Merchants have historically been wary of Yelp reviews — they’re unpredictable and unreliable, and out of one’s control. But there are changes coming at the end of 2012 that are likely to make many marketing pros reevaluate their relationship to the user-generated reviews site.
Here’s what’s driving the next phase of Yelp:
1. Siri: For many locally relevant searches, Apple’s Siri default search engine is Yelp. That means that for chiropractors, dentists, restaurants, and other venues, Yelp is driving Siri. Voice-operated search on mobile is here to stay — both Apple and Android are integrating voice for both convenience and safety. Apple’s use of Yelp in this context in effect bypasses traditional search engines for local queries. (See “How Siri Works and Why It Matters for Local.”)
2. IOS 6: With the rollout of iOS 6 and Apple’s new maps platform, it’s reported that Apple will be deepening its relationship with Yelp to provision business listing data and reviews. And, it seems Apple Maps will have Yelp check-ins built in.
3. Google/Bing/Yahoo: But it’s not just Apple platforms where Yelp is taking over. Across the board, Yelp’s SEO team kicks butt. For most business name searches on major search engines, Yelp’s review is on page one. And in many cases, if a merchant has not proactively managed their own rankings, Yelp’s listing will be at the very top of page one.
4. The reviews paradigm: Data suggests that social media users are both active consumers and creators of business reviews. The data further suggests that more than 70% of buying decisions are now informed by online reviews. While not a factor solely in favor of Yelp, this fact expands the need for businesses to be active in acquiring reviews from current customers.
5. Search on mobile is increasing: The Kelsey Group predicts that by 2015, local searches on mobile phones will exceed local searches on desktop computers. With the insertion of Yelp into the search-by-mobile market, it only makes sense that it would be part of an overall reviews strategy.
So while many businesses may have wanted to ignore Yelp for its faults, they will increasingly be faced with a choice — embrace the reviews site or lose access to a valuable part of the local search/discovery marketplace.
So What’s a Local Business to Do?
Yelp’s answer to this question is two-pronged. First, buy ads and take part in deals. Second, don’t solicit reviews.
Yelp is the most adamant of the review sites in their prohibition on soliciting or incentivizing reviews. This, coupled with the needs of an advertising-driven business model, has led some to question the rhetorical stance — much like the coincidental rollout of Google+ Local and Penguin, which says “don’t solicit reviews” concurrent with “do deals, get reviews.”
So, if one takes Yelp at face value, there is a difference between asking for reviews and making customers aware of the service.
How Do You Do It?
Solicitation = Bad, Awareness = Good
Yelp has widgets and graphics available to help businesses entice customers. By placing Yelp graphics where your customers will see them, perhaps alongside other review sites, you can increase your awareness.
Ask your customers how they found you. This is a smart business move in general, but if they found you on Yelp, you can talk to them about the value of Yelp reviews. If they didn’t find you on Yelp, you can invite them to check out your positive reviews. If a customer leaves you a review and finds himself or herself filtered, you can help them get out of the sandbox.
You might also consider bypassing Yelp by building a “reviews” page on your business’ website — something like “www.[yoursite].com/reviews”. This is also a good reputation management strategy because you may then rank well in search engines for “your business name” + reviews. Then, you can proactively message customers to visit your reviews page via email and other communications. Beyond the future vision of Yelp referenced above, a study from the Harvard Business School shows that increased rankings will lead to more business.
Some have said that the best way to get good reviews is to “not suck” — and as we move toward 2013, “not sucking” is becoming much more important as Yelp expands its footprint in the mobile market and beyond. But equally important is accentuating the positive, increasing awareness, and encouraging customers to check out positive reviews (without saying in so many words to leave one of their own).
Will Scott is CEO of Search Influence, a national online marketing firm focused on small- and medium-sized businesses and white label online marketing for publishers and media partners who serve them. Search Influence is the largest online marketing company on the Gulf Coast and New Orleans’ only Inc. 500 honoree in 2011.
Image courtesy of Flickr user barbarycoastranger.