Bad Yelp reviews can be incredibly stressful for any small business, but once you overcome the hurt feelings and focus on a true response strategy, Yelp can turn into one of your most important customer loyalty and marketing channels.

We spoke with John Carroll, manager of local business outreach at Yelp in our “Make Online Reviews Work for Your Business” webinar to get advice on how small businesses should think about their good – and bad – reviews.

Regardless of where you are or what type of business you have, 78 percent of consumers turn to review sites to find a local business. 

So, before you start marketing yourself on Yelp, John says there are three essential items you need to understand as a small business owner:

  • How consumers find local businesses
  • The value of feedback for your business
  • The tools at your disposal on Yelp.

Of review sites, Yelp is the most popular. It has 83 million monthly visitors on desktop, 102 million monthly visitors on mobile and 135 million total reviews on the platform since its inception in 2004.

According to Yelp data, 60 percent of its users are relatively affluent, educated adults, who are over the age of 35. Eighty-two percent have a college degree and 72 percent earn $60K or more a year. It might shock you to learn that nearly 50 percent of Yelp users earn over $100K a year!

Eighty-two percent of Yelp users intend to buy, says John. They’re at the very end of their sales funnel, and they’re simply deciding who they’re going to spend their money with. Ninety-three percent of the time, they make that purchase within a week.

As a business owner, when you’re thinking about your presence on Yelp, you need to consider the customer feedback. Frankly, feedback matters.

Yelp is a combination of online word-of-mouth and a local business directory. You’re privy to what your customers are saying about you, and the feedback is there to help you improve your product, service and overall customer experience.

In the book Hug Your Haters, Jay Baer writes, “It’s not the one-star reviewers who close the business. It’s the people who walk away saying ‘I wouldn’t go back, but don’t ever tell those people,’ for the one-star reviewer who loves you enough will tell you why they hate you.”

Eighty-eight percent of consumers trust an online review as much as they trust a peer-to-peer recommendation. That means, about 9 out of 10 consumers trust what they read online as much as what their friend is telling them.

Heard of the 1-9-90 principle? This has been around as long as user-generated content has existed, and what it means is that if you have 100 people who visit a page, 90 people will go to that page and view the content, nine will modify and only one will actually take the time to create a new Wikipedia page.

If one person takes the time to actually write a review, 90 people probably thought the exact same thing but haven’t taken the time to actually give you that feedback.

With this in mind, engage with the reviewer with a personalized message and be appreciative of his or her feedback. Be humble, acknowledge the comment and make changes, if any, that are relevant and necessary to your business. Let the comments happen organically — you never want to solicit reviews.

Did you now 53 percent of customers expect a response? That’s almost six out of 10 reviews! If this person is giving you feedback and information that could help enhance your business, aren’t they doing you a favor?

In addition to feedback response, here are additional tips to perfect your Yelp page.

Add up to three Categories that make the most sense for your business.
A lot of times, business owners want to add themselves to every category under the sun, but you want to set the right expectations for your customers. Don’t overpromise and under-deliver – that’s where bad reviews come from.

Use the Specialty section to talk about your unique value proposition.
What makes your shop better than the one down the street? Don’t just copy and paste from the ‘About Us’ section. Rather, make sure you’re putting what helps you put your best foot forward with your current and future customers.

Take the time to write about your origin story in the History section.
History is what makes your local business great. If you’ve been in business for 30 years, make sure you’re reflecting that in your history description. If they’re on a site like Yelp, it’s likely that they care about shopping local, not at a big box store, and helping you create even more history for your business.

Make a Business Recommendation.
Use this opportunity to recommend a few other local businesses that share the same values with you. It speaks a lot about you, as a business owner, if you’re willing to show support for other shops in the community. If you have other locations, this is also a great way to cross promote those venues.

Lastly, optimize your listing with photos.
Photos are incredibly important for a Yelp page. A business with up to five reviews and at least 10 photos get 200 percent more traffic on their page than a business with a similar number of reviews and no photos. If you don’t have a professional photographer to help you with this, check out this Yelp photo guide to do it yourself.

So, what’s the secret to having a great presence on Yelp? Great customer service is the backbone of a great reputation online and offline. You can’t fake a great reputation.

Translate your in-person customer service online by responding to and engaging with your reviewers. At the end of the day, word of mouth will always be your most powerful marketing tool.