You’re a small business owner, so you already know about Yelp. Weather you hate yelp or love them, It’s one of the most popular websites available when it comes to online reviews. A good average rating on Yelp is essential for local businesses. Research shows that close to 90% of all consumers check online reviews before patronizing a business, and that means that you can’t afford to ignore Yelp when managing your online reputation.

But perhaps the most important thing you need to know about Yelp, if you don’t already, is that it’s now free to use. While they do have paid advertising options, you don’t need to spend any money to dominate your competitors completely. Here’s what you need to do.

  1. Claim your business if you have not already done so.) You don’t have to have claimed your business to have reviews on Yelp, but there is no excuse for not claiming it. All you have to do is look up your business and click the “Claim My Business” button. You will then be walked through a series of steps to claim your business.
  2. Confirm your profile info accuracy. Once your business is claimed and confirmed, you need to update your profile and make sure all of the information listed is accurate. Check all of the following and correct any mistakes you find:
    • Your business name, address, and phone number (NAP) listing. Make sure that your listing is correct and that it appears the same way as it does on your website. Consistency is a key component of local SEO. You should also check to make sure your map location is correct.
    • The URL and hyperlink to your website. Make sure that you have a working link, and that it directs users to the page you want them to see first.
    • Your menu. If you own a restaurant or other establishment that serves food, make sure that you have a working link to your menu so that users can see what you have to offer.
    • Pictures of your business. Most experts agree that the ideal number of images to include is 10 (or more if you prefer). You can show pictures of the exterior of your business, as well as the interior, your products, and your staff.
    • Fill out the “About Your Business” section completely. There are three parts to it: Specialties, Business History, and Bio. The total character limit is 3,000, so that means you can use between 150 and 300 words per section. One of the things you should do in your write-up is to differentiate yourself from the competition. Are your prices lower than theirs? Do you have longer hours? Mention it here.
    • Your hours of operation, service areas, and payment options.
  3. Look at the existing reviews on your page and respond as needed. There may not be much to gain by responding to old reviews, but it can’t hurt – particularly if some of the reviews are negative. One of the keys to using Yelp effectively is to engage with the people who review your business, even when you disagree with what they’re saying.
  4. Find subtle ways to encourage customers to leave reviews. For example, you might include a card with a note asking them to leave a review, or link to your Yelp page when you sent emails out to your list.
  5. Monitor reviews and respond to them in a timely manner. It can be very upsetting to get a negative review, and there’s no question that some customers are unduly harsh when leaving reviews. However, the way you respond is going to say a lot to people about how you run your business, so be careful not to take any review personally. When you do get a negative review, it’s important to check your ego, remember that your goal is to please your customers, and try to read between the lines to identify the reviewer’s real problem. Even if it’s cloaked in insulting language, the chances are good that there’s some truth in every review you get. Few people would go out of their way to fabricate a review. Once you have identified the core problem, you can respond.

We’ve included some useful tips for responding to negative reviews in a way that will placate the reviewer and show readers that you take customer satisfaction seriously: Thank them for taking the time to write a review. It might gall to thank someone who tore you apart, but do it.

  • Validate what they said in their review. This is not the time to be argumentative or to go into denial. You don’t have to agree with any name-calling, but you can certainly acknowledge that they had a bad experience.
  • Apologize for whatever you or your staff did wrong. If a customer waited over an hour for a table or was overcharged, don’t dance around the issue. Come right out and apologize for it without making excuses.
  • Offer to correct the situation. If they were overcharged, give them a refund and a coupon. If they had a negative service experience, give them a voucher for a free drink or appetizer and let them know that you want to make it right.
  • Keep the lines of communication open. For particularly volatile reviews – or those that might take more than one message to resolve – provide either a phone number or email address to get the conversation off of Yelp. You want customers to know that you care, but you are under no obligation to carry out a contentious back-and-forth in public.

You should make sure to monitor reviews every day and respond within 24 hours. Track your Yelp metrics.  Find out how much traffic your profile is getting, where it ranks in Yelp’s search results, and what actions users are taking after they view your profile. For example, you can find out how many people clicked through to your website, and how many mobile check-ins you received.

  1. Check out your competitors’ pages and look for opportunities. Looking at competitors’ reviews is a fantastic way to keep abreast of what they’re doing. If you notice a slew of complaints – or a host of positive reviews – you can use that information to update your profile and improve your customers’ experience.

The Takeaway

The bottom line is that Yelp is an extremely effective, free tool that you can use to advertise your business, track your competitors, and engage with customers on an ongoing basis. Even a negative review can turn into an opportunity to improve your brand recognition and customer loyalty.