This blog post originally appeared on The Constant Contact Community Blog.

What is Yelp?

Yelp is a review site. Millions of businesses are reviewed by real customers all over the country. The reviewer sets up a profile on Yelp and writes reviews assigning a 1 – 5 star rating in conjunction.

Businesses that are reviewed get a star rating and the higher the rating the more likely they are to get business from the site. A business can advertise on Yelp, but it is not necessary as the social proof alone can drive a buying audience. In my opinion Yelp may be the most significant place to learn what other people think about a small business.

Create a Business Profile

Yelp has two sides: 1. The consumer side; and 2. The business side. This post is primarily on the business side. If your business isn’t already on Yelp with a complete profile, then you need to do that first. Otherwise Yelp will encourage someone searching on the site for your business to do it for you (see image below).

In your Business Profile you’ll have the chance to choose 2 categories for your business. It’s not an exhaustive list, which can be frustrating. Do the best you can with what’s available. The categories are important to help with site searches.

Yelp is a big search engine for businesses. How big and important is Yelp? Well, in terms of traffic they are ranked 54 in the US and 213 worldwide according to Alexa.com as of September 9, 2012.

What’s nice about all this traffic is that most of it is purposeful. Whenever I log on to Yelp it’s typically to find a business I might patronize. I believe this is why most people log on to Yelp. As a business owner you like people with a purpose looking for a business like yours. That’s why you need to be there.

Now once you have a complete business profile with pictures, operating hours, an owners profile take a look for the Business Recommendations section. Here you can write your own unabashed recommendation for up to 5 other businesses.

Yelp created this feature to dissuade business owner friends from writing fake reviews about each other. Instead, write a real one here. One real plus is that these reviews will never be filtered (more on that later). Let the businesses you’ve reviewed know you’ve done so and ask them to reciprocate. It can only help to have a recommendation elsewhere on the site.

Getting Reviews

Okay, now that you are done with your profile, then it’s time to consider the task of getting customer reviews. Yelp asks that a business not ask for reviews. Why? They feel that the act of writing a review should be spontaneous and from one’s own volition and not out of any sense of obligation. They also feel that an unsolicited review is more likely to be genuine for better or worse.

This is a difficult reality to wait for spontaneous reviews because the fact is that most people on Yelp don’t write reviews. I moderated a panel session with a Yelp evangelist in the past and he told the audience that only about 1% of the Yelp community actually writes reviews. So, even if you did ask people to write a review for you it’s unlikely they’d do it. Furthermore, even if they did their review just might get filtered, which does neither of you any good.

What you can do is have a link to your Yelp page on your website and in your newsletter. This will at least let people know that you do have a Yelp page and that might spur them to write you a review. There’s nothing wrong with that.

That’s it for part 1 of this series. Get started with creating your Yelp business profile for now and let people know you have done so. Next time I’ll explain the Yelp filter, how to deal with a bad review, their statistics and more. In the meantime if you have questions about Yelp or comments regarding your experience on the site, please post them below.

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