Yelp is very much like Google in one way: it's always best to be at or near the top when people are searching for keywords related to your brand.
As with traditional SEO, there's a conscious effort you have to make to give your Yelp business listing a fighting chance to display at the top of the search results. If you pass on that and instead decide to put your Yelp marketing on autopilot, you can expect that you won't be very successful.
Here are a few steps you can take to ensure that you rank at the top of Yelp.
1. Choose the Right Service Category
This should be a no-brainer, but entrepreneurs frequently make the mistake of improperly classifying their business category. Not just on Yelp, but on other platforms as well.
Double-check your entry to ensure that it's listed under the category appropriate to your industry. If it's not, then it won't matter if you have all the right keywords sprinkled throughout your listing. You're going to face an uphill battle when it comes to attracting new business.
2. Make a List of Keywords You Want to Rank For
Once you're certain that you've got your business listed under the right category, it's time to step away from the computer and brainstorm with a few of your associates.
Specifically: you want to come up with a list of keywords that you want to rank for in Yelp.
For example: if you're running an SEO business, you might want to rank not just for "SEO" (a very competitive keyword), but "SEO business," "SEO help," "SEO company," etc.
Grab yourself a whole portfolio of keywords from your brainstorming session and then prioritize the ones that you think will give you the best chance of reeling in new customers. Be sure to keep the other ones handy in case you want to use them at some point in the future.
Pro-tip: Be sure to include one or more longtail keywords. They can turn into gold on Yelp.
3. Update Your Listing With Those Keywords
Now that you've got your list of keywords, it's time to use them throughout your listing. Specifically, focus on including the keywords in your Specialties section.
The Yelp search engine seems to pay particularly close attention to that section. It's in your best interest to make sure that as many of your keywords as possible are placed there.
For example, if you're running a local restaurant, you should use the Specialties section to list all the types of food that you serve at your restaurant. That way, if somebody searches for a particular cuisine, it's much more likely that you'll appear near the top.
As with normal SEO, though, it's important to make everything appear perfectly normal. If you look like you're using keyword stuffing or you're just listing specialties without typing complete sentences, you're probably doing yourself more harm than good.
It's always best to include your keywords in text that reflects a marketing, yet conversational, tone. That way, you'll avoid looking like a spammer.
4. Get Reviews That Include Your Keywords
Here's a trick that will put you ahead of most Yelpists. Acquire positive reviews about your business that includes keywords reflecting your core products or services.
Why? Because that gives your business the added boost of a keyword entry created by a third party. It is true, Yelp actually scans your reviews to look for keywords.
Fortunately, it's not that difficult to get satisfied customers to rate you on Yelp, assuming that they're already members.
Once you have a number of people leaving positive reviews with the same keyword, it will be much more likely that you'll rank at the top of Yelp for that search term. For example, if Ignite Visibility (the company where I am CEO), gets 10 reviews and 5 have the term "marketing agency" in them I will rank higher for the term "marketing agency" in Yelp.
5. Fill out Your Profile Completely
Be sure that your profile is completely filled out.
Like many other platforms (for example, LinkedIn), Yelp strongly favors a complete profile. That's why you should go through every part of it and ensure that it's as complete as possible.
Add photos, videos, directions, full text, address, etc.
6. Unfilter Positive Reviews
Yelp is always on the lookout for fraud. As a result, the system sometimes becomes too clever by half and filters out positive reviews that should be visible.
Usually, those reviews are filtered because the user hasn't completed his or her profile (see Point #5). That's a "trigger" to the system that somebody might be creating a fake review just to boost business.
Here's what you can do: reach out to that reviewer on Yelp, thank the customer for the positive review, and then ask the person to complete the Profile section so the review will be visible to the whole world.
If you have negative reviews on Yelp, it is a good idea to try to address them. Reach out to the person who left the negative review. Offer them something out of the goodness of your heart for their trouble. There is a good chance karma will come around that bad review will either be updated or removed.
Wrapping It Up
If you want to be successful with Yelp, you'll have to make a conscious effort to do so. Take the necessary steps to optimize your listing for specific keywords. Also, solicit reviews that include search terms. Finally, be sure to cover the basics: make sure your profile is complete and your business is properly categorized.