Yelp Help and “The Never-ending Story” of Local SEO Strategies — A SPN Exclusive Article

After assistant professor Michael Luca demonstrated in his Harvard Business School Working Paper the effect Yelp reviews have on restaurant goers, many small business owners nationwide are now trying to employ their own ‘Yelp Strategies.’ Although Luca states the success a restaurant can have with good reviews, other small businesses do not have the same volume of reviews and thus it’s difficult to agree or disagree with his conclusion. Regardless of Luca’s concluding remarks, it is undeniable the impact a local SEO strategy can have for a company. With or without reviews, having a comprehensive local strategy can take you from zero to sixty in a day’s work. Below, I discuss the ins and outs of dealing with Yelp and other major sites plus a look at the evolution of local listings and mobile apps.

Say what? Yelp?

Even though Yelp has made recent news, many people still have no idea what it is or, why it matters. For a quick background: Yelp, founded in 2004, is a local search engine where anyone can write a review about local services, goods, and businesses. With an average of 66 million new visitors, and 25 million local reviews written, Yelp is a premier review site. Yelp offers local business a free listing on their site with a no-follow link to a website of their choosing.

Thanks I knew that, but why should I do it?

Yelp is one of the local citation sites that are a must for anyone with a local SEO strategy. Other sites that fall in this category include Google Places, Manta, Local, and YellowPages (to name a few off the top of my big head). Each of these sites has a free listing option that includes photos, videos and a link back to the listed site. What savvy online marketers know about Yelp, is that their listings are useful for more than just plain old SEO (as if anything is old about SEO…). Yelp also presents an opportunity for branding your business and for getting visitors to your site that may not have found it otherwise on organic rankings. It is important to update the information listed however, since incorrect contact information, locations and service lists can mean a decrease in credibility for you and potentially a loss in revenue.

Different internet users all have their own preferences for which sites to use to find local businesses. For example, my father only knows how to use Yahoo’s search bar since that is what has always opened up when he opens his internet browser (my mom still uses the phone book.) Others, who are more advanced, such as iPhone-happy foodies, may use Yelp or Zagat to find their swanky bites, or they may just be a common Googler who just goes to the top results on Google Places because they are lazy. Making sure that your information is listed correctly on Yelp and the other local directories helps potential customers to find you easier and get to know what you offer when they need some information.

Great I filled everything out, but what about reviews?

The hardest part about doing a complete local SEO strategy is getting those reviews. On Google, the more reviews you have the higher your ranking is in Google Places. On Yelp positive reviews and higher ‘star levels’ result in more revenue for your business (Luca, 2012). Then again, negative reviews can result in a loss of revenue. One bad review online can affect your business for years to come but a lot of good reviews can usually outweigh the bad.

Actually getting the reviews is a whole other problem. To get a customer to review your company often means that you have to get them to think about your company outside of doing business with you. Some useful strategies to get them to care about your bottom line and stop thinking about themselves is to deliver exceptional service and remind them frequently of your existence with Facebook updates, emails, coupons, and candy canes. You can also use your local listings pages to encourage reviewing by providing links to your company site that promise positive reviewers future discounts.

Whoa! Submissions and reviews are done, but am I?

Since you are on this site chances are you have realized that SEO is never done. Every day, new information is popping up about how to better optimize your site, blog, and even local listings. Having read and heard nearly everything I can find on local listings, especially Google Places, I would say I know a lot, but it never stops. My best local listing advice is, make sure that your business is available on every site, especially ones with mobile capabilities. If you have a store front of any sort, make sure the people walking and driving in your area can find you via mobile or GPS devices. Do research on the most popular applications (apps) and make sure that your business comes up when searched. If you haven’t tried it out don’t worry, I have.

While writing this article I wanted to prove to myself the importance of mobile devices on local listings. Knowing Foursquare is huge I decided to test them out. I came across not only Foursquare’s app, which has some 15 million purchases, but that of 10 other related apps. Most for free, each app claims to help you find ‘cool’ things and places based on your location. Oh and by the way, Yelp has a free application also. Apps for local business are replacing major search engines. Make sure you can be found on such apps and do not forget to make sure that your website is also mobile capable. The world is going mobile people, don’t be the last to know.

Bottom Line (as I give my clients):

Have a local SEO strategy that has consistent information on each local listing site. Don’t forget Luca’s research and grow your testimonials online – it will help. Finally, go mobile via apps and your website. If you ever doubt the mobile revolution, just talk to my buddy Jed Alpert of Mobile Commons, a leader in the mobile evolution world, and he will tell you. Like I said above, there is always new information sprouting up about local SEO strategies, make sure you know what they are; it’s fun!

Samantha Walt does SEO and Social Media for Colocation America. With a passion for technology and internet marketing, Samantha uses her knowledge to help Colocation America reach new markets.

About the author


Samantha Walt

Samantha Walt does SEO and Social Media for Colocation America. With a passion for technology and internet marketing, Samantha uses her knowledge to help Colocation America reach new markets.


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  • Very interesting. I have used Yelp for a customer in the past but did not realise just how important it could be. I just hope it does not get swamped with useless marketers. Thanks 🙂

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  • After a “review” was posted on our business page in YELP.com, it clearly is not talking about our business. We are on the East Coast and the reviewer is on the West Coast. We contacted YELP.com numerous times and they will not remove or contact reviewer. Quote from YELP.com; “Unfortunately not all reviews make the cut, even some legitimate ones.”

    They now have “filters” that filter out good reviews and the bad “review” is the only one that is found when looking up our business. This seems to be the other side of the coin. ! Others think so as well. https://getsatisfaction.com/yelp/topics/un_yelp_my_business

  • Great article and good points. I specialize in Google Places Optimization and Local SEO so one part of what I do is to help businesses learn how to get more ethical honest reviews.

    Just feel the need to point out that even though # of reviews is a ranking factor AND a conversion rate factor, never stoop to buying fake reviews.

    I’m a Google Top Contributor and help them on the Places forum and can tell you the review spam filters are getting better and more and more complain every day their reviews were deleted – many because they were fake. So don’t do it. It’s not worth it!


  • Yelp is the WORST.

    If you say no to their gestapo marketing tactics and huge monthly fees they want you to pay, just watch your positive reviews disappear and your negative reviews go through the roof.

    Literally out of nowhere.

    SOOOO easy to blame the “filter”. My guess is the people working here are not smart enough to pronounce algorithm.

    Another possibility is the “filter” are a bunch of ESL outsourced folk scouring the places that said no to their marketing services.

  • I have always been a big fan of Yelp and used it both to find reviews and leave reviews as I believe word of mouth is the best way to select a business. One poor review has never discouraged me from using a local business. If there are hundreds of 5 star reviews I would be suspicious.

    Yesterday I received a call from a friend that I had encouraged to sign up and use Yelp for his small business. He is a good honest general contractor with happy clients spread throughout Southern California and I would recommend him highly as I have also met terrible contractors with whom I would warn people not to conduct business. Unfortunately, his experience was much like that of John G. in that he was contacted by telephone asking him to pay for advertising and upon politely declining was told that his reviews posted by customers would be removed as a violation simply because he spread the word about Yelp to his potential and current customers. His reviews were removed and Yelp claims it to be part of their algorithm and their employees would NEVER suggest that a business pay to keep their reviews intact.

    Yelp had a great concept but like any growing business has allowed greed to corrupt and destroy their credibility.

  • Im glad I got this comment in my inbox about Yelp and their sweet Seo! Yelp has helped me tremendously in growning. I even use there badge on my home page to show off! The only problem is that their filter, filters out legit reviews sometimes. Oh well, still got 4 5stars for our work in windshield repair and windshield replacement in Dallas. Thanks for the post, great insight!