For some yoga / pilates / fitness studio owners, Yelp is the bane of their existence.

Okay maybe not the bane of their existence but an enormous pain in the arse.

For many of us opting out of Yelp altogether seems like the easiest solution.

The problem is, Yelp is a consumer based review platform first. So opting out isn't officially even an option.

In fact, Yelp's business help page even states:

"Consumers have the right to talk about what they like (and don't like) about a meal they ate, a plumber they hired, or a car wash they visited. We don't remove business listings, so your best bet is to engage with your fans and critics alike, and hear what they have to say."

Combine this with the facts that Yelp is now in over 20 countries worldwide and has over 135 million monthly visitors creating somewhere around 100 million reviews. As a yoga business owner you need to take this juggernaut seriously.

Despite the reports of bullying, extortion, and just plain poor etiquette by small business owners, participation in Yelp has a silver lining.

Although Google reviews still claim the top spot in general consumer confidence, "Yelpers" are generally a more active segment of the population when it comes to reviews. So if you can hack the Yelp system it may really pay out for you.

A 2011 study by Harvard Business School found that each star in a Yelp rating affected businesses sales by 5-9%

In 2012 two economists from Berkeley, Michael Anderson & Jeremy Magruder published findings in the Economic Journal that stated when a restaurant increases their star rating on Yelp by only 1/2 a star they experience on average a 19% increase in bookings during peak hours.

So the bottom line is - Yelp matters to your customers!

But more importantly, as a small business owner, what can - or should - you do about it?

Paid advertising with Yelp does seem to help both your star ratings and find-ability, but the expense may not be an option for you.

The good news is there are some things you can do to help your Yelp ranking and maximize the potential positive impact it can have on your business.

These steps take a little effort and time, but remember that the slight difficulty may actually be even more valuable to you than you realize because your competitors may be too lazy to get this shit done giving you the leg up!

To begin there are 5 things that you need to do with your Yelp page to dial it in:

1. Claim your page and completely fill in your information

Yelp uses key words for its search so having more content not only looks better to the customer but will actually help you appear in their search easier. Don't forget to include photos and video. Incomplete business listing seem to get pushed down.

2. Use key words

A great place for this is in the specialties section of your page as well as the meet the owner section. Be sure to write in a conversational pattern and whenever possible include key words that a potential customer may put into the search bar. Example: yoga classes

3. Reviews

You definitely want reviews and obviously positive ones, so be sure to ask for them!

One important note is that the Yelp proprietary review filter is actively trying to discredit reviews that are fake, so if your reviews look suspicious they may not show up.

This is actually a good thing if you understand what to do about it.

First, you don't want 20 reviews all in one day and then none for a whole month. A trickle of reviews over time will cause less flags.

Second, the reviewers themselves need to look real! This means that if you ask a client who has never used Yelp before to go online, open a profile with just their name, and then immediately write you a 5 star review, it'll get flagged.

One thing you can do when asking for reviews is ask your student if they use Yelp. If so then ask for the review there. If not, ask them for a Google review instead.

4. Reviews with Keywords

This is a tough one but potentially huge!

The words in the actual reviews you receive count towards the keywords that Yelp's search bots look at.

So basically you want your reviews to include key words that people may be searching for too.

If you're a pilates studio and you receive a review that says:

"Josh was great a highly recommend this place"

It won't help with your search. So ask your clients to include specific words and be thorough in their reviews. The improvement would look like this:

"Josh is a great Pilates teacher. As a beginner to Pilates he made my experience enjoyable and welcoming but still a great workout. I highly recommend the classes at Nomad Pilates Studio."

Of course if they're excited to write more, who's to stop them!

5. Address your negative reviews

Finally, be sure to address any negative reviews you receive as fast as possible. I would even recommend reaching out to the person privately to address the situation.

Be sure to make a public response of course, and be sure that it is customized to the review not just a blanket response that you've cooked up.

In the instance of a negative review that you cannot make sense of (like they haven't come into your studio at all) and you have not been able to resolve, a special hack when publicly addressing the review would be to insert doubt. :| Be careful with this one though. You don't want to be defensive or rude, but if you can subtly help the inherent skepticism in online reviews grab hold on your negative reviews it might work to your advantage.

Be sure to check out my episode of #askNBC on Yelp. If you like it give it a share.