I am a big fan of Yelp. Some of you may be thinking: “ugh,” “not me,” or some combination of four-letter words. Many business owners get frustrated with Yelp, typically related to the review process and/or review algorithm. Unfortunately, this frustration often leads to businesses discarding Yelp as a lead generating opportunity despite its clear capabilities. Think about yourself as a consumer. Like millions of others, I bet you have used Yelp before to find a sandwich shop, hire a plumber, or peruse one of Yelp’s hundreds of other categories. You navigated through the search results page of a few businesses in the category noticing ratings, photos, proximity, or some other feature in the results. And you were probably pretty far down the buyer journey, maybe even ready to purchase.
From a customer’s perspective, we can see the platform is an incredible opportunity to reach purchase-ready consumers. So it would make sense to harness the power of this tool and do everything in your control to be at, or near the top of the search results. After reviewing some basics of the search results page, this tutorial will teach you how to improve your business’ organic ranking on Yelp and attract more purchase-ready leads.
Anatomy of the Yelp Search Results Page
To help you understand the various components of a Yelp search results page, I would like to draw your attention to the red boxes in the example search below for “Best Burger”:
- Filters (top): If you look in the top right corner, there are 957 search results. The filters along the top allow users to narrow down the search results to a more manageable number and specific experience through criteria like price, hours, and wait time.
- Sponsored Results (top left): These businesses appear at the top because they are paid advertisements. Though sponsored results are not of concern in this tutorial, it is important to understand why they appear at the top of the search results page.
- All Results (bottom left): Increasing your position in the “All Results” section is the goal of this tutorial. There are a number of factors that impact your ranking here, so we will review what you can do to help improve your Yelp ranking.
- Map Pack (right): The map pack shows where the paid and unpaid listings appear on the map. Blue stars are the paid listings and red are the organic listings from the “All Results” field.
- Google Display Network Ads (bottom right): Below the map are ads delivered through Google’s Ad Network. These are unrelated to the topic but are included as they appear on the search results page.
How to Improve Your Yelp Ranking
Yelp is in the business of providing consumers with credible reviews and information for the goods and services they desire. On Yelp’s About Us page, their stated purpose is simply “to connect people with great local businesses.” The following tips will help improve your Yelp ranking and connect you with more customers, all without having to spend money on Yelp ads.
- Completely fill out your business information – Yelp believes the information fields help people evaluate a business, so they prioritize businesses with a complete biography. The process is pretty straightforward once you access your business owner’s homepage. Categories include basic information, Categories and Services, Hours, Photos, Special Hours, Specialties, History, Meet the Manager, and Business Recommendations. There are additional paid categories that should be filled out in their entirety if it makes sense for your business budget.
- Claim multiple categories – Yelp has over 1,200 categories, ranging from the very general (e.g. restaurants, bars) to the highly specific (e.g. bobsledding). If you claim more categories, particularly specific categories with fewer businesses, you are more likely to be found.
- Include Keywords Related to Services Offered in Profile – Having keywords in your business description (ex: Bacon Avocado Cheeseburger) assures Yelp’s search algorithm that you provide the services you are listed under. This may seem redundant because you are already listed in the category, but the inclusion of keywords will help the searchability and visibility of your listing.
- Respond to Reviewers – Not just the bad ones, but the good ones as well. The more engagement, the better. Engagement is a critical factor for your Yelp ranking and essential business practice. An active business that interacts with its customers in a positive way provides a better user experience for Yelp users as well. Here is a guide to responding to positive and negative Yelp reviews.
- Keep Content Fresh – This includes adding new photos, offers, and business profile content. Regarding photos, do not forget to properly label the image file and description as the search engine uses text queues to understand the image.
- Ask for Check-Ins – Asking for reviews is a big no-no on Yelp. Asking for check-ins, however, is encouraged. You can offer check-in rewards to help encourage customers to use the feature. This benefits you three-fold: you improve customer experience, increase engagement with your profile, and users are prompted to leave a review after checking in. If you leave with one thing from this tutorial, ask for check-ins. I have seen awesome results with this for our kid’s jiu-jitsu club in San Diego. Having a “Find Us on Yelp” sticker can help the customer open the conversation.
What Won’t Help You Rank on Yelp
It is also important to know a few items that will not help your rank on Yelp. The first misconception is that more reviews will lead to a high ranking. There is some element of truth to this, but volume alone is not the difference-maker. Having a higher volume of recent reviews will help your ranking. This is why you see a “trending” restaurant with fewer reviews ranking higher than an established restaurant with six times the reviews in the image below.
Related to this is rating. To clarify, rating and ranking are two different things. Your rating is the mean score of all recommended reviews and ranking is the order of the search results. Having a higher rating alone will not help you rank ahead of your competitors. Having a perfect rating can actually hurt you. A company with 100 reviews and a perfect 5-star rating looks a little fishy. It is a great goal to have an excellent Yelp rating; it means you are customer-focused. However, a high rating does not guarantee a high ranking.
Finally, the biggest misconception around Yelp is the idea of “pay to play.” This is just not the case. Paying Yelp will not unlock unrecommended reviews and it will not position your listing higher in the organic “All Results” rankings. If the search results were filled with paid listings that had incomplete profiles and poor customer engagement, Yelp would not be the trusted service it is today. While there are certainly benefits to having sponsored ads or paying for an Enhanced Profile, such as increased visibility and removing competitors from your profile page. These are additional benefits and should be seen as a way to increase traffic, not a magic potion to unlock all reviews.
I get that Yelp can be frustrating. Many business owners get upset with the review algorithm that can suppress legitimate reviews and unfortunately recommend false reviews. When so many potential customers rely on the reviews to guide purchasing decisions, it is a justifiable reason to be frustrated. Too often business owners and marketing managers begin and end the Yelp conversation there. But it can be very beneficial to move past this point and embrace the fact that consumers find Yelp trustworthy and useful to the tune of 145 million unique visitors per month. By deploying these tips you can open up a tremendous opportunity to improve your Yelp ranking, increase your business exposure, and acquire knowledgeable and purchase-ready leads.
Sam White, MBA is a senior account manager and search engine optimizer for New Dimension, a digital marketing agency located in San Diego, CA. Over his career, he has worked in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Switzerland, Turkey, and the US on initiatives including both education and marketing. He focuses his efforts on turning complex ideas into actionable and measurable steps.