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Yelp – A Necessary Evil for Local SEO

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*Article updated 3/23/22

For the longest time, Yelp was considered by most to be a great app where people could review a local restaurant or find a handyman that was on the up and up. For many businesses that fall outside the core business categories for Yelp, like law firms, there wasn’t much reason to even consider having a free listing on their platform.

Many business owners, including many restaurants, hate Yelp with the fury of a thousand suns because of their sometimes questionable business practices, good reviews that magically disappear into the “not recommended” bucket, and charging for every small upgrade to a business profile. There’s even a movie about it, and they themselves have only a 2 star rating on their own website out of over 12,000 reviews. Reviews, ironically, they don’t respond to against their own advice. However, this is not a hit piece on Yelp; this article will explore why presence on Yelp truly is a necessary evil when it comes to Search Engine Optimization.

Yelp is Not Just a Place to Find a Good Meal

In the world of SEO there are a couple categories for business directories:

  1. Industry/Niche specific – these are the Avvo’s & Justia’s of the legal world,
  2. Business Citations – business directories that display your Name, Address, Phone number (“NAP”) and sometimes your website address.

If you’re a lawyer, you’d want to make sure you’re included in high quality directories that contain consistent & accurate business information about your firm. This helps Google validate who you are, what you do and where you’re located.

Over the last 5 years or so, Yelp has morphed into one of the most critical business citations which disseminates business data to other online sources. The business data & reviews collected by Yelp feeds:

  • Bing & Yahoo
  • Apple Maps
  • Alexa voice search
  • Siri voice search
  • … and a growing list of other software, directories and online services.

Ignoring Yelp means that you are ignoring these and future platforms which are collectively critical to SEO because of the way business information is aggregated.

For instance: DuckDuckGo gets business information from Apple Maps, Apple Maps get business information from Yelp. If you’re not on Yelp, your visibility on DuckDuckGo may be limited.

Not to mention, you’re also ignoring the most visible review platform in the US currently. If you have a profile on Yelp, even with just a few reviews (or maybe even none), there’s nearly a 100% chance your Yelp profile will be on page 1 of Google when someone searches your law firm’s name.

You’re Fighting a Losing Battle

You can choose to abstain from voluntarily setting up a profile on Yelp, but that’s not a guarantee that your business will be absent forever. In its desire to have comprehensive, accurate information about US businesses, a business profile for your law firm could be created on Yelp without your knowledge and with no legal recourse. Here’s how:

  • At some point you may get “aggregated” into the Yelp directory. As business profiles & citations are built on other platforms for your law firm, Yelp will probably, eventually see that you’re a prominent business and may automatically generate a “claimable” listing on the Yelp platform. More info on this from Quora.

  • Anyone, can create a business profile for you and submit a review (source). You have no control over this.

  • Yelp is unofficially a part of the “EAT” portion of Google’s algorithm (at least in relation to receiving and responding to reviews). Purposely trying to stay out of Yelp will possibly (probably) harm your website’s organic & local rankings on Google.

Ignoring Yelp is a Liability for Your Business

Yelp reviewsHere’s a hypothetical situation you might consider:

A client is upset with you for one reason or another and they go to rant on Yelp (insert shocked face). They see that your business does not have a profile, they might create one for you using the link above because they’re pissed and they know the power of Yelp. If Yelp confirms that the business information the User created is accurate, Yelp will publish a “claimable” business listing for you, along with the negative review (Yelp has a legal right to do this and has been sued and prevailed many times – your business is public information). Since you don’t have access to the Yelp listing, you don’t know you have a 1 star review. After a week, a month or a year having a 1 star review, you finally learn of it – probably from an employee, colleague, friend or even a new client.

Since you haven’t claimed the Yelp profile you can’t reply, and you can only verify you own the business using phone call verification. During this time, you can’t respond to the negative review and now you have to: 1) race to claim the Yelp profile, 2) reply to the 1 star review and 3) try to get new 5 star reviews to drown out the bad one. If your firm has moved, if you’ve joined another law firm, changed your phone number or lost access to the previous phone number the profile was created with for any reason during this time, the problem compounds because now you can’t use phone verification to claim the listing and respond to the review.

I only offer this scenario for your consideration because this exact thing has happened to my clients on more than one occasion – we ended up having to claim the profile anyway. This is unfortunately what makes Yelp a necessary evil.

In my opinion, it’s better to take control of the situation before it happens, rather than go into crisis management later on (not to mention sacraficing the SEO benefits it offers). I use Yelp often, but I’m actually not a big fan of them after seeing their processes first hand. But unfortunately, this is something you’ll likely, eventually need to contend with and it’s better to do it sooner rather than later. Additionally, we hear so much negative information about Yelp, sometimes we fail to realize that it’s often a very valuable service that has helped countless small businesses succeed. Additionally, I have had many attorneys tell me that they’ve retained good cases from a free listing or paid advertising on Yelp. If you really are incredibly opposed to participating in Yelp, I would still recommend being present by claiming your profile by setting up your firm name, address, phone number, link to your website and firm description. This will at least provide the SEO benefits to your business and allow you to respond to good and bad reviews, even if you don’t want to use it as a marketing mechanism.

Other Sources Regarding Yelp’s Importance to SEO:

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