Yelp, for the uninitiated, is an online business directory that's hugely popular, and growing, with more than 100 million unique monthly visitors each month, up from about 70 million a year ago (Wikipedia).
While it has traditionally been primarily the realm of restaurants, it's certainly not limited to the food industry, and we've actually been seeing Yelp results show up more and more in search results around home performance terms.
Why this is, we're not sure, but we do think that if you are looking to maximize your brand exposure in search results, it may be a good idea to go claim your listing and start putting some effort into maximizing your Yelp presence.
Yelp Increasingly Common in Search Results
We've discussed business directories and citations quite a bit in the past, but the increasing presence of Yelp listings in search results in the home performance field were what inspired us to take a fresh look at this particular directory.
For instance, check out this screenshot of a Google search for "insulation san francisco":
Looks normal, right? Well, look closer.
- The results in the yellow up top are ads.
- The column on the right is full of ads.
- The map and the corresponding pinned results are Google+ results.
- The only organic results showing up above the fold are the three located between the PPC results up top and the Google+ pages below. And guess what? They're all Yelp.
- These particular Yelp results aren't individual contractor listings, but directories within Yelp ("insulation," "insulation contractor," "spray foam insulation") -- so if you want to get found through this route, you'll have to optimize your search performance within Yelp.
This isn't necessarily representative of search results in the home performance industry across the country; it's just one particular search at one particular time. But, it is something of an eyebrow-raiser. If Yelp results are showing up above Google+ pages, anything you can do to increase your chances of capitalizing on that search performance may be a good idea.
Thus, claiming your Yelp listing and putting in some effort to optimize it with keywords and reviews is probably a smart move.
It's worth keeping in mind, however, that the screenshot above is from San Francisco, one of the most technologically sophisticated areas in the country. We've seen similar results showing up in other technologically advanced regions like Los Angeles and Seattle. This is anecdotal, but it makes sense: these regions have lots of active Yelp users compared to more rural areas. If you live in a more rural, or less technologically sophisticated, region, optimizing your Yelp presence may not be quite as important.
An Important Citation
Perhaps equally important as your actual Yelp listing (and capitalizing on traffic through Yelp) is the citation that your business gets there. Citations on local business directories, social media platforms and other places around the web are very powerful in improving your site's local search performance, so a citation on Yelp may improve the chances that your primary website shows up above the fold.
(If you're unfamiliar with citations, here's a primer on citations, NAPs, and optimizing your business listings.)
Claim Your Listing
This is obviously your first step, but you'd be surprised how many businesses never do it. Claiming your listing on Yelp is free, so just go do it. Be sure to use accurate (and consistent) business info, and keep your listing updated if any changes take place in your company (changed address, phone number, etc).
Get Reviews (but be careful how you go about it)
Reviews are one of the most important factors that can improve the search performance, not only of your Yelp listing, but of your website as well. Getting reviews can be tricky, but it's important. Ask your happiest customers if they'd mind leaving a review on Yelp, or on any other directory where your business is listed, but just be sure not to use tactics that may send a flag to Google and other search engines that they legitimacy of the reviews may be questionable. Mass emails, social media campaigns, and similar tactics may be problematic, so we think it's best to stick to asking your customers in person one by one. More authentic, better for your business in the long run.
Respond to Reviews
Get a good review? Thank your customer. Did they love the experience, but not enjoy a particular part? Let them know that you hear them, and that you'll work to address the issue in the future.
And what if you get a flat-out negative review? That's tricky, but don't worry: it does happens to the good guys from time to time, and it's not the end of the world. Check out our article about responding to negative reviews for some guidance.
Categories and Optimization
One of the primary challenges for home performance contractors on Yelp is that there's no perfect category for us. You can only choose 3 categories, and none of them are a great fit. That said, the closest categories (as of the time of writing, as far as we can tell) are the following:
Here's a more comprehensive list of the business categories that Yelp offers, but those are about the closest to us that we can find.
With that in mind, showing up for a search term like "insulation" creates a challenge, because you can't simply pick the category and hope for the best. Keywording your listing's content to optimize for search terms more appropriate to your business is key. Check out the screenshot from Kevel Home Performance's listing below:
While there may be no category for insulation, you can still show up in searches within Yelp for "insulation" (and other related terms) if you write a good description that accurately describes your services.
Much of this information may sound similar. After all, best practices on Yelp aren't entirely dissimilar to best practices on Google+ Local and other local business directories; it's simply that the apparent increased prominence of Yelp sends something of a signal that this is a directory to put some effort into.
Be sure to check out our post on reviews, trust, and the new reality of internet marketing for more about why reviews, directories and social media are an increasingly important piece of the marketing puzzle for small businesses. And as always, if you have any questions, comments or concerns, feel free to chime in down below.
Update August 26, 2013
In the last couple weeks, there have been a number of posts from internet marketing luminaries discussing Yelp's achilles heel--their aggressive sales tactics and growing resentment problem amongst business owners.
From Mike Blumenthal, local search guru, Yelp: Real People. Real Reviews. Deceptive Sales Tactics.
A followup from Mike B, Yelp: When the Hard Sell Goes South
And this one from Greg Sterling on his Screenwork blog: Business Owner Resentment a Persistent Problem for Yelp.