Yelp Optimization Guide: 10 Steps to Yelp Domination

You know why reviews are important to local businesses, but how do you work it?

Key Factors in Yelp Ranking Algorithm:

  • Reviews
  • Completeness of profile
  • Age of profile
  • Authority of website


1. Fill out business information completely

Preferential ranking treatment is given to businesses with complete information, plus customers tend to trust businesses more when information is available about the business as well as the owners and staff.  Additionally, complete information helps immensely with user experience and creates less work for the business owner by answering common questions from customers (a pet peeve of mine is when businesses don’t list their hours of operation).

Also important is to regularly update your business profile when anything changes. Posting inaccurate information will result in negative customer experiences, negative reviews, rankings penalties, and possibly even de-listing if the offenses are great enough.

2. Categories

Every business can pick up to 3 categories to describe their business. Here is a list of all available categories:

  • Advertising
  • Allergists
  • Archery
  • Auto Parts & Supplies
  • Career Counseling
  • Carpet Installation
  • Check Cashing/Pay-day Loans
  • Cheesesteaks
  • Climbing
  • Cosmetic Dentists
  • Departments of Motor Vehicles
  • Disc Golf
  • Discount Store
  • Educational Services
  • Electronics Repair
  • Endodontists
  • Eyelash Service
  • Fertility
  • Festivals
  • Financial Advising
  • Fishing
  • Flight Instruction
  • Food Delivery Services
  • Gerontologists
  • Go Karts
  • Handyman
  • Heating & Air Conditioning/HVAC
  • Home Health Care
  • Home Staging
  • Home Theatre Installation
  • Horseback Riding
  • Hot Tub 
  • Junk Removal and Hauling
  • Knitting Supplies
  • Landscape Architects
  • Laser Eye Surgery/Lasik
  • Life Coach
  • Marketing
  • Medical Spas
  • Office Cleaning
  • Oil Change Stations
  • Osteopathic Physicians
  • Periodontists
  • Peruvian
  • Police Departments
  • Pool Cleaners
  • Private Investigation
  • Private Tutors
  • Proctologists
  • Public Relations
  • Recycling Center
  • Roofing
  • RV Rental
  • Security Systems
  • Skydiving
  • Solar Installation
  • Soup
  • Swimming Lessons/Schools
  • Swimwear
  • Tai Chi
  • Tapas/Small Plates
  • Tattoo Removal
  • Television Service Providers
  • Tree Services
  • Vacation Rental Agents
  • Video/Film Production
  • Videographers
  • Window Washing
  • Windows Installation
  • Windshield Installation & Repair

The best strategy for this is to look at competitor profiles to see which categories they picked. The process is very similar to selecting categories for Google local, with the main difference being that you cannot create custom categories. It is advisable to pick as many categories as your business can reasonably fit into, but don’t use categories that don’t apply just to reach the maximum three. Irrelevant categories hurt rankings and can even result in nasty reviews.

3. Keywords

Include keywords from your website’s SEO strategy throughout your profile, particularly in the business information, history, and owner/employee profiles (you have an SEO strategy, right?). If possible, subtly suggest to customers to include keywords in reviews, as well as mention specific products/services.

4. Reviews

Review Bubbles
Yelp explicitly tells you not to ask people for reviews, but most businesses do it anyway. Just whatever you do, don’t post anything on your yelp profile or website offering incentives for writing reviews. Good ways to encourage reviews are including yelp badges on your website (which link to your yelp profile), or mentioning in the site content how much people love your business on yelp (with a profile link of course). Also including yelp logos on business cards or putting yelp stickers on windows help. The key is to be subtle; nobody likes to be pestered into writing a review.

Review weighting is based primarily on who wrote the review. Reviews from active yelp users are weighted more than those from less active users. Even a negative review from a very active yelp user can push a business to the top of the search page (obviously a positive review from said user is infinitely more beneficial, both in rankings and reputation).

5. Respond strategically to reviews, both negative and positive

Positive:  It is advisable to respond to positive feedback for a few reasons. First off, it strengthens the relationship with an already satisfied customer and increases the odds that they will bring repeat business. The suggested course of action is to send them a brief private response thanking them.  It is not advisable to use this as an opportunity to pitch to them. It is also advisable to friend them as well as check the boxes underneath their review (useful, funny, cool) to help the review stay out of the Yelp filter (more on this below).

Constructive criticism:  It is important to be careful when responding to these types of reviews. If the customer is suggesting you handle an aspect of your business in a different way that does not make sense to you, the suggested response is to publicly respond to them and explain why you handle things the way you do, but thank them for their input. It is important to remember that this type of customer may bring repeat business if you respond positively to them.

Merited attack:  This is the most dangerous kind of review to respond to, and requires a great deal of care. Responding to this is similar to responding to constructive criticism, in that you want to publicly respond to them, keep a very positive tone, and most importantly apologize for their bad experience (assuming that it is a legitimate complaint, if not then follow instructions for unmerited attacks). At all costs, you must not attack them, as this is likely to provoke further attacks from them and may quickly spiral out of control (Yelp users are notoriously verbose).

Unmerited attacks (trolling):  It is generally advisable to ignore these kinds of negative reviews. The general goal of this type of behavior is to lure you into an image-damaging dialogue, which is a no-win scenario. These kinds of reviews are commonly posted by rival businesses or marketing firms in an effort to siphon off customers. One dead giveaway is that these reviews will often praise a competitor. You cannot force the removal of non-legitimate reviews, but you can and should flag them, which increases the chance that the review will be filtered.

6. Managing the infamous Yelp review filter

The Yelp filter is the source of many people’s wraith, and from personal experience with it, I agree that it is often infuriating. According to Yelp, the purpose of the filter is to weed out fake and low quality reviews, which is an admirable goal, and important for maintaining the quality of their site. However, in practice what often happens is that businesses will have all of their glowing reviews filtered out, leaving only negative ones, hurting their rankings and reputation. There are even lawsuits occurring regarding the filter.

Anyway, you can exert a degree of influence over which reviews get filtered by following some steps. To keep positive reviews from being filtered, the business owner should send a friend request to the customer who left it, and check the boxes underneath the review (useful, funny, cool). For negative reviews, all you can do is flag the review. It is possible to contact the user that left it and ask them to take it down, but this rarely works. However, if the directions for responding to negative reviews are followed and a positive dialogue is established with the user, then it may be possible to get them to take it down, but it is not advisable to bring this up early in the dialogue.

7. Make regular announcements and special offers

It is very advantageous to make regular offers and announcements, as they will show up in an offers directory for your city, which is placed prominently on the homepage of the site. They also appear in internal searches as well as occasionally in Google organic searches if your business is ranked high enough. Make sure to include keywords prominently. It is also rumored that making regular announcements boosts rankings.

8. Use Yelp badges on your business website

As mentioned above, this is a great way to encourage reviews. Also, it gives good link juice to your site, as yelp has very high domain authority. Put Yelp badges on every page of your site.

9. Don’t use yelp advertising

Yelp Optimization Guide: 10 Steps to Yelp Domination
It’s very expensive, requires a long commitment, has very poor tracking capabilities, and doesn’t offer many advantages over regular free listings. This may improve in the future, as they are getting awful press and even lawsuits over it.

10. Enlist the help of a Yelp expert

After reading all of this, you may be thinking that it’s a lot of work to be successful on Yelp, and you are right.  If you are short on time (and what small business owner isn’t?), it makes sense to enlist the help of a small business marketing company to optimize and manage your Yelp presence. If you decide to go that route, use the information in this guide as a litmus test to screen for a qualified firm. Unfortunately, there are tons of unethical and unqualified companies that would love to take your money.


For reviews, do not solely rely on Yelp for your business. Write down the top places you get the most exposure that allows for reviews.  This may include Google, Facebook, Clutch and other websites that are important for your industry.  Why should you pay attention to this right now?  Approximately 88% of consumers trust online reviews as if it were a personal recommendation from a friend.  They crazy part is, this stat keeps climbing and climbing as people spend more time online.  Your reputation is not to be taken lightly either. This is real dollars for your business which can lead to massive amounts of sales.  Sales is the lifeblood of your business and the more raving fans you can get to become your spokes people, the more lives you can impact.


Do you use Yelp? Has it helped your business? What do you like or dislike about Yelp?

Author: Rahul Alim
Custom Creatives was established to serve as your full-service one-stop Digital Marketing Company, offering graphic design, web design and web development agency, catering to businesses of all sizes. Custom Creatives has designed and deployed over 100,000 banner ads, as well as thousands of websites and landing pages and print collateral for small businesses and large international corporations. Providing exceptional quality services and products with a high return on investment is at the heart of everything we do.


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