Yelp and small businessesAfter 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 opening 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 provide 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 isn’t ever 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 doesn’t ever stop. 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!

By Samantha Walt (c) 2012