The Small Business Ultimate Guide to Yelp

YELP REVIEWS: Why You Need Them

Yelp has been around since 2004. When it comes to online reviews for brick and mortar businesses, it is one of the best known, but not necessarily the “best-loved,” by local business owners. Whether you love it or hate it, Yelp can be a significant generator of online traffic and new customers. You just need to understand how to use this online powerhouse to your advantage.

The Power of Yelp

If you think a positive presence on Yelp isn’t a priority for your business, you need to take a close look at the most current statistics. According to Yelp’s stats, their mobile app had 28 million unique users during the second quarter of 2020. Most of those users used the Yelp app multiple times. Think about it—twenty-eight million users of the app plus millions more who use Yelp on their browser.

These are the top five industries receiving Yelp reviews:

  • Restaurants receive 18% of the reviews
  • Home & local services receive 17%
  • Shopping retailers get 16% of the reviews
  • Beauty & fitness follow at 11%
  • Health follows at 9%

Auto, travel, entertainment, nightlife & others make up the other 29% of reviews. If your business fits into any of those top five categories, you can’t afford to ignore Yelp. If that isn’t enough, let’s look at who is using Yelp to leave reviews.

No matter the age of your target customer, they have a strong representation on Yelp. Those who leave reviews on Yelp are fairly evenly divided into three age groups.

  • 29% are 18-34 years of age
  • 37% are 35-54 years old
  • 33% are 55 or older

Although all age groups are well represented, the highly-educated and high-income earners make up a significant majority of those leaving reviews on Yelp – over 70%.

As you can see, if the customers you most desire are in the middle to higher income brackets, they will be using Yelp when looking for a local business at home or while traveling. If they write Yelp reviews, you can be quite certain that they also read Yelp reviews and value Yelp ratings.

The confidence in online reviews has remained high for many years. Over 85% of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as they do referrals from people they know. The majority of Yelp reviews, over 50%, are 5-star ratings. Over 70% of reviewers say they would recommend the business they reviewed.

Of course, poor reviews do happen, and they can have a big impact on potential customers who read them. Yelp actually likes it when negative reviews are posted on the site. Why? Authenticity and trust.

A trustworthy review site is going to show you both good and bad reviews, right? You can’t keep bad reviews from being posted, but you can minimize their effect and turn Yelp into a useful marketing tool. That’s one of the reasons we wrote this guide.

Making Yelp Reviews Work in Your Favor

Yelp has worked hard to prevent outside manipulation of their review system. That’s a good thing. That means people will trust the Yelp reviews they read. If you want to encourage your customers to leave positive reviews on Yelp, however, it can get a bit tricky.

It is against the terms of use for Yelp for businesses to request a positive review or provide any type of incentive for posting a positive review on their site. The key word here is “positive.” Any business can encourage their customers to leave them honest reviews online through Yelp and other review sites. “Honest” versus “positive” are the distinctions to keep in mind.

Let’s look at the challenges you face as a business listed on Yelp and four ways to improve your success on this critical platform.

Yelp’s Frustrating Review System

All online systems have their algorithms that determine what data is the most visible. We are used to hearing about that about Google and other search engines, but it is also true of review sites like Yelp. With millions of reviews being entered perpetually, Yelp needs to have a system for determining the most relevant data for the visitors to their site. We will look at some of the ways that Yelp sorts reviews and chooses which reviews to make the most accessible.

Yelp Thrives on Negative Reviews

As mentioned previously, Yelp sees great value in the posting of negative reviews on their site. It boosts their credibility with those seeking accurate information about businesses. That means
Yelp wants to make sure that some negative reviews are visible in each business category. Whether they have a specific process they use to make that happen or if it is totally random, only Yelp insiders know the answer.

Yelp Has Total Control Over Your Reviews

It would be great if your business could arrange your Yelp reviews making the best reviews the most visible. But Yelp doesn’t allow that kind of interference from the business owners. Yelp has total control over which reviews are “recommended” and which are not. They also control which of your reviews are visible and how many. Another vital credibility factor for Yelp is showing current reviews. They want to make sure that visitors to the site see that other people have recently used Yelp to post their reviews. This can affect their decisions about which reviews they recommend or leave visible.

Here’s The Good News

The good news about Yelp is that there are several factors that you can control. You can control what your Yelp profile looks like, making it appealing for those browsing for recommendations. There are also ways you can increase the number of people who go to Yelp to leave reviews for your business. Your control on Yelp is limited, but the potential benefits from this site are worth investing some time into improving your presence there.


Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for success on Yelp. There is no easy fix. But there are several things you can do to make Yelp an asset rather than a liability. The first is to set proper expectations.

It’s a Marathon, But Every Step Counts

Despite your limited control, it is important to see Yelp as part of your overall marketing strategy. You should view customer reviews on Yelp like investments in the stock market there will always be ups and downs. The goal is to have many more “ups” than downs, more positive reviews than negative. Commit to the long haul; Yelp isn’t for sprinters. At the same time, each review, positive and negative, is vital to your success. Reviews provide an opportunity for you to respond to customer feedback. You can deliver a thank you to those who took the time to leave a positive review. Negative reviews provide the opportunity to learn what you could do better and possibly transform an unhappy customer into a happy one.

Invest in the Things You Can Control

You can’t control what Yelp does, but there are plenty of things you can control and influence. You have lots of control when it comes to what your Yelp profile looks like and what it says. You also can create opportunities to encourage happy customers to leave reviews on Yelp. Finally, you can control how you respond to reviews on Yelp. For negative reviews, your response is as important or maybe even more important than the customer’s comment. In Step 2, we will look at how to create a Yelp business profile that serves as part of a successful marketing strategy.


The first mistake many businesses make with Yelp is to simply ignore it. I call this the “blindfold approach.” They know that they have limited control, so they just pretend Yelp doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter. Don’t do this! Yelp is too important to ignore. Take control where you can. Start with these three steps.

Claim Your Business Listing

The first step is claiming your Yelp business profile and adding pertinent information to it. Here’s how you do that.

  1. Go to Scroll down to the footer of the page and find the link that says, “Claim Your Business Page.”
  2. On this page, you can search to see if your business already has a listing on Yelp. Enter your zip code and the name of your business. (If Yelp already has your business listed, it will appear as an option for you to select.) Click on Continue.
  3. The next step you need to take will depend on whether your company was already on Yelp or if your business has never been listed on Yelp. If your business has a listing for you to claim, you will be asked to enter your email address to “claim” the listing. If your business doesn’t have a listing on Yelp, you will be taken to a page to begin entering the location and contact information about your business.
  4. By claiming your business listing on Yelp, you have the opportunity to add or correct the basic information about the type of business, the location, and contact information. You will create a business account on Yelp with a password to keep your information secure.

Optimize Your Business Listing

You have multiple options for making your Yelp listing more attractive to consumers. Some of these options are free for all listings; others are paid upgrades that you can choose. It is up to you to decide whether any of the paid upgrades are worthwhile investments for your business.

  1. Add photos to your listing. People are attracted to visual images. Add attractive images of your place of business, service, or menu offerings, etc. Each photo you upload has the option of having a caption added to it. These captions are a great way to add additional messaging to your profile. You can add descriptions of menu items, projects, products, and names and titles of team members. The free photo option does not allow you to select the order in which your photos appear. If you select the paid Slideshow option, you gain the ability to determine the order in which your photos appear.
  2. Amenities & Hours of Operation. Under Amenities, you can make several Yes or No selections related to your business. COVID related information can be selected here as well as whether you offer military discounts and are a woman-owned or black-owned business. You can enter your standard hours of operation and can also note temporary closures. In addition, you may enter special hours for holidays, sales, etc
  3. From This Business. Don’t neglect this portion of your profile. This is the area where you have the most freedom to share unique details about your business. Write a list or paragraph describing the Specialties of your business, share the story behind your business, and provide an introduction to the business owner or store manager.
  4. Create a Check-in Offer. Yelp allows you to create unique promotional offers for customers who “check-in” at your business through the Yelp mobile app or your business listing on search results. The check-in can be incentivized with a discount on a purchase or the gift of a free item. The special offer will automatically show up on a customer’s app or your listing in search results.
  5. Yelp Review Badges. Another free offer from Yelp is its branded review badges. You can insert code on your business website to show customers that you are listed on Yelp. The Yelp badge can be a simple Yelp brand, or it can show your current number of reviews on Yelp, updated in real-time. This is a great way to show customers your star rating and encourage them to look at your Yelp reviews and profile.
  6. Yelp Deals & Gift Certificates. Yelp allows customers to purchase special deals or gift certificates directly from your Yelp profile. There isn’t any charge for creating and listing these offers, but Yelp does keep 30% of any sale that is made through your profile deals.
  7. Paid Listing Upgrades. Yelp offers several additional upgrades for your business listing that can help it stand out from the competition. Most of these upgrades are purchased at a cost per day. This makes them an inexpensive way to improve your business listing during specific time periods like peak tourist season or holiday seasons.
  8. Add your logo
  9. Slideshow with your choice of leading photos.
  10. Business highlights like Free WiFi or parking, minority ownership, delivery or pick-up options, etc.
  11. Create and schedule specific calls to action.
  12. Use Yelp Connect to create and share posts on your profile, requires a monthly subscription.
  13. Yelp ads. Your Yelp ads may even appear on your competitor’s listings.
  14. Prevent competitor ads from being seen with your listing.

Take advantage of the free customization options and then select the paid upgrades you want to use during specific periods or long-term to enhance your presence on Yelp further.


One of the significant advantages gained of claiming your Yelp business listing is the ability to respond to reviews and request changes to your reviews through the Yelp service team. There are some simple guidelines to follow regarding how you respond to reviews and how to interact with Yelp employees when requesting a change.

Respond to All Reviews, Positive and Negative.

If you are new to using Yelp, this is especially important. Customers are more likely to leave reviews for businesses that are responsive to customer feedback. They want to know that the business will read the review and appreciate the time and effort they invested in leaving a review.

Respond Quickly, Especially to Negative Reviews.

How you respond to low-star reviews can often transform a negative into a positive. It is essential that you respond to these reviews as quickly as possible. This demonstrates to the customers that you care about their experience. It gives you an opportunity to offer a means of “making things right.” Even if the poor review remains in place, visitors to that review will be able to read your response and not just the review.

Turning a Negative Review Into a Positive.

It can be easy to get frustrated with what may seem like pettiness or unrealistic expectations in a negative review. Here are some tips to follow when responding to a negative review.

  1. If a review leaves you a little hot under the collar, take a minute to cool off and consider the wording of your response before posting it.
  2. Your response should always be written in a respectful tone and express appreciation for the customer’s willingness to voice their disappointment or opinion.
  3. In your response, ask the customer if you can contact them directly to discuss the problem. This moves the rest of the conversation from the public view and demonstrates your willingness to make things right.
  4. In your direct contact with the customer, ask for specifics on how you could fix the issue – give a refund or credit, etc. Many times, your sincere apology and willingness to hear them out is all they need, but be prepared to carry through on a reasonable request. If they indicate that your resolution has been a positive one, ask them to post an update to their original review, indicating that the situation was resolved to their satisfaction.
  5. Recognize that some customers aren’t interested in a resolution; they just want to hurt your business by posting a bad review. In those cases, just let it go. Instead, work on increasing new positive reviews to push the negative review out of sight.

Requesting the Removal of Yelp Reviews.

Occasionally, you may even have a competitor or disgruntled employee post negative reviews to try and hurt your business. Yelp does provide a path for businesses to request removal of specific reviews on Yelp. This is done by using the “Report” flag on a review. When flagging a review for removal, you must also explain why you feel the review is not appropriate or violates Yelp’s review guidelines.

Yelp will consider your request and the reason stated for the request. It may or may not honor your request at its own discretion. Polite and respectful conversations with Yelp representatives will generally accomplish more than anger and accusations. Here are some of the reasons Yelp might consider removing a review:

  • Threats
  • Harassment
  • Irrelevant comments
  • Reviews posted by your competitors

Finding Reviews Hidden by Yelp’s Filter

You may find that some of your best reviews are not showing up on your list of Yelp reviews. Yelp does filter your reviews and keep some hidden. Yelp’s filter is intended to hide low quality, irrelevant, or potential spam reviews. The reviews hidden by the filter are also not factored you’re your Yelp rating.

This is meant to be a good thing for businesses, but it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes, the reviews hidden behind the filter can actually include some legitimate, positive reviews. It is the “low quality” factor that can often land legitimate reviews behind the filter. This can happen because of the quality of the reviewer’s profile or the quality of the review itself.

Here are some of the reasons a Yelp review might be deemed low-quality.

  • No photo or descriptive information.
  • Small number of reviews on the site.
  • The reviewer doesn’t have any friends on Yelp.
  • The reviewer hasn’t connected his social media accounts to Yelp.
  • The IP address is associated with spam reviews.
  • The review is too short or has too many irrelevant details

These filtered reviews are still accessible to viewers through a link at the bottom of the list of reviews that says, “reviews that are not currently recommended.”

Making Filtered Reviews Visible

Thankfully, business owners can access these hidden reviews and make use of what they find there. Here’s how:

Step 1: Locate your filtered reviews on your Yelp business page. Find and click the gray link that says, “X reviews that are not currently recommended” to view the list.

Step 2: Look for recent 4 to 5-star reviews that you would like to be included in your Yelp rating and visible reviews.

Step 3: Search for and locate the reviewer’s Yelp profile. To find the reviewer, head to Yelp’s “Find Friends” page and enter their username in the “Search Friends on Yelp” search box. If there are multiple profiles with that username, you may need to narrow the search by location.

Step 4: Once you locate the reviewer, you are provided with three options to the right: Send Message, Add Friend, or Follow. Start by adding them as a friend. Sometimes, the review will be added as “Recommended” just because the two of you become friends. Give them a couple of days to respond and verify whether the relationship change makes a change to the review status.

Step 5: If the reviewer does not accept your friend request OR if the friend relationship doesn’t change the status of the review, you can use the Send Message link to encourage them to make an effort to improve the quality of their profile or review. Suggestions might include:

  • Checking in to local businesses using Yelp
  • Adding a photo to their profile
  • Connecting their Yelp account to their Facebook profile
  • Leaving more reviews on other businesses
  • Downloading and using the Yelp app, if they aren’t already

Offering an incentive for following through on your request may improve the chances of the person following through. Try something like this:

“I know you’re probably busy, so I’d like to offer a small incentive for taking time to improve your Yelp profile. To help make it worth your while, we will give you – (a discount or freebie, small gift card, etc.); no strings attached.”

Even if you can’t get those hidden reviews out from behind Yelp’s filter, you can still use them in other ways. These are still real reviews from real people. Copy and share the comments from the review on social media or on your website as testimonials.

Develop a Process for Responding to Yelp Reviews

It is easy for this task to be overlooked without a process in place. Determine who will be responsible for responding to all reviews or to particular types of comments. Educate these staff members on the approved methods for handling different kinds of situations.


The ratio of positive reviews to negative reviews on Yelp is heavily weighted to the positive side. You have that in your favor right off the bat. Increasing the number of reviews for your business on Yelp will work in your favor, even if there are some less than satisfactory ratings among them.

There are some dos and don’ts when it comes to pursuing Yelp reviews. As long as you understand and abide by those rules, you have several avenues available to favorably influence your Yelp ratings.

Yelp has specific conditions when it comes to asking your customers to leave reviews on their platform. There is a list of “don’ts” you need to follow.

  • Don’t offer any type of reward in exchange for a Yelp review.
  • Don’t ask specifically for only 5-star or favorable reviews.
  • Don’t tell customers what to write in their review.

How to Properly Ask for Yelp Reviews.

The most effective way to ask for a review of any kind is to ask the customer in person. Train your salespeople on the three Don’ts listed above. Then establish the proper timing and terminology for requesting reviews.

a. Timing. A person is more likely to respond to a review request immediately after a purchase or the completion of a project. Ask them just before they leave your establishment or shortly after they leave. Always ask within 24 hours of the closing of the sale.

b. Means of communication. If you can make the request in person, do so. Providing them with a physical reminder like a “Review Us on Yelp” business card can help ensure they don’t forget after they walk out the door. Of course, many sales are now finalized electronically. If that is the case, you have a few other options: phone, email, or text. In addition to sending the initial request for a review on Yelp, you can also use these means to send reminders and express appreciation once the review has been posted.

c. Who should you ask? This answer depends on many variables. The type of business you operate and whether you have asked for Yelp reviews in the past or not are factors. We will assume you have never requested Yelp reviews from customers in the past. That means your entire database of customers contains potential reviewers, if you have one. But you may want to be more selective in who is
encouraged to leave a review. Customers who have indicated high satisfaction in recent weeks or months will be your preferred target, but you may not have that type of information available. Now might be a good time to start creating that database of satisfied customers. One way to do that is to provide a customer satisfaction survey. It is a great customer service tool that can be used in many ways.

Finding out which of your customers are actively leaving reviews on Yelp for other businesses offers a true gold mine. Yelp tends to recommend reviews left by reviewers with a strong record on the site. There are a few tricks you can use to determine if your customers are using Yelp, but they can be cumbersome and time-consuming.

Ways to Encourage Reviews Without Asking

You exercise the most control when you are directly asking customers to leave a review on Yelp, but there are other ways to increase your number of reviews. In Step 2, we mentioned Yelp Review Badges. Strategic placement of these badges on your website is one way to trigger customers to visit your Yelp listing. Another way to do this is to share some of your positive Yelp reviews on your website, through social media channels and emails to your customer list. A more subtle tactic would be to write a blog post on why consumers should be active on Yelp. Remind them that it is an excellent opportunity to have their voice heard and promote the businesses they appreciate. Don’t make the post about getting reviews for yourself; keep it focused on the reader and their influence potential.

The more you remind your customers about your presence on Yelp, the more likely they are to visit Yelp and leave a review.

Turning Negative Reviews Into a Good Thing

No one wants to receive negative reviews from their customers, but it will happen. If you see several negative reviews on your Yelp, consider this a warning flag. It is important to investigate the situation to see if you have customer service issues in your organization that need to be addressed. When negative feedback allows you to fix a problem before it results in the loss of more customers; that’s a good thing.


We’ve given you a lot of information, but it can be very useful to businesses on Yelp. Our goal has been to help you understand Yelp a little better and encourage you to take an active role in influencing your ratings on that critical platform.

We’ve given you the four steps we recommend for achieving success on Yelp.

  1. Creative a strategy based on realistic expectations.
  2. Optimize your Yelp business listing for success.
  3. Actively respond to and manage your reviews.
  4. Begin asking for and encouraging Yelp reviews.

A little attention to your Yelp listing and ongoing management of your reviews can reap great rewards.

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