average and 50 reviews; sometimes, businesses with lower ratings and fewer reviews are given a higher ranking.

“Every business owner wants to land on the first page of Yelp’s natural search results, but not everyone will,” writes Darnell Holloway, manager of local business outreach for Yelp, in a blog post. “Potential customers use a variety of search terms, and natural search aims to get users the most relevant results. These results are based on factors which include review text, ratings, number of reviews, and business information content on each listing.”

Based on this information, you can work on improving your Yelp ranking by using a variety of tactics:

  • Add content to your Yelp listing. If you can, max out the character limit, and enter your complete business information when filling out your listing. It’s a chance to put your best foot forward! So include every product, service, skill, specialty, and feature that your business offers. High-quality, well-written listings usually translate to more clicks, more traffic, more sales.
  • Research your keywords. When entering your content and business information, think of the words and phrases that consumers are most likely to use in order to find your business. You can’t go wrong with a tool like Google’s Keyword Planner; also keep in mind that it makes more sense to target more specific keywords (“best sushi restaurant in Chicago”) than general, extremely competitive keywords (“sushi”).
  • Upload photos. Yelpers spend 2.5 times more time on Yelp pages with photos. It only makes sense that the review site will consider this a key factor in how businesses are ranked in search results. (Photos help in improving your Yelp traffic and conversation rates, too.)
  • Get your location right. Location matters on Yelp. When a user conducts a search, the results are based on a default search map near (and not “in”) the user’s area. The user can then reposition or zoom in and out of the map, actions which will then adjust the search results. For your business listing to rank in search results that are most relevant to your audience — that is, potential customers who are nearby and ready to spend money — it’s critical that your location information is on point.
  • Try out Yelp Deals and Gift Certificates. These are prepaid vouchers that Yelpers can use to enjoy discounts at your business. It’s easy to set up and comes with no upfront costs. Just log into your Yelp for Business Owners dashboard and create the offer you want displayed on your listing. What makes Yelp Deals and Gift Certificates particularly attractive is that Yelp’s search results can be filtered to show only businesses that offer discounts. So at least give this a try; it’s a great way to attract consumers who are already searching for a business like yours and get them to choose you over competitors.

Haven’t claimed your Yelp listing? Read the guide.

Respond to Yelp reviews

Responding to your online reviews is one of the most effective ways to build and protect your brand presence on Yelp.

Not only is it likely that Yelp’s search algorithms reward businesses that are active in managing customer feedback left on their listing; responding to reviews — and doing so in a manner that’s sincere and professional — also shows that you value customer feedback, and that you care about the customer experience.

Besides, more than 50 percent of customers expect you to respond to their reviews — within a week.

Additionally, your responses can lend themselves to improved off-site SEO (search engine optimization) performance, which in turn helps you connect with potential customers through long-tail searches.

Make sure you are making the most of your ability to respond to reviews by inviting the reviewer to come back (regardless of whether the initial feedback was positive or negative) and urging other potential customers (the review readers) to come give you a try.

Get more and better reviews

It’s worth noting that Yelp does not allow businesses to directly ask Yelp users for reviews. What you can do, however, is commit to a high level of participation on Yelp, which in turn improves your visibility and creates opportunities for your organization to build your reviews.

On your website and social media profiles, share a link to your Yelp listing. And be sure to engage with and respond to the community of Yelpers who mention and talk about your brand.

Of course, the ability to generate positive reviews will be for nought if they can’t be seen. While Yelp’s review filter may sometimes leave out legitimate reviews, you can help these reviews be seen. Reach out to your customers and encourage them to complete their user profiles; as their Yelp usage increases, there’s a greater chance that their 5-star reviews will be made public by Yelp.

Share your best Yelp reviews

Don’t let your 5-star reviews and positive customer feedback go to waste. Show off your hard-earned reputation. Yelp provides brands and organizations with tools for amplifying your Yelp presence and sharing your reviews on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

  • Log into your Yelp for Business Owners dashboard and look for the “Reviews” button.
  • Click the arrow below the review you want to share.
  • When the popup appears, choose where you want to share the review: Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail.

By sharing your reviews, you are reinforcing positive customer experiences and letting your own customers do the talking for your brand.

Answer direct messages on Yelp

Not too long ago, Yelp introduced a feature that allowed Yelp users to send direct messages to business owners.

This has turned out to be a great tool for brands looking to drive engagement levels with customers. It also allows organizations to share more detailed information about their products and services to those who are looking for it.

On the other hand, if you ignore your direct messages, you risk losing customers in ways that you may not recover from. Remember: the voice of the customer wants to be acknowledged individually and addressed personally. So put processes in place that ensure your organization is able to stay on top of communications (both public and private) from Yelp users.

Crystal Shuller

Crystal is the Director of Customer Happiness for ReviewTrackers. She's known around the office for E-mails that make everyone smile, and she has a bag of tricks and tips to help businesses solve their problems and delight their customers.

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