(This article originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer)
Yelp, the crowdsourced review site for businesses, this month reported some encouraging news: More than half a million new businesses joined the site’s community over the last 12 months — only a slight decrease from the previous year — and the company expects that many more will be doing the same throughout 2021.
With COVID-19 on the run, “we anticipate businesses that were once struggling over the last year will bounce back,” Justin Norman, vice president of data science at Yelp, told CNBC. “We see this evidenced through the 260,000 businesses that have been able to reopen after temporarily closing.”
If yours is one of those small businesses, what should you be doing to best leverage the popular customer review site?
For starters, it’s important to understand that your business may already be on Yelp — and getting reviews — even though you never formally listed it. That’s because the platform automatically adds businesses from database firms and other third-party services and you must claim your business by going to biz.yelp.com and providing certain information about your company.
Once accomplished, and you’ve filled out your complete profile, you can then start responding to reviews and offer deals.
Though a Yelp listing is free, many businesses choose to pay for advertising plans that target specific prospects on the site, include a more detailed slide show of photos, and allow the uploading of videos — and the removal of competitor ads. For some business owners, these features are key to their branding.
“I find it imperative to upload photos that express my brand, product, and services in the best way possible,” said Charrita Jones, who owns Senoj Clothingin Philadelphia. “I want to create a great first impression and customers like to see photos of our products and environment to determine if it is something of interest.”
Jones also recommends including key search terms that pertain to your business in your company profile, a practice that has helped her boost her business to the top page of search results.
But some experts warn to be careful before entering into an annual contract with the company.
“Paid advertising on Yelp may get more traffic to your site, but the pricing is often too high for many small businesses,” warned Sarah Catherine Mailloux, a digital program manager at Temple University’s Small Business Development Center.
“Yelp, like many companies, has an aggressive up-selling model. When speaking with a service representative, be aware of what offerings they are listing at what price, and if this is the right fit for your business.”
To succeed on Yelp, it’s crucial to regularly update your company profile and include photos (or videos if you have a paid account). That’s because having an outdated address or contact information will only cost you customers.
Yelp says that in 2020, 1.5 million businesses updated their hours through Yelp, 500,000 indicated that they were offering services through the Internet, and more than 450,000 businesses crafted a top message to speak directly to customers.
If you’re Black, female or have Latino heritage, you also should identify your business to your community and others on your Yelp page.
Embracing Yelp’s latest technology features have also been popular. Restaurants have been leveraging the platform’s app-enabled delivery, reservations and “wait-list” offerings, which can add digital menus and help with table management.
Some retailers are also realizing the benefit of connecting Yelp with other third-party products for better search results.
“We’ve integrated Yelp with Apple Maps to provide our listing information,” Jones said. “This means that when searching for a location or directions on Apple Maps, our business information is pulled from Yelp to provide our address, description, and photos of our business.”
But let’s not forget that Yelp is, at its core, a review site. So appropriately handling reviews — whether good or bad — is more important than ever.
Mailloux recommends that if you are receiving positive feedback, you should send a private message to thank the poster. For negative reviews, she recommends responding publicly on your page so that other consumers can see how you addressed their concern.
“There are normally three types of negative comments: product, process, and attacks, so be sure to handle each,” she says. “If someone raises a concern about the product offered, for example the meal they bought, be sure to address any concerns over quality.
“If they raise a concern over process — for example, the meal took too long to get to the table — be sure to thank them for their feedback” and to note that you welcome comments that help you improve your operation.
When people outright assail you, are “rude or hurtful,” she said, business people need to “maintain their professionalism” and avoid the temptation to fire back on the site.