By John Eberhard

Yelp (www.yelp.com) is a website where people can go and search for a specific type of business in a certain city. Like all the veterinarians in Des Moines, IA. Yelp also allows users to write a review on businesses they have used.

Yelp is a powerful tool that a local business owner can use to market their business. But there are some important things to know about the way Yelp operates in order to get the best results.

First of all, if you have a local oriented healthcare practice, one that caters to people in one geographical area, and you don’t have a Yelp listing, you need to put one up right away. It’s free and many businesses are getting great results from a free Yelp listing.

Yelp has a paid advertising program, which means you pay a certain amount of money per month and that will guarantee that your listing is at the top a certain number of times per month. No matter how many listings there are in your category and city.

Yelp’s paid advertising program starts at $300 per month, which increases your visibility and the number of people that will see your listing. Many businesses are getting great results with this as well.


One aspect of the Yelp system which is a double edged sword, is their review system. I say double edged sword, because reviews can really help you and they can really hurt you. And Yelp’s system on reviews isn’t really what I would call completely fair.

Consumers can create an account on Yelp, and then they can write reviews on businesses that they have patronized. You can write whatever you want and give the business a rating of one to five stars. You can add “friends” on Yelp, though I am not sure exactly what the benefit is of having friends on Yelp.

So here’s where it gets tricky:

  • First of all Yelp does not allow you to offer anything of value to a customer in exchange for writing a review on Yelp. If they catch you doing this they will suspend your account.
  • If someone writes a review of your business on Yelp, but they are not a “regular Yelp user,” Yelp will automatically and immediately archive that review, not displaying it on your Yelp listing page. It will only be visible if you click on a link at the bottom of the page that says it links to reviews that are “not recommended.” So what does this mean exactly? Although it is not clear exactly what a “regular Yelp user” is, it is apparently related to a) the number of reviews that person has written on Yelp, and b) the number of friends they have on Yelp. So if your customer has only written one review on Yelp (for you) and has no Yelp friends, their review will definitely be archived. So this is tricky because you could go to all the trouble of encouraging someone to write a Yelp review for your business, and it could do you no good whatsoever. An archived review can come out of the archives and then appear on your Yelp listing front page, if your customer later adds more reviews or adds more friends. I would recommend that you advise your customers to write multiple reviews (on yours and other businesses) and add some Yelp friends.
  • It is an unfortunate aspect of our society and the Internet that people can unload a bunch of vitriol on someone or a business, with an online review, without having to confront that person or that business. And they can remain largely anonymous. Recently someone wrote a one-star review on one of my clients on Yelp. I went to that person’s page (you can click on their name) and saw that that person had written a total of five reviews on Yelp, 4 of them one-star reviews, and one a four-star review. Some people are just going to complain and trash anyone they use for anything.
  • Underneath reviews that appear on your main page, there are buttons where a visitor to that page can rate the review as “useful,” “funny,” or “cool.” I used to think that whether or not a review had any votes here for “useful” etc., determined whether or not it was archived, where reviews with votes would not be archived. I now think that the archiving is more based on whether or not the reviewer has written other reviews on Yelp and has friends on Yelp.

My recommended strategy overall is to overcome negative reviews by volume of positive reviews. Just about everyone has at least one negative review, because you can’t please everyone and there are some people who just can’t be pleased.

My advice on how to get the best online review selection on Yelp is to individually ask your happy customers or clients (don’t ask people you think are unhappy) to write a review on Yelp. Also advise them to write several reviews on different businesses they have used, and to add a couple of friends while they are at it. And remember, you can’t offer them anything of value in exchange for writing a review, which you can do on other sites like Google My Business.

I have had some people tell me that Yelp will give special consideration to you if you are a paid advertiser. I have seen no indication that this is the case. I recently brought them several of my clients as paid advertisers, and they were not willing to change their review policy in any way. You can, however, contact Yelp if you feel that a review was false or misleading or written by a competitor (not one of your customers), and they will remove it if they agree with you.

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