Yelp can be a polarizing topic for many small business owners. This small business guide to Yelp will walk you through things you must consider when using Yelp for business.

What is Yelp?

“People use Yelp to search for everything from the city’s tastiest burger to the most renowned cardiologist,” the company says. Another way to describe it is a local search engine that includes reviews from real people.

The company was started in October 2004 and it was best known for reviews of local restaurants. It has grown into a publicly-traded company that now includes reviews, food delivery, events and more.

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How can Yelp for business help me?

Your small business can use Yelp in multiple ways. Let’s separate it out into the free and paid ways.

What are some free ways to use Yelp?

On the free side, you can claim your business and showcase your company to the Yelp community. This means you can upload photos, respond to reviews or even use Yelp’s business analytics tools to see how many customers are coming to you (or reading about you) on Yelp.

I’d encourage you to claim your small business on Yelp because it is quite a large community of potential and existing customers. According to Yelp, more than 108 million reviews have been written and an average of 23 million people use the Yelp app each month.

Yelp grew to prominence on the back of restaurant reviews but according to the company’s latest factsheet, shopping is actually the most-reviewed business by category. The most reviewed businesses are:

  • Shopping 22%
  • Restaurants 18%
  • Home and Local Services 13%
  • Other 13%
  • Beauty and Fitness 9%
  • Arts, Entertainment and Events 7%
  • Health 6%
  • Auto 4%
  • Nightlife 4%
  • Travel and Hotel 4%

By claiming your free account, you can make sure the official listing has a description you like, as well as photos you approve. It can also be helpful to interact with reviewers—both the positive ones and the negative reviews.

I would advise keeping a calm, polite tone with negative reviewers and focus on potentially turning them around. Some people might just like being nasty on the Internet, so try not to sweat them too much. Keep in mind, Yelp says only 15% of reviews are 1-star compared to 44% that are 5-stars.

Paid ways to use Yelp

You can also use Yelp in paid ways to try and grow your business. Paid services fall into two major categories: getting new customers and converting Yelp visitors to customers.

For the first part, you can purchase ads that appear on various parts of the site. These will be clearly labeled as ads and the advantage is that it can potentially be a targeted audience. Despite what you may have heard, Yelp doesn’t allow you to manipulate the reviews or the order of the reviews.

You can also use Yelp paid services to offer Yelp Deals and Gift Certificates. These don’t have upfront costs but Yelp will collect payment and take a share of the purchase (10% for gift certificates, 30% for deals). You can also purchase the Yelp SeatMe software as a front-of-house management tool for bars and restaurants.

If you’re comfortable doing it, Yelp lets you dive into these products in a self-service way. It also offers full-service advertising that includes special features, account managers and a slightly higher price tag.

Yelp does not provide public pricing for its advertising.

How can Yelp help or hurt my business?

On the positive side, Yelp can help new people discover your business, as well as improve your reputation—leading to more customers via word of mouth. If you already have a lot of good reviews, potential customers may use that as a deciding factor on if they go to your store or to a competitor’s.

On the paid side, Yelp advertising appears to be valuable because of its targeted, local nature. For example, if you own a hardware store in Peoria, Illinois, showing up on top when people in Peoria search for “hardware store” on Yelp could be an advantage.

Word of mouth can cut both ways, though. Multiple, prominent negative reviews—even if they’re false—could deter some potential customers away from your business. Yelp also allows competitors to advertise on your company’s page, which may also draw away potential customers.

Is Yelp for business worth it?

It depends.

It’s clear that Yelp for business can be a valuable tool for driving traffic to your companies and for bolstering your reputation. Depending on your business, customers, location and willingness to manage digital marketing, Yelp may or may not be the most effective way to do that.

As with any type of advertising, Yelp cannot and does not guarantee success. It does have some very promising case studies on its website but you don’t have to go very far to find people who aren’t happy with the results.

Before diving into Yelp advertising, I’d recommend you learn the basics of paid search advertising. Once you feel confident you understand cost-per-thousand-impression and cost-per-click, you may want to explore paid Yelp services. Just be sure you have clear expectations for ROI in your small business budget.

At the very least, claim your business for free and see what customers are saying about you. This valuable feedback can help you make decisions that can have a major impact.

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Marin Perez

Marin Perez

Marin is part of the marketing team at MileIQ. He's excited to see how entrepreneurs are using tools like MileIQ and Spend to be more successful. When not working, he's thinking about his next trip.
Marin Perez

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