Here are some quick thoughts that could help Yelp improve their SEO.
1. Keyword Strategy: How good (or bad) of a job is Yelp doing?
I begin with a disclaimer: I recognize that keyword tags are not a ranking factor for Google, and may play a small part in Bing’s process. Nevertheless, Yelp’s keyword tags and PPC helped me determine what Yelp wanted to rank for. Here is a sampling:
Yelp, restaurant, dentist, doctor, orthodontist, salon, spa, massage, sushi, pizza, nails, plumbers, bars, coffee
For the keywords above, here is a visual displaying how those words rank on Google. I omitted Bing, Yahoo, and others like Yandex due to lack of time to gather results.
As you can see above, there is room for improvement.
For their (medium) long tail searches, I lucked out with a previous study that had been conducted back in 2012. This previous study allowed me to have a baseline for comparison[i].
The original study used a list of 583 keywords composed of [restaurant + city name] for restaurants in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, New Orleans, New York and San Francisco. You can find a copy of all their keywords here[ii]. These were the results on May 20, 2012:
On July 8th, 2014, I took a sample (100) of the 583 keywords and ran them again. I used 20 [restaurant + city] keywords for each of the following cities: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, New York, and San Francisco.
Since the original study only used Google results, I did as well. My results were:
As you can see, the long tail [restaurant + city] keywords have improved over the years (from 3.3 to 2.831). I know that this presents only a sample of their long tail keywords, but it was all that I could survey in the 6 hour window.[iii].
Overall, there is room for improvement on their keyword rankings, but from an initial analysis – Yelp is doing well with City + Restaurant Keywords.
2. External Links: Backlink Landscape
Based on my preliminary research, Yelp has anywhere between 270,000 Unique referring domains (ahrefs) to 310,000 (majestic). In the graph below, notice the yellow line:
Their backlink profile warrants a closer look due to the two drops in April and the drop in June (more data than I have access to would be required for this closer look). I am generally distrustful of graphs from third parties like Ahrefs, but in any manner, if I were working in-house for Yelp, I’d scan the databases of links to check for the recent drops.
After reviewing the trustworthiness of their links on Moz and Opensite, Yelp’s backlink profile (from a very high level) isn’t too alarming. Again, it would take a few more hours and in house data to get a better sampling.
Their anchor text looks natural (again, from a high perspective), but it would be encouraging to see more of their anchor text branded:
Finally, the following is what Yelp’s backlink distribution profile looks like:
Although this is just a sample of their backlinks (50,000) from Moz, Yelp’s greatest area for growth could be with images. Since many of Yelp’s pages have 1 link or less, Yelp could grow their backlink profile by having the user always input a description (alt tag) on each image they upload. *Currently, there is a “skip” option, or the user can leave the description blank. If a user “skips” the description, the default title of the Yelp page is given as the alt tag, which is not always the best description.
Why force users to give a short description of images? A small handful of Yelp’s links come from high DA sites (Adobe, ABC News, ESPN, PC World, Buzzfeed, etc…) that link to their photos [from my sample, only 1% of backlinks were to images]. Since image galleries on websites provide backlinks, Yelp should make sure that more of their images can be found in image results.
3. Yelp Publisher Markup
Currently, Yelp does not use the Publisher markup:
If Yelp added the markup, they would get a Follow button and potentially, a recently added post.
4. Wrong Meta Description
I understand that the Meta Descriptions are automatically appended for search location, but in my case, I kept getting an error (as you can see below). If you can’t see the image, I changed the city to Boston, went to a Boston page, and still received keywords and a meta description about San Francisco.
5. Better Optimized Images
I am sure Yelp is using an initial compressor to create lossy images, but since they are starting to rely more heavily on images, they should consider reducing their file size even more. I found 20+ images on the homepage that could be compressed even more.
6. Clean Code
I found multiple pages with 20-40 errors per page. Many of the issues are easy fixes: open tags, stray elements, attribute errors, etc… Although these aren’t extremely critical issues, it’s best to clean up as many errors as possible.
7. User Generated Content (UGC) Improvements (SEO Copy)
One of Yelp’s greatest successes is their UGC. If I had to identify two of Yelp’s top ranking factors, it would be their links and their fresh, unique, helpful content.
The only problem with their user generated content: the user doesn’t know SEO. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but Yelp needs to help the user help Yelp.
Here’s an example:
After 5 clicks (not counting login,) I get to the “leave a review” page. Here are some strategies that will help Yelp guide their users to create excellent content (without the users ever knowing SEO):
First, and probably most importantly, Yelp should encourage users to write what they had to eat or drink, what they bought, fixed etc…
Currently, the only prompt the user is given is:
This prompt is not friendly or welcoming, and gives the reviewer little specific instruction.
The reviewer (who, remember, is no SEO expert) is left to write a review without any clear idea of what details to include, etc. Since the user reviews are one of Yelp’s greatest SEO efforts, they should work to guide the user to create better content.
To better help users, Yelp could add a secondary box or overlay text with a more specific prompt. For example: We thank you for your review. Please tell us all about your experience. What you ate, drank, etc [or if the review is for a service – what did you get fixed, etc]…
Now, the user is guided to write about the food as well as the business, or the service as well as the company. Instead of a generic review, the reviewer may write about the “best hot tamale” they had at El Triunfo, and not just a general review, like this example:
Guiding the user to write about the food (or drink or service or product)– as well as the business – can help Yelp rank for many more keywords. Many Yelp users do already include the specifics of the service they received, but this strategy would help guide users who are less detailed oriented. Since most people don’t know the importance of SEO, small tweaks that guide them to quality content could really help.
Second, Yelp should give the users the ability to add a short title to their review. Without knowing it, many users will narrow their scope and use highly competitive words.
Third, Yelp needs to add a minimum word count. Since Yelp doesn’t give users any guidelines on word count, they may tend to leave a short review; this is not the great UGC Yelp is looking for. Even if Yelp does not want to enforce a word count, they could add a “Suggested” word count. (Personally, I was able to leave a review that was only 10 words long.)
Fourth, Yelp needs to add the ability to check spelling. As you can tell from the image above, I intentionally misspelled words in my review. Since not all browsers check spelling, and grammar is supposedly a ranking factor for Bing, Yelp should consider adding some kind of spell check.
Fifth, Yelp should make the default review box larger. At 100 words, the box size has to be increased.
Lastly, once the review has been posted, Yelp could help the user link back:
If the writer of the review clicks “Link to your review,” he or she is taken back to the page with all the reviews.
Yelp could make linking easier by having an embed box where the user can copy a short URL or even have the clipboard load the URL on click. As it stands, the user may forget the action he or she was trying to take, and Yelp lost a backlink.
8. Internal Link Structure: PageRank Sculpting
Based on the internal link structure / click depth, Yelp (PR 7) is sculpting their pages to highlight businesses, cities, and topics.
www.yelp.com/topic/ (Talk / Q&A / Topics)
*Not listed in any particular order.
Yelp sculpts their pages so that Businesses (Brands), Topics (Food, Bars, etc), and Questions that pertain to a city [+ keyword] drive their search traffic. Yelp focuses so much on geo-location that their users have cities listed under their names, each page changes based on the user’s location, etc…
If that’s their plan, they are doing a good job with [city + food] or [business] or even [business + city].
9. Yelp Education
Yelp has educational reviews on their website. They really have not done much with it. If they are truly serious about education, they should push for “college reviews” etc. The .edu link potential could be great.
Currently, many of their educational reviews consist of swim schools, cooking classes, etc… They do have a few colleges listed, but Yelp could make a massive jump in both reviews and links (students would tell of their love or hate for their college).
10. Purchase closely related domain
I am a good speller, but I even mistyped Yelp once (spelled it Yalp). Yalp.com is available for purchase. Also, some accents pronounce, “Yelp” as “Yalp”.
11. Yelp Video Sitemap
On May 21, 2014, Yelp announced that users can now leave video reviews. Whether or not these would be indexed on search engine result pages, Yelp should add a Video sitemap to their site (I could not find a one – not even in their robots.txt).
12. Duplicate Text Check
Since UGC is extremely valuable to Yelp, they should check for duplicate content on each review. I was able to copy someone’s review and paste it as my own. Even if they already have a duplicate content check behind the scenes, they should create an alert that notifies the user that he or she has duplicated content and give him or her the chance to fix it. Otherwise, the user won’t change his/her review, and Yelp is left with a duplicate review they can’t use.
13. Social Sharing Button
Take this idea as a creative brainstorm: Yelp should create a “Yelp This” button that can be featured on social sharing bars.
There are some industries: law, construction, local hardware stores, dentist, etc… that just do not do well on the traditional social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc… Who wants to “like” a lawyer? But, those same people are very likely to review a lawyer.
These industries would make for a great test market. If Yelp would create a social icon “Yelp This”, websites could add their button, and Yelp would get backlinks from the website plus reviews – hitting both of their greatest needs. If the idea is picked up, developers would naturally include Yelp icons into their standard social sharing set – multiplying their backlinks.
They do already have badges that they give away, but a social button could give sharing counts, would be easier to embed, etc…