Yelp SEO: Why Yelp Matters for Your Local Business (Even if You Hate Yelp)

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Yelp matters, a lot for SEO!  Now, first of all, let’s get one thing clear.  I don’t “love” Yelp, and I don’t “hate” Yelp.  Yelp is a fact.  Yelp is important for marketers of any local business (e.g., plumbers, watch repair, lawyers, CPAs, etc.), especially in “blue” states such as California, New York, Washington state, etc.  Not so much in “red” states like Texas or Florida, but it’s coming up fast. In this video, I want to explain

  • What Yelp is (at a basic level) / this video.
  • Why Yelp matters for SEO / this video.
  • How to SEO / optimize your Yelp listing (a subsequent video).

These are quick tips; not everything – just some basic ideas and facts for your average small business marketer.  Let’s get started!

Watch the Video on ‘Why Yelp Matters’

Or watch the Why Yelp Matters video on YouTube!

What is Yelp?

Yelp, in case you didn’t know, is probably the largest local review / social media site after Google+ Local.  Users (called Yelpers) can review local businesses like plumbers, restaurants, massage therapists, even doctors or attorneys, and these local businesses have listings on Yelp. Business can’t decide whether to be “on” Yelp or “not.”  You’re probably already “on” Yelp (whether you like it or not).  Go 1st Amendment! Yelp comes from YELlow Pages (get it?  Yelp = Yellow Pages), and really it aims to replace the Yellow pages as a place that consumers go to find local businesses and write reviews.  You can check Yelp out at and even become a “Yelper” yourself.  (You can review my Yelp profile, here).

Please note, business owners: your business can be listed on Yelp whether you like it or not.  Businesses “exist” on Yelp regardless of how you feel about Yelp, and users use Yelp to review and learn about your business whether or not you are playing the Yelp game.  Yelp is a fact of life (like it or not).

Why Does Yelp Matter for SEO?

SEO is the art and science of getting to the top of search engines (namely Google and Bing), and in this endeavor, Yelp matters – A LOT. How so?  Let me count (and show you) the ways.

  1. Yelp listings often show up directly on Google search pages.  For example, try some of these very generic searches on Google – watch repair, massage therapist, plumbers in Manhattan, and many others.  Basically take some of your local businesses (plumbers, dentists, garage door repair, massage therapists, hypnotherapists, pest control companies and on and on and on), and often you will see Yelp listings at the top of Google.  So the pattern, for your target customer, may be –
    1. Do a Google search.
    2. Click on a Yelp link at the top of a Google page.
    3. Land on Yelp, and read about businesses.
    4. Call, email, become a prospect, and ultimately a customer.
  2. Yelp heavily influences Bing. If you do searches on Bing for plumbers, dentists, garage door repair, massage therapists, hypnotherapists, pest control companies and on and on and on and of course restaurants… you’ll often see Yelp listings at the top of Bing, with Yelp driving Bing “as if” it were Bing’s preferred local listing service.  For example, try – watch repair NYC, Tulsa Sushi restaurants, and so forth.  So if your customers are using Bing, then they’ll often see Yelp-related local businesses at the top of Bing listings.  Yelp drives Bing local listings, to a great extent.
  3. Yelp matters in and of itself. Especially in “Blue” states like California, New York, or Washington State.  Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, many of us turn FIRST to Yelp to find local businesses. For example, I just had to have some Oleander trees removed (did you know that they are poisonous?) because we have a new puppy, and I used a local business I found through Yelp.  And that’s not to mention restaurants, clubs, and local entertainment – all Yelp’s strong suits.  Try a search on Yelp for something like plumbers, tree removal, massage therapists… and you’ll see that certain businesses “rise to the top,” and that their strong listings and many favorable reviews obviously drive potential customers.  So if your customers use Yelp, you gotta be on Yelp and you gotta SEO / optimize Yelp!
  4. Yelp Influences Google (and Bing) Behind the Scenes.  Local “citations,” meaning references to your business on local listing sites like Yelp, Citysearch, YellowPages, Superpages and the like, are well-known to influence whether your company shows up on Google at all.  So “behind the scenes” – having a strong Yelp listing, with many good reviews… can impact your Google / Bing rank indirectly.  You don’t “see” the Yelp reviews, but behind the scene Yelp is helping you (that rhymes), to rise to the top of Google.

Do you Hate Yelp?

Now, some business owners hate Yelp, and let me tell you why. First and foremost, because (if you do nothing, if you have no Yelp optimization strategy / no Yelp review strategy), the kind of Yelp you’ll end up with is generally negative.  You’ll end up with many (or only) negative reviews (because who reviews you?  The happy customer who got his yummy yummy pizza and went home with his lover.. .or the unhappy customer, who did not like the pizza and got sick an dyour waiter was rude?  The unhappy customers are among the most likely to review you, if you do nothing!).  So – negative reviews.

And because it’s your business, it’s your baby. And it’s “as if” those customers have said: HEY!  YOUR BABY IS UGLY.  So you get mad and you blame Yelp, and you hate Yelp. Got it.

Secondly, Yelp has a really, really pesky and aggressive sales force.  So once you “claim” your business listing, they’ll call (and they’ll call and they’ll call).  You just have to politely tell them that don’t call me, I’ll call you when / if I want to advertise.

Yelp SEO

But… if Yelp does all the things listed above (#1, show at the top of many Google searches, #2, influence Bing, #3 be important in and of itself, and #4 feed into Google and Bing, behind the scenes), you can’t afford to ignore Yelp if you are a local business.  Yelp matters.  LIKE IT OR NOT.  Yelp matters.

As Spock on Star Trek, would say.. Yelp matters logically Captain Kirk, and your emotional reaction to Yelp is… illogical.

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~ Jason McDonald