Chance are high that you've never heard of Yelp, so you probably have no idea what it says about you. This is a mistake. Yelp is growing and it's growing fast, drawing more than 1.8 million users turn to it for information each month. In fact, I've found myself looking at top five search listings for Yelp on Google time and time again in the past couple of months. That's why I'll ask you again, what does Yelp say about you?

Yelp was launched back in 2004 by ex-PayPal employees Jeremy Stoppelman and Russel Simmons as a site that brought together San Francisco residents to help identify and review the most popular hangouts. The site has since grown to encompass nearly every major city across the United States as "Yelpers" work to find and review every business in town with a U.S. Postal address.

It works in much the way that Amazon.com reviews or Yahoo Local reviews work. The main difference seems to be the fervor and devotion with which members use the site.

Check out this little snippet from Fortune:

"I'm making a ton of money from Yelp, and it's freaking me out." Woe is Christopher Hall, the 34-year-old owner of Splitends, a hair salon in Orange County, Calif. Its chic décor is more architectural firm than beauty parlor. He has appeared on a reality show, in the L.A. Times, and on TV news segments. He's photogenic and has a quick wit. He serves beer to customers. So business, unsurprisingly, was decent as soon as he opened the place last December. Until March 6. That's when things got crazy.

Now he's literally in pain from all the coiffing. "I've been doing hair for 16 years, and I'm busier than I've ever been," he says. "Saturday I came in at 6:30 a.m., left at 8 p.m., and did 22 people. I woke up Sunday and my hands were all swollen. I had to put them in an ice bucket."

What happened March 6? That was the day Anita Lau wrote about Splitends at Yelp.com, an online platform for user reviews of everything from dive bars to funeral parlors. Lau has posted 2,036 reviews and 1,340 photos, has collected 790 compliments on her work from fellow Yelpers, and along the way has amassed the power to put bodies into barbershop chairs. She gave Splitends the maximum five stars, praising Hall and saying, "I absolutely love my haircut."

The review started a logroll of new clients for the stylist and a couple dozen subsequent five-star critiques. "I've taken out ten ads in OC Weekly this year and have gotten maybe one call," says Hall. "I get anywhere from five to 15 calls a day from Yelpers. They come in and then write reviews. Then other people see the reviews, think it must be great, and call. It's its own little biosphere. It feeds itself."

Earlier this month, popular social networking site Facebook announced a partnership with Yelp's new "Hangouts application. The new feature will allow Facebook users to tie into Yelp's extensive database of location reviews to post a list of where the user will be heading on any particular evening. While the application has only garnered a few thousand users so far, it's bound to drive even more traffic to the already flourishing Yelp.

So how do you find out what's being "Yelped" about your business?

You can start by heading to Yelp and running a search for your business. If your business has a yellow page listing, then chances are high that it will show up even if you don't have any user reviews yet.

For the sake of example, I ran a search for a little greasy spoon north of Ohio State University called "Nancy's."

As you can see, Yelp pops up not only any listings that fit your search criteria, but also a map of the area with the business flagged and a rating and review snippet. Click on the business name and Yelp will take you to more detailed user generated content about the business.

Apart from traditional reviews, Yelp allows users or businesses to upload photos, to set a price range, share information about parking, payment types, business hours and so on. It's a good idea to start by running a search for your business and then checking to make sure this basic information is correct.

If it is correct, you may want to consider uploading some photos to flesh out the content area for your business.

If the data is not correct, you'll need to locate the text link that says "Edit Business Info" that appears above the "Send to Friend" button. This link will take you to a form that allows you to edit information about the business. (If you're the business owner, make sure to check the box that says so before you submit the requested changes to the Yelp moderators.)

Once you've submitted any requested changes to your listing, you may wish to check out the "Is this your business? Get involved!" link that appears to the left of the map. This area of the site offers up some helpful advice on how to use Yelp to your advantage as a business owner.

For example, it features a list of Do's and Don'ts with handy bits of advice like:

DON'T overestimate the impact of a single negative review. It happens to even the best businesses. In fact, in speaking to Yelp users, we've learned that negative reviews sprinkled in with favorable reviews often act to enhance the credibility of the positive reviews by illustrating the honesty and openness of the Yelp environment. That said, if you see a trend of negative reviews, you may want to take this feedback and determine if there is a way to improve your business.

and

DO use Yelp private messaging to thank reviewers for writing about your business - but consider waiting 48 hours before responding to any negative reviews as a cooling-off mechanism. Be sure to put yourself in the mindset of your customer, and recognize that your tone may come across as defensive, so tread lightly.

Yelp also offers up branded widgets for your web site that point visitors to Yelp reviews. In areas like San Francisco and New York where Yelp is becoming a popular spot to research businesses, these tags could lend quite a bit of credibility to a new business with strong Yelp ratings. The tags are free and the code for them can be picked up by clicking "Link to this Page" from your company's business profile page.

Yelp also offers paid sponsor packages that will allow you to update your listing with even more data or to promote your reviews in Yelp search results.

Basically, you need to treat Yelp like you would any other local business review site. Make sure that your business is listed, that you've taken the time to double check the information for accuracy and then consider whether or not it makes sense to increase your presence with a sponsored listing.

With Yelp partnering with sites like Facebook and ranking well for local search keywords in Google, chances are high that the site will continue to draw new users and will have an even bigger chance of impacting your bottom line.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.


July 23, 2007





Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.







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