In my opinion, Yelp sells ads prematurely . In fact, as a company, if they would guide businesses to more successful strategies, rather than hound them (client's words)  to buy ads, they could be far more successful at selling ads.

So, let's get it said. If you have no reviews or only a few, ads are a waste of money. Sorry, Yelp but I've never seen any examples of ads working for business pages with no reviews.

Yet, I talk to people all the time that were solicited to purchase ads with no reviews. Yelp has mountains of data. They KNOW selling ads to businesses with few or no reviews will not produce results. And worse, it often leaves people with a visceral aversion to doing business with them. When I ask new clients whose business could benefit from using the Yelp platform, their impression of Yelp, to a person, "Fraud, ripoff, manipulative, obnoxious, extortion, fake reviews, useless" and more. No business person I talked with has ever said "I love Yelp!" 

Yes, I know there are loads of businesses using Yelp to grow. That is exactly my point. They did not let a negative mindset, and Yelp's sales priorities get in the way of mastering this review monster. You can rail against Yelp, we can even hate them BUT there are businesses that are thriving, growing and even exploding due to utilizing this platform correctly. That's because they have the right information and mindset.

Here is THE most important thing to consider. If you are a business that is reviewable don't give up on YELP! Set aside your feelings and past experience and learn to ride this horse in the direction it's going. Yelp has a very strategic use, and your company can do well with the right strategy and tactics. I was fortunate to talk with a young man in sales at Yelp who was helpful vs. hard sell. He provided me with a deep understanding of how the platform works, terrific data about how people use Yelp and a little about how their algorithm tries to sort genuine reviews from solicited reviews. The entire premise of the platform is to serve up unsolicited, 3 party reviews for other consumers, which are the most trusted feedback to consumers about businesses hands down. On the consumer side, people love Yelp. So as a smart business owner, learn to love them too.

If you need more to convince you that Yelp deserves (re)consideration as part of your overall marketing strategy here are the two things to keep in mind.

1. When people go on Yelp, they are in active buying mode. They are a customer looking for the right person to do business with. A Yelp lead is a hot lead. They have dropped through the sales funnel into your lap!

2. One or more of your competitors is going to leave you in the dust, take more and more marketshare if you continue your negative mindset about the platform. This is the old adage "Cutting off your nose to spite your face".

Here are two examples around mindset:

Wrong mindset. A few years ago, we had a client that is a plumber. He was struggling with an ever increasing loss of market share in his local area. We recommended he master Yelp. He hated Yelp. He hated that they called him over and over selling ads. He called it extortion. Like it or not, Yelp creates a business page for all registered businesses. Whether you claim it or not is your prerogative. He said he would not claim his page or have anything to do with them. 

So I did some research, as if I were a consumer in his area looking for a plumber. His number one competitor had 85 mostly 5-star reviews. The owner of the company had responded to every review personally. He had dozens of engaging photos of jobs, his team, his community. You could dial his office right from his page. He was running ads. He had the right mindset. I looked at my client's unclaimed page. He had a couple of nice reviews but nothing else. I asked him, "Who do you think I am going to call if I am on Yelp looking for a plumber now?". Not you. I suggested that in a year, with 20 or so good reviews, he would see a upswing in his business. So what did he do? He let his emotions decide, not his best interests, and refused to use Yelp. We parted ways as there was not a lot I could do to help him with his limited budget. 

Right mindset. Here is an example of a client who literally built their brand new business into a wild success in one year with the right mindset and social strategy. I was hired to consult on social media marketing for an exciting business launching in The Bahamas in spring of 2017, Bahamas Jet Boat. We determined that Facebook was the island's "coconut telegraph" to locals, island PR and tour operators. It would be an very important channel to successfully launch and keep up to date so locals, like concierges, business owners and tour operators would talk them up.

But a significant number of tourists come in on cruise ships. We strategized that Facebook was essential but that it was Yelp that was going to make or break their success. Visitors do a ton of research before and after they arrive looking for fun activities. Especially cruisers as they have a limited time on shore to find fun things to do. So the Yelp strategy was to build reviews as quickly as possible. They got the word out to locals, gave free rides and put Yelp stickers in their office. Soon, they were #72 out of 100 water attractions, then a few months later with over 50 reviews they were #12 of all water attractions. Today, one year later, with153 reviews, they are the #2 attraction on Nassau

So what's the secret to using Yelp to grow your business?

It's not a secret at all. It's observing what works. You can crack the code by knowing all social media has stages. There are correct strategies and tactics for each stage. Mix them up, have the wrong expectations for results and you will be forever disappointed and out some cash too. 

Stage 1 - Strategy is to start building your Yelp presence. Tactics are to get reviews.

If you are in the first stage of your Yelp process, there are only two things to do in stage one, and none of them involve ads.

Earn reviews. Make people aware that you love reviews. If you have a brick and mortar shop, service trucks, clipboards, a website, use all the tools that Yelp provides. You can get stickers for shop hours, stickers for the windows, trucks and clipboards. You can get table top displays that shout "Review us on Yelp!". On your website, make sure you have a hot button that takes people to your claimed Yelp business page. You can even have a feed on your site that lets people see your latest reviews. When people see other's reviews, they naturally want to see theirs.

Yelp policy states you are not to ask for reviews, that it is diametrically the opposite of what their platform is intended to do, which is unsolicited, 3rd party reviews. Yet, people ask for reviews all the time. If you are going to ask people to do well-deserved  reviews there are some things you should know.

The Yelp algorithm is designed to detect solicited reviews. It does it in two main ways, but there are other indicators as well. Here are the two that get people reviews banished to a virtually hidden link at the bottom of their page:

1. The reviewer is new, and you’re in their first review. So, I tell my clients (trade secrets here!) to always ask happy customers “If you are already using Yelp, would you mind doing a review for us?”. Even send them the link to your page if you are on the phone with them or email it later. However, only ask people that are very happy, so the review is a 5 star, 4 at the least.
2. Several reviews in one day. I told a client recently about #1. I forgot to warn him about #2. Not knowing he had several loyal customers that have used his services for years, he sent an email out to about 20 people. He got eight 5-star reviews the same day. Only one made it to his feed. 

Ads at this stage are pure cost, no benefit.

TIP: Be careful not to be seen as someone who makes a practice of soliciting reviews. Yelp will exile your business page into obscurity if you do it repeatedly. For how long, no one knows.

Stage 2 - Strategy is to increase traffic and engagement on your page. Tactics are:

1. Send emails to new clients asking for feedback on your product or service on a scale of 1-5, 5 being best. Responses of 1-3, call to see how you can improve their experience, 4-5's request a Yelp review if they are already on Yelp.
2. Upgrade to an Enhanced page and employ all its features.

Once you have a few reviews and a little traffic to your page, it's time to do what’s called an Enhanced page. The sooner you do this the better. The cost is $75 a month. It allows you to do three important things:

1.  A photo album including an excellent introductory video to your business, that lets people get a sense of who they are doing business with.
2.  A Call to Action button that allows people call you from your Yelp listing. This is big. You can enable the quote feature too, BUT that quote goes to multiple business owners that do exactly what you do. However, if they call you first, chances are you are going to get that business. It's like being at the top of the 1st page of Google.
3. Eliminate your competitor's ads from showing while people are on your page. Note that before you upgrade to an Enhanced page, competitor's ads appear when people are on your page. 

Yelp maintains that enhanced pages get an average of 32% more traffic.

Ads at this stage are mostly cost with low benefit.

TIP: Answer every review. Thank people by name and say a few kind words. If you get a bad or mediocre review, use it as an opportunity to show you are listening, taking steps to correct and thank people for the opportunity to improve. The goal is to be seen by future readers as hand-on, responsible and human. DO NOT make excuses. Also, fact check if possible. I found a terrible review on a client's page to be a competitor. We petitioned Yelp to remove it and they did.

Stage 3 – Strategy is to full out compete for your market share. Tactics are more reviews by all means above, test ads.

You have 20+ great reviews. You are getting calls and visits to your website from Yelp. Now is the time to run a few test ads. If they are not successful, stop and wait until you have 30+ reviews. Rise and repeat. The benefit of ads is that more people see your page and they see it as one of the first businesses they see. Like the first page of Google, that is where the cash register rings. If you business is seasonal, you might want to suspend ads or even double down. 

Ads at this stage can an investment in growing your business.

TIP: Work with a sales person at Yelp that you feel is helpful and has your best interests at heart. You'll be more successful with your ad spend. Conversely, ditch the high-pressure, sales goal focused guy or gal that is all about their numbers.

Once you get more and more reviews, like Bahamas Jet Boat with 153, you may not need ads any longer. Again, like Google organic ranking, your strategy and diligence pays off. This a long term play. Social media is about building relationships and earning trust. 

Bottom line: It would be a mistake to abandon YELP due to bad advice or bad vibes. Your business will get more and more new clients from YELP if you execute a well-planned strategy. Understanding these three stages goes a long way and order those stickers. They're free! You can acquire customers from this channel. A year from now, you can rock this. Growing your service, hospitality, home services or professional business just got easier. 

For more information about The 3-Stages of Social Media for your other channels, download a free copy of our eBook.

Posted in: Marketing, Social Media, Yelp

Irene Donnell

Irene Donnell

Irene Donnell is the social media marketing specialist at P5 Marketing. She is the author of three eBooks on social media success and a workbook that allows companies you apply her methodology. Her talk “Social Media Sorcery – How Social Media and SEO Together Are Magic” was one of the best-attended talks at WordCamp LA in 2017 and WordCamp Riverside 2017.