A frequently referenced Harvard Business School study found that independent restaurants experience a boost in revenue by 5 to 9 percent when their Yelp score went up by one full star. This certainly passes the sniff test. Talk to any Yelp users and they'll tell you that lower ratings will turn them off from visiting a local business. In contrast, higher Yelp ratings make them more likely to try out someplace new.

If you're a business owner or restaurant operator, this is good news. We already knew that negative reviews scare new customers away, and now we have evidence proving the opposite is also true—positive reviews attract new customers and have a direct impact on revenue growth. The big question is how do you get more Yelp reviews and make sure those new reviews are positive reviews to drive up your overall Yelp rating? It takes more than simply claiming your Yelp page and hoping for the best. Here are 4 steps to not only get Yelp reviews, but got positive reviews that lead to better profitability.

The DO-NOT-DO list to get Yelp reviews

Before we jump into the 4 steps to improve your Yelp score, let's talk about 3 common strategies you want to avoid.

  • Never pay a third-party company to write reviews for your business. It's dishonest, and in the best-case scenario, a waste of time and money, as Yelp and other social media sites have filters that detect and remove fake reviews.
  • Do not incentivize or reward customers for leaving reviews. Offering incentives to get Yelp reviews violates Yelp's content guidelines and is potentially illegal.
  • Yelp's content guidelines state that you should not directly ask customers to leave reviews. This seems counter-intuitive, but rules are rules, so don't do it. (More on this in Step 3 below.)

Okay, with that nastiness out of the way, on to the good stuff.

1. Make sure you create a great customer experience

Not surprisingly, the #1 factor when it comes to getting positive reviews is creating a great experience for your customers. Your online reputation begins with creating an amazing in-store experience.

For small business owners

If you're a small business owner, make sure that the products or services you sell create value for your customers and are fairly priced. Likewise, your customer service should be friendly and helpful—everything from your checkout experience with a fast, reliable retail POS system to having a clear return policy, and more.

For restaurant operators

If you run a restaurant, same goes. Make sure your food and guest experience hits the spot for your guests. This means not only having a great menu but also having a well-trained staff and a modern restaurant point-of-sale to empower your team to work efficiently.

If you find that a lot of your recent Yelp reviews have low scores, or if you're otherwise getting a lot of critical reviews, take them to heart. Read the negative reviews, look for recurring trends among unhappy customers, and then use that feedback to make operational improvements. If it's helpful, you can also reach out to your loyal customers for their honest feedback.

Review management guide

The bottom line is, you can follow the remaining 3 steps in this guide all day long and still get lousy Yelp reviews if you're not making your customers happy. No way around it.

2. Engage with your customers

Great, so you have an awesome product or service. Now what? Easy. Make sure everyone recognizes it. That means interacting with your customers in person when they visit your business and staying top-of-mind with your customers with strong digital marketing messaging.

Thank your customers for coming in. Suggest a new product they might like. Share photos or videos on social media of happy customers and employees. Send out regular emails with deals and announcements about special events. Marketing software can help streamline this process so you're not spending an inordinate amount of time on digital marketing.

3. Claim your Yelp business page and make it easy for customers to leave positive reviews

Steps 1 and 2 above set the foundation for getting positive reviews, but to get the best results, you need to take matters a step further by making it super easy for customers to leave reviews. You're not allowed to outright ask customers to leave online reviews on Yelp, but you can subtly encourage customers in that direction to gain more reviews.

  • Add official Yelp review badges to your website and Facebook page so customers are only one click away from leaving a review (Note: before you can add an official Yelp badge, you first need to claim your business page)
  • Request a “Find Us On Yelp” window sticker to display at your business and remind customers that reviews are important to your business
  • There aren't any rules against asking for reviews on other sites, such as Google, Facebook, and TripAdvisor, so if you're interacting with a happy customer, feel free to politely ask them to share their positive feedback on one of those sites

4. Treat negative reviews as a form of customer service

The last piece of the puzzle to improving your review ratings is to claim your Yelp page and then respond to all your Yelp reviews. Yes, all of them.

  • First, claim your Yelp page so you can respond to reviews in the first place
  • Next, optimize your Yelp page by adding all your business information to help attract potential customers
  • Thank customers for visiting and writing reviews when they leave a positive review
  • Respond to every negative review and make a point of trying to make it right (read our guide on how to respond to negative reviews here) 
  • Take advantage of automated review management software, which alerts you when you get new reviews and uses a custom algorithm to help improve your overall score across all review sites

Remember, the Harvard study only focused on Yelp, but there are other review sites. In particular, Facebook and Google have a huge share of the review market, so take the same strategies we talked about here and apply them to any major review site where your business has reviews.

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