What businesses need to know about the Yelp Elite program

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For the past three years, I’ve been a member of one of the most exclusive, most important, most powerful groups on the internet: The Yelp Elite Squad. We’re very important.


Seriously though. I am a Yelp Elite, and despite the name and “South Park” episode dedicated to us, we’re a pretty normal group of abnormally active Yelp users. If you aren’t familiar with what the program is all about, Yelp describes it as:

Our way of recognizing people who are active in the Yelp community and role models on and off the site. Elite-worthiness is based on a number of things, including well-written reviews, high quality tips, a detailed personal profile, an active voting and complimenting record, and a history of playing well with others.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about how this group and Yelp as a whole work, and a lot of that information is beneficial to business owners, managers and marketers. So let’s dive in!

Status doesn’t come easy

Getting the Elite designation involves being very active on the Yelp community. A person striving for Elite will probably need to write at least 40 high-quality reviews per year, add a good number of friends and actively interact with other Yelpers. That is a serious time commitment, and there is no guarantee that you’ll actually get the Elite title.

Once a person thinks they are Elite material, they then need to be nominated (or nominate themselves).


At that point, a living, breathing Yelp employee will audit their reviews and profile to see if they are up to snuff. If they are, they will be notified, and the little Elite badge will be placed by their name across the site.

But, Elite isn’t for life. You’ll need to be re-nominated and re-reviewed each and every year to maintain Elite status. So Elite members have to stay on top of their game to keep their status.

We work so hard for this, and yet…

Nobody cares about our status in real life; use that

We want people to care. I want people to care. But most of my friends and people I talk to in general have no idea what Yelp Elite is. So deflating.

Local businesses can feed our ego’s need for recognition by inviting us to come by their establishment and buttering us up with phrases like, “We are really interested in the feedback that someone with your background and experience has.” Don’t offer up any discounts or specials for leaving a review; that is against Yelp’s guidelines.

But do make us feel important, butter us up a bit, and invite us in, and there is a good chance you’ll get a nice review.

Be careful who you invite

Before you go messaging every local Elite to come visit your establishment, do a little due diligence. First and foremost, have a great product and even better service; otherwise doing well on Yelp is an impossibility. Assuming you have that, here is my favorite process for finding friendly local Elites who might come and leave a positive review:

1. On Yelp, find a variety of businesses nearby. Find some that are extremely close to you in proximity, and then find others that are very similar to you in terms of service/product offered. Open up all of those.

2. Sort each by “Elites” using the sort menu at the top of the review list.


3. Open each Elite user you find in a new browser tab.

4. Review each Elite user’s location to make sure they are indeed local (e.g., if they just visited from out of town, it probably isn’t worth messaging them).

5. Review each Elite user’s reviews to assess if you think they’d have a good experience at your business. In particular, use the charts in the right sidebar. The first chart shows their rating distribution — ideally, you’ll invite people whose reviews tend to skew positive, like this:


Click the “View more graphs” link under this chart for two more useful graphs. You’ll see the following charts, which will help you analyze where and what they review most frequently:


Armed with this knowledge, you can really make sure that this Elite you are inviting over is likely to give you a good review if he or she has a good experience.

Monthly Elite parties buy you goodwill

The Yelp Elite Squad likes to party, so if you have a business that can host a fun get-together, it could be a great opportunity for you.


To get the conversation about hosting an event going, you’ll want to message your local Yelp community manager. You can find a link to them in the sidebar of this page. They organize all of the parties and know a ton of Yelpers, so building a relationship with them is a smart idea even if you can’t host parties.

Additionally, you could get some attention in your local area by posting and participating in the Yelp forums. For example, if you have a restaurant in NYC, you could chime in on this thread inviting them to have their first meetup at your establishment.

If you do get on the schedule, make sure you roll out the red carpet for the Elites. Remember, nobody really cares about their status IRL, so if you treat them as VIPs, they will love you.

Elite reviews don’t get filtered

I’m intrigued by the Yelp filter. Some would say obsessed. I’ve written about how fluid the filter (aka “not recommend reviews”) is and also how new reviews can avoid it. So naturally, when I became interested in becoming Elite, I wanted to see if an Elite’s reviews ever go into the filter.

I’ve dug through the filtered reviews of many, many businesses and have yet to find a filtered review from an Elite member.

I can’t say definitively, but there are two possibilities: 1. Yelp Elite reviewer’s reviews cannot be filtered; or 2. Yelp Elite reviewers are so active on Yelp that their reviews likely wouldn’t go into the filter even if they didn’t have Elite status (simply because they hit all of the trust signals that Yelp’s recommendation algorithm looks for). The whole causation, correlation thing.

We’re keeping a close eye on Google’s Local Guides program

For a little over a year, Google has had a program in place to encourage people to leave reviews on Google. Part of this program is something like Elite, but instead of having the status or not, every reviewer in the Local Guides program gets a level. Here are the five levels and what you get for each:


“I’m a Level 5 Google Local Guide” isn’t anywhere close to being as cool as saying, “I’m a Yelp Elite,” but if you care about reviews, it makes sense to know this program inside and out. So get started leaving some reviews on Google and understanding how their platform works.

Go forth

I always, always say to get active on a platform before you go and start marketing on it. I wrote a guide for marketing on Reddit, and rule No. 1 was to become a Redditor before doing anything else.

The same thing applies here with Yelp: Before you do anything, get active on the platform and try to really understand the mindset of a Yelp reviewer. Once you do that, start exploring and interacting with reviewers, and then put some of these practices for engaging with Yelp Elites into place. Good luck!

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Brian Patterson is partner and co-founder of Go Fish Digital, and is responsible for researching and developing strategies for Online Reputation Management (ORM), SEO, and managing web development projects. He blogs on the GFD blog and can be found on Twitter@brianspatterson.


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