The "6 Key Factors" necessary to get your Restaurant to the top of the Yelp Rankings for any Desired Search Keyword | Even Marketing - Your Digital Growth Agency


"The Best Kept Secrets to Growing a Brick-and-Mortar using the Internet."

The "6 Key Factors" behind getting a Restaurant to the top of the Yelp Rankings for a Desired Search Keyword.

If you've been frustrated with Yelp thus far, this is how you get the Yelp App to finally work for you.

(Reading Time: 5 minutes)


If you're anything like most restaurant owners/managers out there,  you see the Yelp App as either a blessing or a curse to the food industry. If you're on the right side of the "local review app", you can bask in the all of the benefits that it bestows. If you're on the wrong side of it, however, it can be something that actually hurts your business and drives business away.

I've used the Yelp App since it debuted. I've also been a small business focused digital marketer for years. The reason that I'm writing this article is simple. I want to pull back the curtain and show you how to get exactly what you want out of the Yelp App (more sales via new and repeat customers) by helping you understand how to best use their ranking algorithm to your advantage.

What I'll be covering in this article:

  • Part 1: The "Yelp Ranking Rumor" that you should ignore (Pay-to-Play?).
  • Part 2: How Yelp Works and how it ranks businesses (6 Key Factors).
  • Part 3: How to build a "Yelp Ranking Engine" in your business.
  • Part 4: How to build your own "Yelp Ranking Engine" in 1 week 
    (even if you're super busy).

Let's dive in.

Part 1: The "Yelp Ranking Rumor" that you should ignore. (Do you have to Pay-to-Play to rank high for a Yelp Search?)


One of the most common complaints about Yelp from folks in the Restaurant industry is that Yelp has become a "Pay-to-Play" only application. This means that you have to subscribe your business to their paid "ads" or their "upgraded subscription" to show up anywhere in their rankings.

While it’s true that using either of these paid options makes it easier to show up in Yelp for certain Search terms, it isn't the primary driver for ranking in Yelp. As a matter of fact, most people that use the Yelp App aren't as trusting of the "sponsored" search results and instead they will immediately jump past them in favor of spots that have actual reviews and high star ratings found in their main free listing section.

While it is true that you can show up higher in the Yelp search rankings and eliminate some of the ads that show up on your keyword listing by upgrading your business to a paid subscription, this doesn't necessarily equate to more folks actually coming into your business.

Instead the secret to turning Yelp into actual paying customers lies in understanding how the core Yelp Ranking Algorithm works and how you can take advantage of it for your restaurant.

Let's dig into the Yelp Ranking Algorithm and the most important factors that it takes into account when ranking businesses for specific keyword searches.

Part 2: How Yelp Works and how it ranks businesses (the 6 key factors).


Before you can start taking advantage of how the Yelp Algorithm works to rank your business higher for certain keywords, you need to have a clear understanding of how it works.

Disclaimer: No one outside of a few folks that work at Yelp really know all of the pieces of their ranking algorithm. What we're walking through below is based on our years of experience using Yelp and our results with helping restaurants to rank higher through giving Yelp what it really wants. Please note that there are other factors, but these six are what we’ve found that are the most important to climbing up the Yelp Rankings fast.

The following 6 factors are the most important:

  1. Proximity to Location of the business to the searcher. This is how close a person is to your business when they actually do a keyword search (or how close your location is when they type into the Yelp search box).

  2. How the Business Categorizes themselves in their profile. When you first fill out your Yelp business profile, you’re asked to pick categories that your business fits into. This is an extremely important step that many businesses overlooking when claiming or setting up their business on Yelp.

  3. The Keywords a Business puts in their Business Description. This is another important factor that you can change instantly that will dramatically impact how Yelp sees your business. When filling out your business' description (think about how you fill out the items on your menu when thinking about this section).

  4. The Keywords people mention in their Reviews. Yelp is largely about what your customer say about you. What they say in their reviews is just as important as their star rating. Getting them to mention certain keywords in their reviews is an extremely important part of ranking for those keywords in the future (we have a whole strategy behind getting customers to talk about certain keywords in their reviews).

  5. The total number of Reviews a Business has. But we never ask for reviews on Yelp. That’s because it’s actually against Yelp’s terms of service. What you can do though, is ask people to check into your business. If you do this strategically correctly, they'll check in and review your business as well. Do it really well and they'll leave you a big positive review.

  6. The Velocity of Interactions (How frequently a business gets reviewed/checked into). This is one of the least talked about factors to ranking on Yelp but it's extremely important. It's not enough to get a lot of reviews and checkins. You have to keep getting them on a regular basis to be seen as active and "alive" to Yelp’s Algorithm. The key to this is making sure that we continually nudge our customers into interacting with us on Yelp.

So how do we use the above "6 core factors" to our advantage? Simple. We build a "Yelp Ranking Engine" inside of our Restaurant that helps us take advantage of Yelp’s Algorithm (without breaking their terms of service).

Let's talk about how to build that "Ranking Engine".

Part 3: How to build a "Yelp Ranking Engine" in your business.


Remember, we don't ever want to "Review Gate" or ask our customer for reviews on Yelp directly. We want to instead nudge them in that direction by asking them to "check into" our business on Yelp.

So how do we do that?

We build something that we call our "Yelp Review Engine".

From above, our "Review Engine" looks something like this:

  • Step 1: We build a SMS list of our customers by giving away something small, but valuable, inside of our business. (Please note that we are not giving something away in exchange for a review. Instead we give something away simply so we can contact our customers later on).

  • Step 2: We send them to a specialized optin page while they’re eating at our establishment (via table toppers or in-store flyers). We also send out business cards with our take-out orders with a QR code and link this to the optin page.

  • Step 3: We immediately send them the freebie or discount in exchange for the ability to contact them later. A few hours after their meal and they’ve opted into the page, we then send them a special message reminding them to check in with us on Yelp and letting them know that it helps us to continue to deliver high-quality service and food when they do.

  • Step 4: The “please leave us a review message” that contains many of the keywords we need (this is accomplished via the followup messages we send out).

  • Step 5: As those reviews start to become frequent, we increase our star ratings and our keyword based rankings on Yelp. That increased visibility sends more customers our way and they’ll go through the same "Yelp Ranking Engine" and it all becomes viral quickly.

It all looks a little something like this:


Ok... Now that you understand how we're using technology and a little clever marketing to give Yelp more of what it actually wants (and we're ranking higher and getting more business because of that), let's talk about how to actually build all of that.

Part 4: How to build your own "Yelp Ranking Engine" in 1 week (even if you're super busy).


One of the hardest things that restaurant owners and managers face is having to be a master of everything inside of their business. That includes the marketing a lot of the time as well.

Over the last few years, we've been lucky enough to take the marketing burden off the plate for tons of restaurant owners and managers. If you have any questions about how to build any of the above, you can contact me directly here with questions and I'd be glad to help via email for free (a rising tide raises all ships). If you'd like some help building out your own "Yelp Review Engine" and would like my full attention, we also have a very affordable package for any restaurant to get started (you can sign up for that here).

I hope this article helps you tame the beast that is Yelp.

Feel free to email me any questions you have at

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About the Author

Randall Evenson is a 20+ year Digital Marketing expert and the owner of the Even Marketing - Digital Growth Agency. He specializes helping restaurants grow by leveraging the Internet.