The power of Yelp: How to overcome the challenges and grow positive reviews

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In my last post, I talked about the importance of generating positive online reviews for your practice, and by positive I mean four-star rankings or higher. In this post I’m going to reveal a powerful strategy that Yelp would prefer you not to know about, but first, a little context.

Building your reputation on Yelp is challenging – but it can be done

Yelp Review Stars

When it comes to online reviews, I tend to focus on the three most popular review platforms – Google, Facebook, and Yelp. The only time I invest energy in one of the outlying sites (e.g. Yellow Pages or Angie’s List) is if I need to mitigate damage caused by a negative review.

Of the three preferred platforms, Yelp is the toughest to break through, followed by Google and then Facebook. I’ve discovered this through experience with my own practice, as well as with the 50 or so practices I consult with each year.

Yelp’s algorithm is known for filtering reviews mercilessly

Yelp typically delists reviews that are posted by new or infrequent Yelp users. Click To Tweet So, if a client of yours leaves a review on Yelp and that’s the only Yelp review he has ever posted, chances are it’ll get delisted and that’s no help to your practice.

Unfortunately, the numbers tend to be stacked against us. For most practices, the percentage of clients that are already active Yelp users is fairly low. Take my practice, for example.

At Tipp City Veterinary Hospital (TCVH), we have several thousand active clients. By my approximation, only 87 of these clients have ever left a review using Yelp, and I don’t mean for my practice; I mean for any business whatsoever. What’s more, only 20 or so have ever left two or more reviews. (How do I know this? Keep reading for that powerful strategy I mentioned earlier.)

If we work on the assumption that Yelp delists most first reviews and assume that our listing odds go up if the reviewer has an established account with at least two existing reviews (still no guarantees but definitely better odds), the target population at TCVH for Yelp reviews is around 1:175. Put another way, only 0.5% of our clients can actually leave us a Yelp review that stands a chance of remaining listed. That’s insane!

TCVH is a suburban practice, almost rural, with a modestly tech-savvy demographic. Imagine how ridiculously low those odds would be for a more rural practice with a potentially less tech-savvy demographic.

How do Yelp odds compare to Google and Facebook?

Let’s use TCVH as an example. At my practice, 29% of clients have Gmail addresses. No wonder Google reviews are easier to get than Yelp reviews. We also have around 1,300 more Facebook fans than we have active clients. No wonder Facebook reviews are easier to get than Yelp and Google. In summary, the odds of getting reviews at my practice are as follows:

 

Yelp Logo

Yelp odds: 1 out of every 175 clients

Google Logo

Google odds: 1 out of every 4 clients

Facebook Logo

Facebook odds: 1.3 fans for every 1 client

 

What’s the solution? For Yelp reviews, focus your energy on the 1 in 175 that use it actively and forget about the 174 in 175 that don’t!

How to learn which of your clients actively use Yelp — a five-step process

As we’ve concluded, Yelp is a tough nut to crack. Getting your clients to leave you their honest feedback is one thing. Getting that feedback to ‘stick’ to your Yelp account is entirely another. That brings us to the juicy part of this post: the strategy that Yelp doesn’t endorse but I highly recommend. Yes, it’s time for some guerilla marketing tactics!

This five-step process will help you identify which clients actively use Yelp and, by extension, which clients you should approach for reviews Click To Tweet if you’re hoping to boost your Yelp reviews.

While not technically complicated, the process will take one to three hours to complete depending on the size of your practice and the percentage of emails you have collected. The more email addresses you have in your PIMS, the more effective this tactic will be.

In the video below, I’ll walk you through the five steps. You can also refer to the detailed written explanation below.

 

How to identify clients actively using Yelp


 

Step 1 – Export your client contact list from your PIMS

Step 1 - Export your client contact list from your PIMS (screenshot)

Using your PIMS, export a list of all of your clients with email addresses to a spreadsheet (.csv format). Make sure that their first name, last name, email address, city, state, and PIMS client number are included columns. If your PIMS doesn’t automatically export in .csv format, use Excel or Google Sheets to convert the spreadsheet to a .csv file. If you don’t know how to export your client contact list from your PIMS, connect with your IT provider or phone a tech-savvy friend.

Note: For the purpose of this exercise, it is important that your list contains no more than 2,000 contacts. If the .csv file you create includes more than 2,000 contacts, break it into separate files. Each file should contain no more than 2,000 clients. Confused? The above video provides a detailed walk-through. Take a look.

Proceed to the next step.

 

Step 2 – Create a throwaway Gmail account and import your contacts

Step 2 - Create a throwaway Gmail account and import your contacts (screenshot)

Create a new Gmail account. Your clients will never see the address, so it doesn’t really matter what name you use. Once this new account is created, navigate to the contacts page. Then open the import contacts interface. Select “CSV or vCard File” as the import type. When prompted, upload the .csv contact list you created in the previous step. If you created more than one file (i.e. multiple subsets) just upload the first for now. Don’t worry – we’ll get to any remaining subsets in Step 4.

Proceed to the next step.

 

Step 3 – Create a throw away Yelp account and link your Gmail contacts

Step 3 - Create a throw away Yelp account and link your Gmail contacts (screenshot)

Create a new Yelp account using the email address you created in the previous step. As part of the onboarding process, Yelp will ask you if you would like to see if any of your friends are using Yelp. Allow Yelp to access your Gmail contacts.

Proceed to the next step.

Step 4 – Review matched contacts and identify active clients

Step 4 - Review matched contacts and identify active clients (screenshot)

Analyzing the contacts imported from Gmail, Yelp will provide you with a list of those clients that have Yelp accounts. The results will include each account holder’s name and city, as well as the number of Yelp reviews they have posted (indicated to the right of their star icon). Your job now is to scroll through the list and identify those contacts that have left two or more Yelp reviews. These are the individuals you’ll want to focus on but first, let’s get organized.

Go back to the spreadsheet you created in Step 1 and add a new column entitled ‘Yelp Reviews.’ Now, cross-reference this spreadsheet with your Yelp list. If the list shows you that a client has left two Yelp reviews, add a ‘2’ to their row in the spreadsheet. If it shows they’ve left nine Yelp reviews, add a ‘9’ to their row. If they don’t show up on the Yelp list at all, you’ll leave that column blank for their row.

Note: Do not click on the red “Send Friend Request” button. We are not trying to become friends with your clients on Yelp. We are just trying to identify which of your clients are active on the platform.

Occasionally, you may find a contact on your Yelp list that matches several of your clients. For example, perhaps you have two clients called John Smith. If this happens, defer to the contact’s city to see which client (or John Smith) is the active Yelp user. If they’re both from the same city and you’re unable to determine who the right match is, skip them altogether.

Once you’re done with this process, you’ll have a sortable list of those clients that have used Yelp, and you’ll be able to see which clients are active users – i.e. those who have left at least two reviews.

If you only created one list in Step 1, you are ready to move to Step 5.

If you created two or more subsets, complete the actions below for each remaining subset (one at a time) using the Gmail and Yelp accounts you’ve already created. (You do not need to create additional accounts!)

  • Navigate back to the contacts you previously uploaded to your Gmail account and delete them all
  • Import your next subset of contacts into Gmail
  • Repeat Steps 3 and 4

Remember to refer to the video for clarity, if needed.

Proceed to the next step.

 

Step 5 – Selectively contact Yelp-savvy clients and ask for honest feedback

Step 5 - Selectively contact Yelp-savvy clients and ask for honest feedback (screenshot)

With your updated spreadsheet in hand, you’re now ready for the final step. It’s time to reach out to your clients – thoughtfully! You’re looking for clients that you know love your practice and always have great things to say about your team – and, most importantly, have left two or more reviews on Yelp in the past. These raving fans are the ones you want to contact.

A quick phone call or short personal letter would be entirely appropriate in this scenario. Keep the message simple. For example: “As a small business it would really help us out if you could provide some honest feedback online.”

I suggest that the staff member or DVM that is closest to the client be the point of contact. Also, just to be extra clear, you’re not asking the client to leave you positive feedback or a 5-star review; you’re asking them to leave honest feedback – a summary of their personal experience at your practice and with your team.

Needless to say, don’t ask clients for an online review if you don’t have a positive relationship with them – no matter how active they are on Yelp!


Boosting your presence on Yelp is one of several reasons to prioritize email address collection and maintenance. I’ll talk about other great ways to employ the power of your email list in a future post. Of course, to get the most out of your email lists, it’s important to keep your practice’s data clean and fresh. VetSuccess has lots of tools and resources designed to help you do just that. Check them out.