Adding Yelp to Your Marketing Mix

YelpWord of mouth about products and companies is more important than ever, and these days that word travels online. Yelp is often the first site potential customers check — sometimes even before they get to your site — when they’re considering doing business with you. Here are some things you may not know about Yelp.

It’s not just for restaurants. It was originally founded as a site for restaurant reviews, of course, but shopping caught up with eating out in September 2011, and has since surpassed it.

It’s not just for smart phones. You may think that most people use it to pick a place to eat while they’re out and about — and about seven million people use the mobile app — but 60 percent of the searches on Yelp take place on a desktop. About 78 million people use Yelp a month, and of course mobile usage is trending up.

It benefits local businesses more than chains. People already know exactly what they’re going to get — both food and experience — when they go to McDonald’s or Olive Garden, so they don’t bother to read or write reviews about particular franchise locations. Local cafes and bistros, though, attract more reviewers and readers. This is true for all sorts of businesses: Joe’s Smalltown Car Repair is going to have a lot more Yelp reviews than Meineke.

The benefits of positive reviews are significant. Michael Luca of Harvard Business School did a study of restaurants in Seattle, and found that each additional star in a Yelp review correlated to a five to nine percent jump in revenue.

Customer service is the best route to getting good reviews. Yelp created a word cloud based on positive reviews, and “friendly,” “nice,” and “helpful” appear prominently. More good reviews than bad appear on the site: two-thirds of the reviews have four stars (28 percent) or five stars (38 percent), according to Yelp’s FAQs.

You shouldn’t bug your customers for reviews. Consumers are pretty savvy, and they won’t respond well to efforts to coerce them into stuffing the ballot box with positive reviews. Yelp itself discourages such efforts: “We don’t believe that consumers necessarily want to be seen as a promotional vehicle,” said Darnell Holloway, Yelp’s manager of local business outreach.

You should, however, make it easy for them to do so if they want write reviews. Refer to Yelp in your promotional materials, business cards, and email signatures. Yelp provides downloadable signage and buttons on Flickr for these uses. These subtle reminders will work better for you in the long run.

Respond to bad reviews on Yelp. You don’t have to just sit back and take whatever anyone says. If the review is unfair, present your version of the facts; if you screwed up, own it and state what you’ll be doing differently in the future. Don’t freak out and threaten to sue — legal actions are expensive and sometimes backfire with even more negative commentary, which can spread virally.

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