To Yelp or not to Yelp? Words both famous and clichéd, but nonetheless entirely applicable. Started as an online review channel seven years ago in San Francisco, Yelp now ranks 36th in United States traffic, and has seen its share of global internet page views increase by 75% over the past twelve months. The website distinguishes itself from the strictly travel-focused likes of TripAdvisor, Orbitz and Travelocity by serving up a local flair - think restaurants, bars, stores and spas, not just hotels.
Due to this key difference, Yelp doesn't just attract the vacation savvy crowd, but caters a more eclectic demographic including locals, avid shoppers, gourmands and bar hoppers. With nearly a decade's worth of accumulated listings and reviews, the site is now a leading third-party reference hub, so let's take a further look.
For starters, Yelp can do wonders for your SEO if you maintain up-to-date business descriptions, website links and photos. Plus, you can monetize your involvement through special offers, announcements, pay-per-click ads and group buying services. It's these sorts of low-cost, easy-to-run promotional tools that can increase your presence amongst the emergent class of Yelp users and possibly generate a few new leads.
By far the most powerful facet is its reviews. Using similar tactics to what you might use for TripAdvisor, receptive and cooperative responses can go miles to reaffirm participants and build goodwill amongst potential customers surfing the digital landscape. Moreover, Yelp is another outlet to gather constructive feedback, and due to its key demographic contrasts from other online travel sites, you're bound to get a different scope of opinions about your operations.
I wouldn't recommend this system for everyone, however. A big problem is that the reviews are skewed towards those places with an already outstanding track record and posters don't seem to be as lenient as on TripAdvisor. So let's face it; if you manage a 1-star or 2-star property, your reviews won't be all that phenomenal, and Yelp will only serve to highlight this mediocrity. Additionally, with other third-party sites like Hipmunk starting to incorporate Yelp reviews into their search aggregates, it's a further disincentive for hotels with low overall scores. This is not an insult to Hipmunk though.
Another issue is the uncertainty over Yelp's upcoming rate of adoption. By trying to appeal to every business in every city, they have in many ways failed to captivate any single group of influencers. It's like spreading too little butter over too much bread. The efforts you put into Yelp may not return on your time investment because the audience is too small and not growing.
Thirdly, I would caution against putting a ‘Review Badge' on your property's website. Demonstrating credibility to your consumers through positive testimonials on Yelp is in itself a great idea. But why would you want to navigate traffic away from your website, especially to a third-party domain which also lists the competition?
Make no mistake though, despite these potential drawbacks, I nonetheless believe that Yelp is poised to take off, albeit slower than projected. The benefits of attracting a new set of customers, enhancing your SEO and having another outlet for constructive criticism are too significant to ignore. The website should be considered as yet another critical aspect of your social media platform.
What I'd suggest is that you hit the ground running and join Yelp sooner rather than later. This affords you the time necessary to get acclimatized with the site's nuances and to amass positive reviews before the competition does the same. Last of note, Yelp allows users to write reviews for places not yet officially registered, so people might already be talking about your hotel without you knowing. All the more reason to sign up!
(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published in ehotelier.com on August 2, 2011)