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Help with Yelp for Hotels

The burgeoning review site is no longer just about food. Here’s what you need to know to get your hotel to shine in this space.

Thursday, June 09, 2011
Daniel Edward Craig
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As a follow-up to our how to optimize your TripAdvisor listing article , this week I discuss how to use Yelp to promote your business and strengthen your online reputation.

A combined social networking, user review and local search site, Yelp offers a hybrid of features similar to sites like TripAdvisor, Yahoo! Local, Google Places, Qype, foursquare and Gowalla.

Like other review sites, not all content on Yelp is user-generated. Businesses can add property details and descriptions, advertise special offers and respond to reviews. A well-managed Yelp listing reinforces and adds value to member reviews, enhances visibility on search engines and drives visitors to your business both online and offline. Yet most hotels haven’t taken the time to optimize their listings, despite some having hundreds of user reviews.

Many of last week’s suggestions are applicable to all types of social media listings, but Yelp calls for a bit of a different approach. For insight I met with Crystal Henrickson, Yelp’s Vancouver-based Director of Marketing.

A local search engine powered by the community
Headquartered in San Francisco, Yelp was launched in 2004 by Jeremy Stoppelman and Russel Simmons with the mission to “help people find great local businesses like dentists, hair stylists and mechanics.” Today, the site carries 18 million reviews of a broad range of businesses, hosts up to 50 million unique visitors per month and operates in the US, Canada, the UK and several European countries.

“Yelp members are a tight-knit community of urban explorers,” says Henrickson. “We have all types, from punk-rock deejays to lawyers and doctors.” Most Yelpers fall into the 25 – 49 age category and use Yelp to find recommendations on places to eat, shop, stay and socialize in the community they’re in. There’s frequent interaction and competition among members, and reviews can be rated as useful, cool or funny, which makes for some colorful commentary.

Unlock your listing
“We love it when businesses get involved in the community,” says Henrickson. “By claiming your listing, businesses unlock a host of free tools that allow you to add descriptions and describe services, track visitor activity on your page, respond to reviews and create special offers.”

Once you’ve claimed your listing, update Business Details and contact information—Yelp allows you to list your address, phone number and a direct link to your website free of charge. Then complete the About this Business section, which is divided into Specialties, History and Meet the Manager/Owner. Yelp is an informal, chatty environment, so keep descriptions light and conversational. The Meet the Manager section is a great way to show a face and personality behind your business—see examples below.

Next add photos and descriptive captions. Then complete the Announcement section with a special offer or relevant news, and add a tracking code to keep tabs on conversions. Update this section frequently to keep things fresh.

There are also several paid options to enhance your listing and increase exposure, such as adding a video or photo slideshow to your page or paying for sponsored search ads or display ads on related pages.

People on the go
Yelp offers a range of mobile features to attract walk-in traffic and last-minute business, which can be particularly appealing to restaurants, lounges and retail shops. Like with other mobile social applications, users can “check in” to a business, earn incentives and rewards and share their location with friends.

With Monocle, an augmented reality feature, users can point their smart phone into the street and see nearby businesses projected onto a street map with links to reviews. Instant Personalization puts the reviews and activities of Facebook friends front and center in searches when members connect their Yelp and Facebook profiles.

Set up a personal profile to explore these features and try a few check-ins, then tailor your offers to attract new guests and reward repeat guests.

Don’t ask, don’t tell
Unlike other review sites, Yelp discourages businesses from asking customers to write reviews. As explained in the Support Center, “most business owners are only going to solicit reviews from their happy customers, not the unhappy ones. Over time, these self-selected reviews create intrinsic bias in the business listing.” Solicited reviews risk getting sidelined by Yelp's automated review filter, making them viewable only via a hard-to-find link from the main listing page.

“We want reviews to happen organically,” explains Henrickson. She says not to worry if you don’t have any reviews yet—you’ll still be picked up in searches. If you want to encourage reviews, she recommends posting a “Find us on Yelp” badge on your website or displaying reviews and signage on property.

Keeping it real
Business owners can respond to reviews publicly or send a private message, but first you must upload a photo of yourself. “This keeps it personal and real,” Henrickson explains.

Henrickson recommends responding in private to negative reviews, “much like you would take a customer aside to discuss a complaint in person”. If you’re angry, “Step away from the computer. Give yourself time to cool off or you risk making things worse.” She understands that bad reviews can sting, but says they’re a reality of the social media world. “We can’t please all of the people all of the time. We need to develop a thicker skin.” She points out that most Yelp reviews are positive, with 83% giving a rating of three stars or higher.

If a review contains false information, Yelp recommends contacting the reviewer directly or posting a public response. Yelp prefers not to arbitrate disputes and says it will only remove a review if it violates Content Guidelines.

Currently Yelp doesn’t offer review alerts, so to keep track of new reviews use Google Alerts, visit your page often or subscribe to a social media monitoring tool.

Host an Elite event
Yelpers who are particularly active and helpful can be nominated to become Elite members, and their reviews may be viewed as more influential. Hosting an event for Elite Squad members can be a great way to showcase your business. Recent events hosted by Yew at the Four Seasons Hotel generated 41 reviews (a separate listing is created for Elite events.)

Not many hotels are fully optimizing their Yelp listings, but here are examples of select parts that are done well:
  • Kimpton hotels in general do a good job of optimizing listings with descriptions, Meet the Manager section, photos, special offers and cross-promotion of sister properties.
  • Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale: review responses, exclusive offer, property description and manager profile
  • St. Regis Hotel in Vancouver: property description, special offer
  • Atlantica Hotel in Halifax: “stay local” message, note from manager
  • The Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City: cross-promotes affiliated businesses
  • Hotel Max in Seattle: photos, exclusive offer
  • The Maxwell Hotel in Seattle: description, manager intro, photos, exclusive offer
For more information visit Yelp’s Blog for Business Owners. Also, check out this entertaining and insightful post on the New York Times’ You’re the Boss blog about coping with a bad review.

Daniel Craig    Daniel Edward Craig
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Daniel Edward Craig is a former general manager turned hotel and travel industry consultant specializing in social media strategy and reputation management. He is the author of three novels, a popular blog, and various articles about the hotel industry, as well as The Hoteliers’ Guide to Online Reputation Management. Visit www.danieledwardcraig.com
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