If you’re like most Internet users, you’ve used a business listing or directory website to find a restaurant, specialty store, tax preparer, or other service provider in your area.
Yelp, arguably the most popular business information directory for customer-facing services businesses, welcomes many millions of unique visitors per month. According to Expanded Ramblings, Yelp draws more than 175 million monthly visitors, with mobile traffic accounting for the majority.
Consumers use Yelp to search for service providers near them, navigating to its website or mobile app for a few minutes at a time and closing out when they’ve found what they’re looking for. But business owners have a much more intimate relationship with business directory sites like Yelp. For many small, independent outfits, business listings represent a significant source of new customers — far more than word of mouth marketing alone. If your small business doesn’t yet have a listing, it could be time to set one up.
Yelp for Business Owners: Does It Make Sense to List Your Company?
Yelp isn’t ideal for every type of business. Generally speaking, the most popular Yelp searches pertain to businesses that offer sensory experiences, such as restaurants, bars, venues, and specialized experience providers like tour companies. Searches for retailers — both independent and those tied to a larger chain — are popular as well.
Other popular Yelp categories include:
- Hotels and travel services
- Beauty shops and spas
- Home services, such as house cleaning, plumbing, and general contracting
- Health and medical
Yelp also segments listed companies by location: county, municipality, and sometimes neighborhoods (mostly in bigger cities). If your business lives and dies by the number of people who walk into its physical location — for instance, you run a restaurant or retail outlet that does a large amount of business through a storefront — a business directory listing is basically mandatory.
On the other hand, if your company doesn’t have a storefront or doesn’t rely on one to drive sales — for instance, if you sell things online — then other means of driving customers to your business, such as social media marketing techniques or a listing on an e-commerce website like Etsy, are likely to offer a better payoff.
Pros of Listing Your Business on Yelp
Listing a business on Yelp has some key benefits, including legitimacy for businesses who’ve claimed their listings, high search rankings for Yelp business profiles and business owner accounts, and value for customer research.
1. Claimed Listings Confer Legitimacy
Regardless of how much effort you put into optimizing and curating it, the simple act of claiming your business directory listing can change how prospective customers see your business. On most business directories, including Yelp, unclaimed listings are plainly displayed as such. To the man or woman on the street, a highly visible prompt to claim a particular listing — which takes a matter of minutes — doesn’t inspire confidence that the listed business is well-run, or that the owner cares about courting new customers.
Although this is an admittedly subjective measure of an owner’s buy-in or a business’s quality, I know that I personally shy away from businesses with unclaimed directory listings unless they’re backed by a recognizable brand or I’m familiar with them by other means, such as word of mouth.
2. Listings Typically Rank Well in Organic Search (Good for SEO)
Although the details of popular search engines’ algorithms are proprietary and ever-changing, it’s clear that online directory listings rank highly in organic search results — the lists you see when you type a search term into the Google or Bing search bar.
The upshot of this: Unless its name can easily be confused with common or generic terms like “Tasty Pizza,” a typical business’s Yelp listings are likely to appear on the first results page of a search engine — an important point, since most searchers never make it to subsequent results pages. And because Yelp is a well-known and ostensibly unbiased source of information, searchers who want to get the unvarnished truth on a given business are likely to click on the results for its listings.
3. Consumers Rely Heavily on Directory Listings for Research
Despite a recent study reported by PCMag that found roughly 40% of online reviews to be bogus, 60% of consumers consider online review sites as useful as recommendations from real-life acquaintances, according to a 2017 ReportLinker survey. In an increasingly jaded world, that’s a pretty high mark — and a strong case for creating and maintaining listings on popular directory sites.
Cons of Listing Your Business on Yelp
Listing your business on Yelp does have some drawbacks, including a significant time component, limited control over reviews, and the potential for abuse.
1. Maintaining Your Business Profile Takes Time and Resources
Claiming or creating a business listing doesn’t take much time or effort. You can handle either in a spare moment.
However, optimizing and maintaining your listing is not so easy. Even free activities such as uploading photos, analyzing customer data, and responding to reviews all take time that you likely don’t have as a busy entrepreneur. If you have other social media accounts or an online store, your digital responsibilities could become overwhelming, diverting your attention from more immediate business needs.
One solution is to hire a part- or full-time marketing employee or social media manager, but that requires a new addition to the payroll — not always a realistic proposition for cash-poor small business owners. Another option is to retain an outside firm to handle your digital marketing needs, although that can be just as expensive as hiring a part-time employee.
If you currently lack the time or resources to produce a first-rate business directory profile, there’s no shame in concluding that it’s better to wait until you do have those luxuries. If you can’t do it right, don’t feel pressured to do it at all.
2. May Not Display All Users’ Yelp Reviews (or Any at All)
In the late 2000s and early 2010s, some online business directories — particularly Yelp — took lots of blowback for failing to do their part to contain the untold millions of fake reviews spreading across the Internet. Fake directory reviews came in several different flavors, but it was particularly common for listed businesses to purchase positive reviews — typically with gushing praise and the highest possible ratings — for their own listings, or post positive reviews themselves using dummy accounts. In competitive markets, less scrupulous companies likewise had no qualms about posting fake negative reviews on competitors’ listings.
Although they haven’t totally eradicated fake reviews, online directory sites have definitely cracked down on the practice. In fact, the crackdown has been so good that some legitimate reviews don’t make it through the directories’ quality filters, which are controlled by proprietary algorithms similar to those used by search engines.
If you want the opportunity to see — and ensure that your customers see — every review of your business, good or bad, this is a big drawback. And although the particulars of directories’ visibility-controlling algorithms aren’t public, one can envision an algorithm deciding that an overly enthusiastic but legitimate positive review is a fake while allowing a tepid review to be seen.
3. Directory Listings Contain Sensitive Information
If you need your customers to come to your physical place of business, they need to know where it’s located and how to contact it. A restaurant can’t survive if no one’s coming in to eat or calling to order takeout.
On the other hand, there are times when it’s better to conceal your business location, and possibly contact information, from the public. For instance, say you provide white-collar services, such as accounting or legal advice, to local businesses — but you typically visit with clients at their offices and don’t want them to know you work out of a home office or coworking hub. Listing your home address as your business address reveals where you live, while listing a coworking space can lead judgmental clients or your competitors to conclude that you can’t afford a “real” office.
Note that if an unclaimed listing already exists for your business, you may need to claim it and edit out sensitive information or request its removal altogether.
4. Your Listing Could Attract Abuse
Even if you’re not paranoid about people knowing where you live or looking down on you for basing your company out of a coworking space, there’s another reason to eschew a public business directory listing: the prospect that your listing could become a venue for abusive or hateful reviews.
Because business directory sites allow rank-and-file Internet users to post reviews on a given business’s listing without proving that they’ve actually interacted with the company in real life, it’s relatively easy to organize a negative publicity campaign utilizing Yelp or another directory site that permits user reviews. (Directories occasionally step in to delete or moderate obscene or threatening reviews, particularly in response to user flags, but you shouldn’t bank on this to single-handedly keep vitriolic reviews off your listing.)
These negative campaigns typically center around a major service gaffe or prominent public support for a controversial political position. A great example: In early 2015, the owners of a small-town Indiana pizzeria called Memories Pizza made headlines when they said they would follow the letter of the state’s recently passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which many observers interpreted as giving businesses wide latitude to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. The ensuing backlash saw thousands of sarcastic, occasionally obscene comments posted on Memories Pizza’s website. The Indianapolis Star reported that the shop closed shortly thereafter, with the owners citing safety concerns.
In the past, lower-profile incidents of a similar nature have hit businesses expressing opposition to state minimum wage increases or support for creationism and intelligent design. To be fair, some argue that the old saying, “All press is good press,” applies here, as negative directory campaigns sometimes spark a backlash that pays off for the affected business. It’s worth noting that, as reported by Forbes, Memories Pizza raised more than $800,000 in a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign in the four days following its closure.
How to Claim or Create Your Yelp Listing
Yelp uses publicly available and user-submitted information to generate listings for operational businesses. If you’ve been open for some time, there’s a good chance you’re already in Yelp’s database. Yelp allows the legitimate owners of such a business to “claim” their existing profile.
Claiming your profile provides certain privileges:
- Updating Listing Information. You can edit critical information about your business, including its physical address, phone number, business hours, and website address. This is important because Yelp doesn’t guarantee that its unclaimed business listings are accurate.
- Adding Photos and Links. You can upload photos of your storefront, merchandise, and the inside of your business. This is great for restaurant owners who want to show off tasty-looking menu items, or service providers who want to display photos of a van or truck bearing a distinctive logo, which users are more likely to recognize than a faceless storefront or generic uniform.
- Interacting With Reviewers. Claimed profile owners can respond to user-generated reviews, either by sending the user a private message through Yelp’s system or making a public post on the comments feed. This is particularly useful for owners who want to address negative feedback from users and contain issues that could hurt business. Note that you can’t edit or delete negative reviews, which might call Yelp’s objectivity into question, but you can respond to them.
- User Views and Leads. Yelp tracks your listing’s page views and displays this information to verified business owners. It also creates Customer Leads, which provide hints about how customers are interacting with your business. Data sources for Customer Leads include:
- Mobile check-ins
- Mobile calls made directly to your business using Yelp’s on-site click-to-call feature
- Map views
- Click-throughs from your Yelp listing to your company website
- User-uploaded photos on your business page
- Bookmarks placed on your listing using Yelp’s bookmark feature
Claiming an Existing Business Listing
To get started, click Yelp’s “Claim Your Listing” button, then type in your exact business name and city. This takes you to a results page that displays similarly named businesses nearby and indicates whether they’ve been claimed. If your business is listed, it should say that it hasn’t been claimed.
To claim your listing, you need to create a Yelp account with your first name, last name, email address, and password. Make sure the phone number on your listing is accurate, then click “Call Me Now.” This prompts Yelp to robo-call the listed business number with a unique verification code.
Once you receive that code, you can enter it into the proper field and start editing your listing. If you’re unable to complete the phone verification process for any reason, you can also manually verify your identity as the business owner by emailing Yelp’s support team.
Creating a New Business Listing
If your business doesn’t have an existing listing to claim, you need to create one. At the bottom of the business search results page, click the “Add a Business” button and enter as much information as possible into the fields on the next screen: your business name, exact address, phone number, and website at a minimum.
After you submit this information, it takes Yelp some time — usually no more than two business days — to verify that the business exists and add it to its listings. Once added, you can search for it as described and claim the listing as your own.
How to Optimize Your Yelp Listing
Claiming or creating a Yelp listing is an important first step. However, building a top-notch Yelp presence takes time and effort.
These tips and resources are useful as you work to set your listing apart from your competitors’:
1. Fill Out Your Profile Completely
The more complete your listing is, the better it looks to Yelp’s internal algorithm — and the higher it’s likely to appear on Yelp’s search results pages. There’s no reason not to fill out your profile completely.
2. Use Google Keyword Planner or a Similar Tool
Yelp listings are visible to Google and other search engines, so it pays to use a keyword planning tool — such as Google Keyword Planner, which requires a free Google AdWords account to use — to identify keywords that relate to your company.
For instance, if you specialize in Neapolitan-style pizza and discover that your company website ranks highly for the term “Neapolitan pizza,” make sure that keyword appears at least once in your business listing.
3. Add Lots of Photos
Photos breathe life into your Yelp listing and boost customer engagement. An internal Yelp study found that consumers linger on photo-enhanced Yelp pages for two and a half times as long than on pages with no photos.
Photos are especially useful for showing off your logo — particularly if it’s already plastered on your company’s vans or outdoor advertising properties, and thus recognizable to prospective customers — as well as for highlighting particular products, especially food. If your business is open to the public, include pictures of its interior and outdoor seating areas to give visitors a sense of what to look forward to.
4. Solicit and Respond to Customer Reviews
Yelp frowns on businesses that court reviews by giving away free stuff or offering special deals to those who post positive reviews — it sees this behavior as a form of manipulation. However, you can skirt this prohibition and stay in Yelp’s good graces by placing the Yelp logo in a visible location in your store (such as at checkout or on a menu), linking to your Yelp page from your company website, and straight-up asking for reviews with no strings attached.
Separately, be sure to respond to detailed, thoughtful reviews, whether they’re good or bad. It’s especially important to respond to negative feedback, which shows other page visitors that you’re willing to address service issues and other problems. Just remember to follow social media etiquette best practices at all times.
5. Try Yelp Deals and Gift Certificates
Yelp Deals and Gift Certificates can help you monetize your Yelp listing and generate buzz around your business. Like Groupons and other social deals, both offer heavy discounts on transactions with the issuing business. Yelp Deals focus on discounts for specific local services — for instance, “20% off a haircut-and-shave package.” Yelp Gift Certificates offer across-the-board discounts — for example, “$20 in merchandise for $10.”
In both cases, Yelp takes a cut of the proceeds: 30% of face value for Deals and 10% of face value for Gift Certificates, subject to change with company policy.
6. Consider Buying Ads
If you can afford another line item in your marketing budget, consider buying ad space on Yelp. Yelp ads appear above the first non-promoted listing in Yelp’s internal search results pages, similar to the paid search ads you see on Google and other search engines.
Although they’re clearly marked “Ad,” they’re highly visible and appear only with relevant search terms, so they’re great for attracting people actively searching for what you have to offer. And because they effectively give you priority placement over competitors, they’re great if you operate in a crowded market.
Costs vary widely depending on your location and industry, but expect to spend at least $50 per month for a high-visibility ad campaign.
Yelp isn’t the only business listing site worth looking into. There are dozens of other sites that could get your company’s name in front of potential customers. Listings on some of these sites are free to claim, while others require a one-time or monthly fee. Each has its own set of benefits and drawbacks.
Rather than spend significant amounts of time and marketing dollars going after them all, take a weekend or evening to research the options that work best for your business’s needs. Don’t be afraid to talk to other business owners in your industry, even if you’d normally be reluctant to share trade secrets with them. After all, with everything else you need to keep track of, the last thing you need is to make an investment with little to no chance of paying off.