Yelp is the online reviewing platform that enables users to comment on major brands, medium-size businesses, and tiny local companies. This website carries a huge amount of weight--90 percent of people surveyed said that they base their buying decisions on Yelp reviews.

Yelp has changed the landscape of small business. This article will detail five of the ways Yelp has changed small business forever.

1. The people rule.

Yelp has become so influential that businesses have actually had to take Yelp into account just as they do social media. The website topseos.com, which rates SEO companies, revealed that social media e-commerce has emerged, and part of that includes Yelp because of its community-centric feel.

The problem in this scenario is that if a small business finding its feet annoys a few customers, it could end up with horrifically low ratings. This could decrease the company's traffic before it manages to get off the ground.

However, it also means small businesses can't afford to do anything other than their best by customers.

2. The impartial review.

Reviews for businesses and websites have always existed. The problem has been that it was near impossible to tell what was genuine and what wasn't. People simply didn't believe the client testimonials placed on the average business website. This made them practically useless.

However, Yelp is a completely separate and impartial platform. It has no outside interests. For the first time, small businesses have those genuine, believable testimonials. More and more small businesses will be asking happy customers to leave reviews on here.

The website CrowdReviews.com released a statement that said, "Impartial reviews are a rare commodity these days. Acquiring them on a reliable platform can bring a great many rewards for small businesses."

3. Asking for forgiveness.

Previously, a small business may have simply accepted the criticism and moved on. With the importance of reviews growing, the obligation is now on the small business to react in the right way. In other words, it has to show that it is doing its best to rectify the problem.

Yelp provides an opportunity for businesses to face the customers they have left dissatisfied. Small businesses have had to set aside more time and resources for dealing with unhappy customers.

This should be seen as a part of any reputation-management campaign. Now a threat of a bad, unanswered Yelp review will be as bad as a customer simply refusing to do business with you again.

4. Getting discovered.

Before Yelp, the landscape of SEO was very different. The only way you could get ranked online and be discovered was to be in Google's good graces. Since Yelp has generated such a high level of popularity, more and more customers are directing their SEO efforts toward Yelp instead of Google.

In addition, since Yelp is a far more targeted platform, as it's dedicated to the business sphere, you may well have more SEO success here.

The only issue you may have is in competing against small businesses paying for fake reviews. Like on Amazon and practically every social media network, this has become a problem. Yelp has acted, but it's also led to many legitimate reviews becoming caught in the crossfire.

This shouldn't deter you from going out of your way to acquire reviews and driving traffic to Yelp. Soon every small-business website will have a link to Yelp.

5. Yelp equals money.

Everyone knows that purchasing decisions are based on what other people are saying about a product or business. Look at the industry that has grown up around Amazon reviews, with all the attempts at writing fake reviews and the recent lawsuits. The same importance can be placed on Yelp reviews.

Yelp really does lead to money, and small businesses will soon see this as an essential marketing platform. How much money can be attributed to Yelp is another matter entirely, though, and it won't become immediately clear how much of an influence it has for some time.

Last word.

The growth of Yelp should make you take notice, but it shouldn't become the be-all-and-end-all of your activities. A great core product and solid customer service are still the two most important things you can have as part of your company.

How will you address the need to focus on Yelp today?

Published on: Feb 12, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.