How To Rank Higher On Yelp: A Guide & Case Study


If you are on this page, you are likely a business owner trying to figure out how to get to the top of Yelp’s ranking. Yelp for most of our local SEO clients is usually the 3rd of 4th best source of referral business (Google Maps is 1st, Google organic is 2nd, Yelp or Facebook is usually 3 or 4). It is definitely a referral channel you should be optimization. The main reason aside from referral traffic is purchase intent. According to the Nielsen report below, 4 out of 5 Yelp users visit the site with the when preparing to spend money.

Purchase Intent on Yelp

How to Rank Higher on Yelp

In this post, I’ll break out 5 simple steps you can implement to take to get your business ranking to the top. I will also provide an example of an optimized page and show real results and compare them to a Yelp Advertising agent.

Step 1: Get a Yelp Business Owner Account

A Yelp Business Owner Account is a must. You need to create a business page and claim your business. Go to and get it done. The yelp business owner account allows you to create your claim your business, update your business profile, see your page traffic and leads, upload photos, and manage customer reviews.

Step 2: Determine the keywords to rank for on Yelp

Knowing what keywords to rank for on Yelp is where the magic comes in. The problem is figuring out what keywords to rank for. There are several sources I would recommend looking at when figuring out what keywords to target:

  • Yelp categories
  • Google search suggestions
  • Keyword explorer suggestions

Looking at Yelp Categories for Keywords

Yelp Business Categories

You can find when editing your Yelp for Business page under business information. Click on business information and click on edit. When you are editing you will see the categories like the picture above. You can only list up to three categories on your business page. The best way to find categories is to look at your competitors to see what they use. If you are not sure what categories to pick, Yelp has the entire list of categories that you can go through yourself here.

Looking at Google Search Suggestions for Keywords

Using Google Search Suggestions for Keyword Targeting

Google has this wonderful tool built into their website that suggests searches based on what you are typing in. It is a great way to pull keywords for targeting for Yelp. Often times, these keywords will have a best of Yelp page for that search term at the top of search. This is why it is so important to rank highly on Yelp.

To take it one step further, you can install a plug-in like keywords anywhere that will tell you the search volume, cost per click, and competition. The best thing about this tool is it’s free :). You can also combine keywords anywhere and google search console to audit your own keyword rankings to see what you can use for your Yelp ranking.

Keywords Anywhere Chrome Plugin

Looking at Keyword Explorer

We are huge fans of Ahrefs. As part of our Local SEO Services, we use keyword explorer to find many primary and long-tail keywords. There is a wonderful tool in Ahrefs called keyword explorer. The tool has the ability to find similar keywords to your primary keyword, look up search suggestions, and do phrase matches. This is our primary way of finding low competition keywords.

Ahrefs Keyword Explorer

I understand that not everyone has the budget for an agency level digital marketing tool, but if you are starting out I would highly suggest either getting a trial and getting the reports you need to start out or finding a freelance gig where you could get the initial reports pulled for you.

Once you have build out your list, it’s time to optimize your Yelp for Business Owners Page

Step 3: Optimize Your Yelp Specialties Section

In the business information section of your Yelp for Business Page, scroll down to the Business Specialties section. This section is the money section where you will enter in your business description and drop in your keywords. See the example below:

Optimizing Yelp Business Specialties Section

Once you have your specialties section filled out, fill out the other sections in your profile. This would include your hours, history, meet the business owner section, and business recommendations. While these are not as powerful as the specialties section, filling these out keeps prospective customers on your page, which will increase their chances of converting.

Step 4: Get Yelp Keyword Targeted Reviews

Keyword targeted reviews are incredibly powerful on Yelp. Yelp will drastically improve your rankings if you have reviews that contain the keywords you are targeting. Not only do the reviews increase your rank, but the keywords show up in bold in the reviews! You can look at this example of our Thai Restaurant search and see that the top ranking restaurant has a review mentioning Thai restaurant

Keyword Targeted Yelp Reviews

The craziest thing about Yelp is that they don’t even care if you have a high review rating. I have seen 3 stars and below business get ranked on Yelp solely on keyword targeting and optimization. This is probably why Yelp tells people reviews do not matter on their ranking algorithm. That’s actually half true!

So how does one get reviews on Yelp? Well you obviously should not pay for them, but you can ASK for one. Look for our customers who love your business, ask them for reviews, and tell them to write about their experience with your (insert keyword). It is seriously as simple as that.

Step 5: An Optimized Yelp Page Rank Result

So how that we have discussed a number of techniques to increase your rank, its time to show you an example of our work. Below is a client we ranked to the top of google search and maps. They were in competition with many larger players in the industries, just like many of you reading this might be with franchises, large firms, and corporations.

Rank Higher on Yelp

SERP Result

Ranking Higher on Yelp


Case Study: Comparing with Paid Yelp Agents

Let’s talk about a case study to bring this all together. I will start with a story. A few weeks back, a Yelp agent contacted one of my clients trying to sell him a Yelp advertising package. Naturally, he was hesitant due to the success we have been having with his page. The agent offered several Yelp services – all with contractual terms and eventually provided him with the following social proof to show what he could do for him:

Yelp Ads Agent Email

Yelp Ads Agent Email 2

There are several items I would like to point out in this e-mail:

  • This is the same niche and location of one of my clients
  • Two years of activity and results are shown from Yelp Ads
  • Views peak around 125+ views
  • Leads peak around 60 leads
  • All traffic and leads are coming from paid Yelp ads

The Yelp agent ends his e-mail stating his client is going to have their best month yet. Looks like a pretty good offer right? Well, let’s see what my client is pulling on only organic results from the steps I have listed in this blog post:

Yelp Ads Results - Views

Yelp Ads Results - Leads

I will quickly summarize my clients graphs below:

  • Client did not open its doors until September 2016
  • We started optimizing Yelp in January 2017
  • Views peak in May at around 120
  • Leads peak in May at over 60
  • All leads are organic

So with a few months of optimization on a Client is less than a year in existence, our results are clearly beating out paid yelp ads running for over a year in not just user views, but in the metric that matters for clients – leads. As you can see, the power of optimizing your Yelp is undeniable

Should I Pay For Yelp Ads?

After seeing results from an Business that use the steps above, you may be wondering why should you even bother with Yelp. While it may seem worthless after seeing the example above, there are some Yelp services that are actually worth it. Well, actually there is only one that I feel that is worth it – The Call to Action page upgrade.

Yes, this little $50 per month upgrade will do wonders for your lead conversion. The call to action can do any of the following and more:

  • Link Directly to an order form, coupon image, or landing page on your website
  • Use a Call Now call to action
  • Setup appointment schedules
  • Print coupons

This is the only upgrade I would recommend once you are achieving solid results. The main reason why I recommend this upgrade is because without it, you are bound to Yelp’s messaging system, which is total crap because you cannot get customer’s contact information unless they directly provide it to you and Yelp rates you on response time. Having the call to action removes the lead barrier for your customer allowing them to take action right away.

Closing Thoughts

I hope these steps will allow you to increase your Yelp rankings and help your business as much as we have helped our clients. Let me know if you have any questions or comments below or if you have any additional tips or results you would like to share. Thanks for reading.

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About the Author Mark

Mark is the founder of Velvet Cloud, an Austin Based digital marketing firm that specializes in SEO, content marketing, press outreach, and targeted advertising for local and on-line businesses. Mark's work has been featured in Single Grain, SEMPO, Huffington Post, TechCo and many more.

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