This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.
For local small businesses, Yelp isn’t just an option — it’s a necessity. People in urban centers use it to choose where to go to dinner, where to buy clothes, and where to be entertained. Users decide where and how to spend their money using Yelp, so if your business is local, you need to curate your Yelp page.
If your business has been around long, you probably already have a page; you’re just not holding the reins yet. You’ll want to step in and take control of it as soon as possible, because using it correctly can bring you new business and prevent any negative word of mouth from hindering your growth and success.
Claiming or creating your Yelp business page is easy; just fill out a couple of online forms and answer a quick, automated phone call. It takes less than five minutes. Once you’re signed up, you’ll have access to tools that will help you engage your customers and spread the word about what you’re offering to the community. Here are a few basic tips for successfully leveraging the tools Yelp offers you for the benefit of your local business.
1. Fill Out Your Business Info Completely
Customers refer to Yelp business pages to learn about a business before going out to visit in person. If the information on the Yelp page is incomplete, they’re likely to move on to a competitor that provides more details simply because they’ll better know what to expect and are less likely to be surprised, be disappointed or have their time wasted.
The administration page for business owners offers a slew of fields and choices for sharing information to make it easy for users to know exactly what to expect. If you provide the information they’re looking for, they’re more likely to become reliable, paying customers. So fill out as much information as you can, and keep it up to date.
2. Respond Constructively to Customer Reviews
Last Spring, Yelp gave business owners the ability to respond to negative reviews, either to privately make apologies to reviewers or publicly correct misinformation. Don’t skimp on using this feature because you’re afraid of making things worse; it can turn a bad situation around. Dissatisfied customers will often give you a second look if you communicate to them that you value their input and are making changes to improve your business.
Yelp published an easy-to-use guide to constructive user review responses on its website. It includes examples of how not to respond to user reviews and how best to. Some of the tips are obvious, but some of them aren’t. They’re worth a look, as is my colleague Josh Catone’s recent post, “How to Deal with Negative Feedback in Social Media.”
3. Make Offers and Announcements Regularly
Yelp allows you to share special offers and announcements not just with the people who visit your page, but with members of the larger community who might not even know about your business. When you create an offer or announcement on Yelp, it appears in the offers and announcements directory for your city. People who have never heard of your business will see them there. They’ll even find you in search results.
The more of these offers and announcements you make, the more likely it will be that Yelp users will discover your business, so come up with creative ways to draw people in, then share the news.
4. Display Yelp Badges on Your Website or Blog
Yelp provides badges that you can embed on your business’s website or blog that show that you’re on Yelp and engaged with your community. They’ll even tell visitors how many positive reviews you’ve had.
These badges give potential customers the impression that you have existing satisfied customers vouching for you, so they’ll be more likely to trust you with their business. The badges also act as links between your Yelp page and your other online outreach efforts. People can click a badge to read reviews or get more information. If a satisfied customer visits your site or blog, the badge might lead that person to leave his or her own positive review.
Is Advertising on Yelp Worth it?
You may also choose to advertise on Yelp. It costs between $300 and $1,000 per month — it’s kind of like a premium account — but there’s a chance that you’ll increase your exposure if you opt in, because you’ll appear at the top of the list when users perform a search related to your business.
There are a few other benefits as well. For example, you’ll be able to feature one good review of your choosing at the top of the list on your business page. You still can’t edit, move or delete other reviews, though.
It’s difficult to measure exactly how much these premium benefits will help you; it depends on a number of factors unique to your business and your city.
More business resources from Mashable:
– HOW TO: Make Your Small Business Geolocation-Ready
– Web Entrepreneurship: Does the City You Live in Matter?
– Google Buzz: 5 Opportunities for Small Businesses
– 4 Elements of a Successful Business Web Presence
– HOW TO: Implement a Social Media Business Strategy
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, LisaInGlasses
Tags: business, geo-location, List, Lists, MARKETING, small business, social media, social networks, yelp