Let me just say right up front, I am not a fan of Yelp. Yelp can be very frustrating to business owners because it allows anyone to say anything they want: Yelp doesn't care if the contents of a comment are completely and utterly untrue. Yelp doesn't care if a disgruntled former employee who signed an NDA agreement breaks their agreement by posting (lying) about your business on their site. Yelp, however, will filter comments they deem as suspiciously positive, and hide those comments from view (Scroll to bottom of reviews, and look for a tiny gray link that says "123 filtered"). The result is that the aggregate of posts on Yelp are more negative than the reality of the situation. (Oddly, Yelp only filters comments they deem suspiciously negative on the Yelp about Yelp page, making the aggregate of posts on Yelp about Yelp more positive than the reality of the situation, go figure).
So what's a business to do? Here are a couple of strategies you might want to implement:
Add Yelp into the meta-tags on your site. Purchase a domain with your name and Yelp combined in the domain name. Link that domain to your site. The goal of these tactics are to get your site to appear higher in a Google search result than the actual Yelp page for your business.
While the above tactic may help to reroute traffic away from poor reviews, your real goal is to reduce the number of poor reviews and increase the number of good reviews. Technology can help here too!
Look at it this way: if people had a good experience with your business, then you need a way to capture that and encourage them to yelp about it. If someone had a bad experience with your business, then it is important for you to learn about the bad experience, address it quickly and directly, and hopefully resolve their upset so they don't feel compelled to Yelp about it. A negative experience is a ripe opportunity to show the strength of your company by demonstrating that you know how to redeem the situation.
The process I'm going to recommend requires that you have your customer's e-mail address. Pretend you are a hotel. After the customer's reservation (but on the same day), send them a “how did we do?” e-mail that links them over to a short survey. Give them the opportunity to enter a star rating and comments (a large bright smilie face on the form can help to set the tone!). Ask them for permission to republish their comments. You've done a couple of things here: you head them off at the pass–if they're upset then you allow them to vent to you directly, possibly defusing their emotional need to complain about you on Yelp. They may also defer Yelping for a few days just in case you might decide to get back to them. And those first few days will make a substantial difference as to the emotional tone of their Yelp, if they decide complain at all. Of course, they may refuse to fill out your survey and go rant on Yelp anyway, but at least you did your due diligence by asking them how their visit was.
At this point, if you receive a negative comment, excellent! Someone who does not like you has given you information that you may use to improve your business! You may decide to follow up with them and thank them for their comments and maybe even give them a gift certificate. But make sure that they don't feel like you are badgering them: don't follow-up repeatedly with questions about how can you do better.
So what we've accomplished up to this point is we are now reducing the number of poor reviews (if you turn the situation around it may produce a positive review, but don't expect it). But you can add an extra wrinkle to help increase positive comments.
Remember your survey asks customers to give you a star rating. After they click submit they are brought to a page that thanks them for answering the survey. If a customer gave you a five star rating, provide them with a link over to your Yelp page and encourage them to praise you there. "we're so glad you enjoyed your visit! click the button if you would like to help the us by sharing your experience!"
The email survey process accomplishes a few things: it improves the feedback loop from customers which will help improve the business. It provides a proper outlet for unhappy customers to vent their frustration: better to tell someone who is in a position to make a difference about the matter than to just rant about it ineffectually to the world (did we actually just make our customers more responsible people too??). It captures positive commentary and asks for permission to republish those comments, thereby giving you great customer testimonials that you can use elsewhere. It locates the most favorable customers and nudges them to help you by encourages them to post their comments on Yelp.