You hear TripAdvisor, you think hotels. You hear Healthgrades, you think doctors. You hear Yelp, and chances are good that you think restaurants. That’s exactly why it comes as a surprise to many local business owners and marketers to read Yelp’s own statistic which states that, of the 115 million consumer reviews Yelpers have left since launch, 22% relate to shopping vs. 18% relating to restaurants. Retail reputation, then, makes up the dominant portion of Yelp’s content, signaling to brick-and-mortar enterprises that maintaining an active Yelp presence is a local search marketing requirement.
Random real-world example: check out Yelp’s top ranking home improvements stores in the San Francisco Bay Area. The sheer number of reviews some outlets have earned is remarkable. We see Discount Builders Supply (250), Lowe’s Home Improvement (427), Cole Hardware (297) and Cliff’s Variety (461). This mix of major brands and independent retailers highlights review totals almost any business would love to earn, provided they contain positive sentiment.
But here’s the catch: Yelp’s review guidelines are some of the strictest in the consumer review world, specifically prohibiting companies from directly asking consumers for reviews. So how can a retail business be competitive in Yelp while also being guideline-compliant? Here are 5 tips to help you do just that.
1. Avoid Wasting Resources
It’s important to understand that should your business decide to ignore Yelp’s guidelines and begin asking all customers to review you on Yelp, your returns on the investment of effort may not be worthwhile. Asking anyone to review you who is not already an established Yelper with an estimated minimum of 5 reviews will commonly lead to their feedback being filtered out. And, a pattern of brand new user accounts leaving reviews for your business could raise red flags with the review giant.
Bearing this in mind, and also observing that Yelp has publicly shamed guideline-violators in the past, avoiding a pointless consumer-base-wide ask for Yelp reviews will safeguard your resources (and possibly your reputation), freeing you up to try alternative techniques.
2. Embrace Extremes of Excellence
A consumer survey conducted by review management platform GetFiveStars found that fully ¼ of reviews stem from exceptional customer experiences. This figure strongly indicates that one of the best ways to inspire established Yelp users to review your business without being asked is to exceed their expectations at the time of service. If you read through popular brands’ Yelp reviews, you will discover Yelpers journaling incidents that uplifted them: a clerk who raced out into the parking lot to deliver a forgotten item, a salesperson who offered honest knowledge instead of a hard sell, a business that will gladly custom order any item they don’t already stock.
It may be something as simple as an added courtesy or as stunning as a major ‘wow’ factor a consumer didn’t expect which will drive them to Yelp to spend their free time voluntarily sharing their delight. If your business needs more Yelp reviews, audit customer service policies and programs to see if you can turn bare-minimum practices into major wins.
3. Be A Savvy Shepherd
‘Herd mentality’ is not the most flattering descriptor to pin on consumers or reviewers, but it’s been a standard observation of human psychology since the 19th century that peers influence people’s behavior. One very simple way to steer established Yelpers to leave you a review (without asking) is to show them that others have. The following methods of promotion of your Yelp presence have been explicitly approved by them:
On Your Website:
- Highlight your best Yelp reviews, so long as you’ve asked reviewers’ permission to do so.
- Be sure you use Yelp’s approved logo in doing so, without altering or distorting it.
- Be sure you attribute the review to the Yelper who wrote it, and don’t alter their language or their rating.
- You can also use Yelp’s own widget to directly embed reviews on your website.
- If your business qualifies, you can receive a ‘People Love Us On Yelp’ window cling.
- Request a ‘Find Us On Yelp’
- Similar to approved use on your website, you can include attributed, unaltered Yelp reviews on custom print materials. For example, you can seek a Yelper’s permission to feature their review on in-store posters, banners, brochures, flyers and other assets.
All of the above techniques seek to enhance Yelp users’ awareness that others are actively reviewing the business. You are gently but skillfully shepherding them towards a point of conversion at which they decide to jump on the bandwagon and add their own review.
4. Make Yelp A Two-Way Conversation
It can be honestly daunting to confront the reality that the consumer public is having an ongoing conversation about your brand on major review platforms like Yelp. Fear of reviews is a real and legitimate phenomenon of modern reputation management, but anxiety (and business outcomes) can be significantly altered by adept use of the owner response function many platforms provide. This feature enables the owner to respond to all reviews, and much has been written about the power of this form of marketing to completely reverse negative scenarios. Less has been said of the capacity of owner responses to positive reviews to demonstrate gratitude and foster further engagement.
Given that positive Yelp reviews are voluntary content customers are creating for your business, it’s not only appropriate to thank the reviewers – it’s also an excellent way to prove to other Yelpers how appreciative you are of your patrons. The business owner who takes the time to write a brief but custom response expressing genuine thanks is signaling to all other potential customers that their time and good words will be valued. A guaranteed thank-you from the business acts as an added incentive to review it. Who doesn’t enjoy being appreciated?
Remember, too, that elite Yelpers are highly active on Yelp – they seriously enjoy writing there. Send them a good signal, with your active owner response presence, that you have a Yelp hobby in common.
5. Verbalize It, At Your Discretion
This tip is most appropriate for smaller local businesses that build real relationships with their customers. In the shopping sector, this might include bookstores, clothing boutiques, gift shops, farm stands, independent grocery or hardware stores, or enterprises that cater to a unique demographic such as artists, musicians or athletes – to name just a few.
If you, or your top-level, trusted staff members have developed a rapport with regular customers, there is no reason why you can’t talk to them personally about Yelp at an unhurried moment. If you discover that they’re an active Yelper, there’s nothing to prevent you chatting about what it’s like to be a business owner trying to work within Yelp’s guidelines of never asking directly for a review. The point of this is not to manipulate the customer’s feelings – the point is to have a two-way dialogue about the vital role of business reputation in the community you share. What does your customer think of the policy? What do you think of it? If the customer is devoted to your enterprise, a conversation like this may inspire them to do their part to keep your doors open so that they can continue to enjoy your offerings.
Yelp’s policy stems from their commitment to authenticity. They want reviews to be unbiased, to ensure that they’re useful to all consumers. This certainly makes sense – no one wants to form a false opinion based on fake or incentivized reviews.
Local retailers, meanwhile, know that they must compete to survive while living up to their own core values of honesty and fairness. This article has provided some tips for benefitting from Yelp’s immense power to drive revenue your company’s way, without abusing the platform. Beyond this, it is up to Yelp, to the consumers they serve, and to participating businesses to continue to explore what makes a policy fair to all. Taking all parties into account, it’s a discussion that needs to continue.
Not sure what’s being said about your business on Yelp in the first place? Or overwhelmed and not sure where to start? Moz Local will soon be able to help you claim and manage your business’s Yelp presence and respond to reviews alongside the robust local search management features within their platform.
© 2016 DK New Media.