Laptop open to a screen showing Yelp's custom location targeting feature.
To give businesses more control over where their ads appear, Yelp added a keyword-boosting feature in addition to its already existing keyword-blocking feature. — Yelp

Why it matters:

  • With the numbers of new business openings returning to pre-pandemic levels, competition for customers has become more intense.
  • Business openings rose by 8% in 2021, with nightlife, hotel and travel, and beauty and local services seeing the highest growth, according to Yelp.
  • Being able to target the customers most likely to buy has become increasingly important as business advertising has expanded to include new social and search platforms.

Small business owners told Yelp they needed better ways to steer ads to customers seeking specific goods and services.

Yelp responded with a new advertising feature, keyword boosting, that allows businesses to target their ad spending around specific search engine words.

For example, a restaurant could select “Sunday brunch” or “catering” as optimized keywords, to boost impressions among customers seeking those options. It also can use existing keyword-blocking tools on Yelp to further fine-tune the impact of ads.

Keyword blocking allows a business to block search words that don't match the service they offer. For example, a restaurant that is too small for weddings or parties could block the phrases "wedding venue" or "party venue" so that it doesn’t pay for ad clicks by customers looking for large event spaces.

[Read: Move Over, DTC: Direct-to-Marketplace Strategies Are the Next Big Opportunity for Small Businesses]

Optimizing keywords like ‘Sunday brunch’ or ‘catering’ too woo consumers seeking those options

Businesses pay Yelp based on how many people click on ads, making it important for those ads to connect with consumers who are most likely to become paying customers.

“We had heard from business owners that they wanted more control over where their ads appear, which inspired our team to create keyword boosting,” Kathy Le, group product manager of Yelp, told CO—.

While keyword blocking has been available on the platform since 2020, Yelp added keyword boosting this year.

We had heard from business owners that they wanted more control over where their ads appear, which inspired our team to create keyword boosting.

Kathy Le, group product manager, Yelp

Previously, Yelp assigned search engine keywords by default, based on business categories. Businesses still see those default words when creating ads, but can customize which words are optimized or blocked.

The keyword boosting rollout “represents our continued dedication to help local businesses succeed in what’s proven to be an unpredictable landscape,” Le said.

“We recognize that no two businesses are the same, which is why it’s important that business owners have the ability to tailor their advertising,” she said.

[Read: 5 Key Consumer Trends that Spell Opportunity for Businesses in 2022]

Helping small businesses message consumers and target them by location

Yelp is adding this feature at a time when new business openings are starting to return to pre-pandemic levels.

In 2021, business openings on Yelp increased by 8% to 559,715, Yelp reported in January 2022. New nightlife listings were up 26%, hotel and travel businesses were up 23%, beauty listings were up 14% and restaurants and food openings were up 10%.

Search firms Google and Yahoo, and social media platforms Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok are competing aggressively with Yelp to win the advertising dollar of small businesses. All of those companies have announced small business advertising initiatives during the pandemic.

Yelp, which was founded in 2004 in San Francisco as a business directory and online review site, was able to establish itself early on as a go-to place to seek out reviews of restaurants and service providers.

It had collected 224 million reviews as of December 2020 and has 5.4 million verified active business listings. It had a monthly average of 535,000 paying advertisers as of October 2021, according to Yelp reports.

In addition to the keyword boosting feature, Yelp announced it was expanding a tool that lets businesses target specific geographic locations where their ads appear. That tool, Custom Location Targeting, which was previously offered only to home and local services business, now is available to all businesses featured on Yelp.

Yelp also announced that it was providing businesses with more data to drive their ad budgeting decisions and adding new templates that make it easier for businesses to post messages for customers with the Yelp Connect communication tool.

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