Why Online Marketers Are Rethinking Their Yelp Strategy

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.

Read also:

Bakery Relies on Yelp Reviews for New Customers

Yelp Hits 100 Million Uniques as Users Shift to Mobile

Why Mom-and-Pops Will No Longer Pay for ‘Social Media Management’

What Multilocation Brands Need to Do to Prepare for Facebook’s Graph Search


Image courtesy of Flickr user barbarycoastranger.


  1. Greg_Cross
    August 9, 2012

    Will, good article. I appreciate your research and the bulleted list you provide regarding the next phase of Yelp.

    Will, it seems like you go out of you way in your Solicitation = Bad, Awareness = Good, proposition. I guess I don’t get your slant on what is the difference when it comes to a digital environment. Yelp and other review sites don’t distinguish between a ‘solicited’ or ‘proposed’ review of a particular business? You and I would both be on the same page when it comes to paying for reviews. Big time no-no. However, I would have not problem recommending to a small business to “solicit’ reviews from their customers. Most customers would be more than willing to post a review for a satisfied experience at a restaurant or a hair salon. Open Table does it all the time. Hotels do it. Yes, they make them ‘aware’ of the review opportunity by sending emails to someone after they patronize a restaurant or hotel. So, according to your spin what’s the difference? I get the spirit of what you are communicating, but I think it is a semantical argument more than a reality, unless I am totally missing the boat here.

    1. August 9, 2012

      Hey +Greg we’re not in disagreement. I think there’s nothing wrong with asking for a review / testimonial. I said one time that it was a natural human behavior. I’m sure the first caveman who ever banged out a wheel in exchange for some skins said “hey dude, tell your friends”.

      Yelp is the only one so averse to “solicitation”. Awareness may come in many forms. The most obvious of which would be, for instance, the “People love us on Yelp” stickers. So, a merchant can have a sticker in their window but if they then say “Hey, would you mind..” then Yelp would say they’re wrong.

      Again, the Solicitation vs. Awareness distinction isn’t mine. I’m all for asking for reviews.It’s Yelp’s (in my opinion hypocritical) policy to not even ask.

  2. August 9, 2012


    I agree that Yelp has benefited tremendously from Apple and Bing turning against Google at every turn. I also think the Awareness vs. Solicitation is a bit arbitrary, in that you do not know the customers interaction when they post online. The filter has no way of knowing what I was told before I left a comment.

    One thing that would be helpful. The link above to getting your customers past the sandbox filter 404s. Do you have the right link to that? @trevorsumner if you do. Thanks.

    1. August 10, 2012

      Hey Trevor. Thanks for the feedback! Try that link again. I just clicked it and it worked.

      1. Keith Gormezano
        June 3, 2013

        Sorry, the link to sandbox is still a 404. I guess Yelp filtered it.

  3. Pete
    August 14, 2012

    Animosity to Yelp’s high ad cost will continue to snowball. Also one employee slip up will destroy a business with only a few reviews. The business has no recourse and no recovery.

  4. Rob Feiner
    September 19, 2012

    Yelp offers no recourse removing
    reviews of fired and terminated employees and their friends who fire up false identities in usually a successful effort to destroy their former place of employment. Then, there are those who review and take photos with their horrible cameras and post terrible pictures that make our professional photos worthless. Restaurants spend huge sums of money to make their food look proper and correct only to have some rank amateur post 10 awful photos and then we can’t remove them or move them to a different gallery. If the review was good, how can you tell them their photography was horrendous?
    There are simply NO tools to effort the restaurateur. Finally, the “Filter” is 99% Crap. We have had real people come in to our restaurant and leave a nice
    review only to find that it has been filtered. Sure, we take the good with the bad, but NOW, Everyone’s a NY Times Critic and knows what great food is. 80% of the population could be served Hamburger Helper on fine china, dressed up, and 50% of those people would say it was an amazing dish! Just WOW!

  5. Rob
    October 16, 2012

    The approach “take part in deals” does not work. My company offered and sold many Yelp Deals. Several who purchased the deal reviewed our service. Then those reviews were filtered like the rest of them.

    It’s idiotic. Yelp sells the deal, yelp knows the customer bought the deal (right next to the review it says, “bought yelp deal”). Then yelp filters the review because it’s software thinks it’s not legitimate.

    I can’t recommend giving a deal.

    1. Andy
      March 3, 2013

      Yelp it’s white glove mafia. Pay 700 – 2000 / month or we will filter your positive reviews and leave only negative and you will go out of business.

  6. October 30, 2012

    I find this very interesting. I am a former small business owner & a current yelper. I am mindful and tend to not slam small businesses -however, some experience do need to be shared. As a consumer & reader of other reviews, I go for the common themes and do not rely on someone’s single isolated negative experience.
    Yelp can definitely hurt a business reputation, but if the business is solid, the higher stars will outweigh.

    Smart consumers should realize that not everything you read online is the truth. And opinions are just that: opinions.

  7. Shawn Fassett
    November 7, 2012

    Great article on Yelp Will. Very informative with some awesome takeaways!

    Shawn Fassett

  8. January 2, 2013

    You should respond to every review, positive and negative. Every single review is a chance to converse with a customer.

  9. Keith Gormezano
    June 4, 2013

    You can sometimes unfilter a filtered review by responding to it as an owner (one reason for having your own owner account which also allows you to manage your business information) when it first comes out, clicking the useful , funny, or cool buttons at the bottom of each review, use your personal account to become friends with the poster, ask the poster to write more than a couple of impartial reviews of other businesses (I think raving about how great a business is without going into specifics raises a red flag), and ask them to post a clear face photo and more personal information and link to their verified Facebook account.
    Apparently the Yelp filter takes into account that someone with no picture, only one five star superlative (great restaurant!!!) review, no friends, and no other use of social media is more likely than not to be a planted review by the owner or competitors.

    1. Mark
      June 29, 2013

      no other use of social media is more likely than not to be a planted review by the owner or competitors.

      Good thought by the way …

  10. Deb
    April 14, 2014

    I have a well-documented stalker problem with police reports, etc. This person has threatened to destroy my online business reputation and posted a terrible review of my business on Yelp. I have reported this to Yelp twice, and they have refused to remove the review. I love the idea behind Yelp, but there really is absolutely no recourse for false/fake reviews and it is very sad (and scary) for the hardworking small business owner when this happens.

  11. EDgar
    January 6, 2015

    I live in Calgary, ALberta Canada and people from yelp are constantly calling me wanting me to sign up with them and I would give it a try if it wasn’t that they want me to sign up for at least 6 months, they keep trying to convince me how good is yelp for business owners and this and that giving information and data from USA and trying to compare both countries, when the market is totally different one from the other, this girl gives me the example that I can ask Siri about a recommendation about a business and that yelp is the main search engine for apple, which is totally wrong, here in Canada, that feature like many others is not available only in the U.S. as far as i know.

    Every time they called me I try to explain them that there are other strong companies that have been in the online advertising business in Canada longer than them and they have that advantage so people are more familiar to these websites and if yelp ever catches up it will take few years. second time I had this conversation with one of their agents letting them know I’m not interested I noticed that all my reviews which all of them were 5 stars where kind of blocked even from people who have picture profile and who have posted lots of reviews for other business different than mine, they blocked them in the way that people can’t see them on my page they have to go a option where it says ‘other reviews that are not currently recommended”, and I didn’t really care because as I said yelp is not bringing a lot of costumers to my business, I didn’t really care until I saw a negative review totally fake claiming that this person came to my business so I asked this girl why is yelp blocking my good reviews and allowing negative reviews ever since i told you guys that I don’t need your services, and she she says I don’t know that’s a different department, and I keep asking her about it and then she tells me it’s because of this program and algorithms, and I’m like are you serious? do you really want me to believe that? I had 5 stars rating out 11 reviews only one is bad and everyone would expect my rating would go down to 4.5 but no it went to 2.5 stars just because of that bad review which isn’t even true are you kidding me? LOL.

    I went into this blog because this yelp agent set up an appointment for this morning with me to show me how yelp works and sent me an email with the link of this post and after i read the article (which is good) i found that other business owners reviews and comments and most of them sound like a complaint to me, I’m surprised that they haven’t been deleted.

    Only time will tell if that money grabbing/ extortion business philosophy that yelp uses will help them grow as a company.
    These are different times, other people will realized the same sooner or later what a lot of people already know.

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