Local SEO is a big deal these days. There’s less competition on a local level than on a national level, which means it’s easier for you to gain rank. You’ll be dealing with local publishers and other local businesses, which means it’s easier to get visibility and gain traction. And you’ll be tied to local searches, which are becoming more popular, so you’ll appear more often for people nearby or locals who are looking for a business like yours.
Most conventional national SEO strategies—like content marketing, social media involvement, and PR—can and should be used to boost a local SEO campaign. However, there’s one more strategy that can seal the deal for your local ranks: getting better reviews on Yelp and other local directories.
This somewhat recently developed benefit is the result of Google’s Pigeon update, which factors in the quantity and quality of reviews posted about businesses on third party platforms. Essentially, if more people give your company great reviews on Yelp, you’ll rise in the ranks higher and faster. There’s only one problem: Yelp’s terms of service make it impossible for you to buy or directly influence the posting of any kind of review, positive or negative.
Yelp’s desire is to become a trusted third party for user reviews. When a user consults Yelp, Yelp wants that consumer to feel assured that the reviews he/she encounters are true, unfiltered, and are motivated by no intentions other than helping other consumers make purchasing decisions. If a company were to pay for good reviews, that trust would be damaged, and that consumer would be unlikely to rely on Yelp in the future.
Therefore, it makes sense that Yelp wants to preserve the unbiased nature of its platform. By outlawing and actively preventing companies from manipulating their user reviews in any way, Yelp maintains a better platform for their consumers.
Your first instinct to getting great reviews may be to ask for them flat-out, or to post some yourself under different aliases. However, I must caution you against this. These practices are in direct violation of Yelp’s terms of service, and if you’re caught using them, you could get yourself permanently banned from the platform. Instead, try one or more of these alternative, yet highly effective strategies.
Post Yelp Information Everywhere
Yelp offers some free swag for businesses—and even more for companies who win certain awards on their platform. You can start out by ordering some stickers and posting them all over your place of business. Typically, these are shipped out quarterly, so you’ll always have more chances to decorate your offices or your materials with Yelp’s logo. The key to getting people to review your company is making them aware that it’s possible to review you; customers who are likely to post reviews on Yelp will see these materials, and should be prompted to take action as a result.
Casually Mention Your Encouragement of Reviews
Yelp’s terms of service forbid you from telling people to post reviews. However, it doesn’t say anything about saying how much you value customer feedback. Reach out to some of your longest-running and most valuable customers and mention to them that you’ve recently included your business on Yelp, and that you’re looking to get more feedback from your existing customers. You can also mention to new customers how much you would value one of their reviews, and encourage them to express their opinions honestly. Never pressure your customers to post reviews, but do feel free to mention your presence and your openness to hear them.
Listen to Your Existing Reviews and Take Action
Yelp allows businesses to log into its platform and take a look at the reviews that are posted by customers. Log in and read these reviews as often as you can, preferably daily. Take a look at the positive reviews and which experiences seem to resonate the most with your customers. Also take a look at the negative reviews and try to learn which areas you can improve upon. Finding and incorporating feedback from your customers will allow you to perfect your business from the ground up. If done regularly, eventually your business will naturally attract much more positive reviews.
As much as you read your own reviews, make a habit of responding to them. You may find that some negative reviews are unfounded; casually respond to these with an explanation. You may also have an opportunity to make up for any mistakes you made to prompt the negative review. Simultaneously, you can thank your positive reviewers by inviting them to come back and explaining how much you care about their feedback. Not only will this encourage your reviewers to become long-term customers, it will also encourage more visitors to become reviewers.
Don’t think of the review portion of your local SEO campaign as a series of tasks, or even as a means of increasing your search rank. Instead, remember the fundamental principle underlying your review cultivation; you want to provide your customers with a great overall experience. As long as you do that, the good reviews will come naturally, and once those reviews start flowing, the rest will come in time. Your customers are the heart of your business, and now they’re at the heart of your SEO campaign.