Review_Site_Advertising_body.jpgBy Jennifer Shaheen.

Yelp and Angie’s List are familiar names to today’s small business owners. The customer reviews collected on these sites can make or break your company, a fact that leaves independent retailers, restaurant owners, and service providers agonizing over how they can boost their ratings—particularly when Yelp actively discourages business owners from soliciting positive reviews.

Yet advertising is one tool available to small business owners to increase their visibility on review sites. It’s important to understand how critical advertising is to a review site’s profitability: Reuters reports that three-quarters of Yelp’s revenue comes from local advertising; for Angie’s List, the number is closer to 70 percent.

Jeremy Stoppelton, the founder of Yelp, insists that reviews on the site are in no way influenced by the fact that his company is almost entirely supported by advertising. In a recent Reddit AMA (an internet discussion forum where users are invited to ask guests anything) Stoppelton said: “There has never been any amount of money you could pay us to manipulate reviews. We do have an algorithm that highlights the most useful and reliable reviews on our site which is about 75 percent of contributed content.”

The benefits of advertising on review sites

Small business owners that advertise on Yelp are offered a range of marketing services, including having targeted ads appear on in-site search results pages; placement of an advertisement on a competitor’s profile page; and the removal of competitor’s ads from your own business’ profile page. Advertisers have more space to display sales collateral materials, including photo galleries, videos, and call to action buttons.

Review_Site_Advertising_PQ.jpg“Businesses that depend on their local communities for their business—service providers, restaurants, home improvement companies, and the like—will  benefit most from advertising on Yelp,” says Roland Lacey, owner of Media Right Technologies, which offers lead generating website design services. “The customers for these services look at the reviews for all the local players before making any decisions about who they’re going to do business with. Advertising gives your company more visibility on the site, and if those ads are well done, you’re increasing the odds that you’re going to get that business.”

On Angie’s List, companies can pay to have their site listing appear higher in search results, although this does not alter the number or nature of the reviews associated with that particular company. If you’ve ever wondered why there’s been a two-star company listed near the top of an Angie’s List search result, it’s because they’ve paid to be there.

Additionally, Angie’s List advertisers can opt to participate in targeted e-mail marketing campaigns, or have their offerings featured in the Angie’s List magazine, which goes out to 775,000 members monthly. Participation in advertising campaigns significantly increases your chances of being seen on the platform; according to Angie’s List own numbers, businesses that purchase a display advertisement have a 12-to-1 advantage in generating profile views from members.

Be ready to offer deep discounts

Business owners who choose to participate in the popular Yelp Deals program need to be ready to trim their profit margins. The most popular Yelp Deals are those that offer significant discounts—often 50 percent or more. These offers may be effective at introducing new customers to your brand, but they’re also appealing to bargain hunters, who may take advantage of the great deal and then never do business with you again.

Update your advertising frequently

“Just like on any other platform, you’ll want to keep your Yelp and Angie’s List advertising fresh, relevant, and appealing to your customers,” Lacey advises. “Over the course of a year, there are many different reasons that your customer may be thinking about your services.  A heating and cooling contractor will want to run different offers, depending on the season.” He recommends using the photo gallery and video advertising options to showcase the full range of your offerings. “Remember that when people are looking at Yelp or other review sites, they’re really in a discovery phase,” he says. “They’re trying to find out everything they can about your business. The more reasons you can give them to do business with you, the better.”