As of last month, Yelp has 1.1 million claimed local business profiles -- a 58% increase over Q1 of 2012.

The site, which has 100 million unique visitors every month, is the fastest growing directory and review service on the planet. In other words, it's something you want to be a part of.

Claiming your company on Yelp will help you grow your business and retain existing customers like whoa.

Below is your guide to doing it right.

Step One: Completely Fill Out Your Profile

In the bottom left-hand corner on, you find the "Edit Business Info" link. Once you've claimed your listing, this should be your first stop.

Filling out as much information as possible is critical to gaining professional credibility with your potential customers. Providing a wealth of information upfront will also help you secure the high-quality leads and prospects you're after.

Step Two: Add Pictures

Just as they do on Facebook, people on Yelp love to look at photos. In fact, research has shown that consumers will stay on your page for more than double the time if your listing has pictures. It's an incredible opportunity to stand out and set yourself apart from your competitors.

Have you ever been to a restaurant that highlighted a select few items on their menu with a picture? They've done so to capitalize on the power of visual appeal -- it's influential, captivating, and easier to absorb than writing. The same principle applies on Yelp.

If you want to really make an impression, consider hiring a professional photographer to capture engaging photos that will charm people's socks off.

Step Three: Be Active

That is to say, respond to reviews.

Whether they're positive or negative, business owners must make responding to reviews a habit. Doing so will show people that you care -- a very powerful acknowledgement that could spell the difference between a return customer and a perpetual naysayer.

While responding to reviews isn't a formulaic process, per say, there are guidelines you should follow. For example, every now and again, positive reviews should be acknowledged with your own brand of thanks and appreciation. Negative reviews, however, should always be addressed calmly and tactfully -- regardless of how disrespectful the reviewer may have been. Remember that your retort will be public. Therefore, a levelheaded response (preferably one that offers an explanation for, or a resolution to, the issue) will help you maintain the professionalism customers are paying for.

Step Four: Don't Forget Keywords

Use keywords throughout your listing to optimize on Yelp, just as you would throughout your website copy to optimize on Google. Keywords that are relevant to the products and/or services you offer could also earn you valuable backlinks. Whether they come naturally, or via guest posts and press releases, they're very powerful and shouldn't be ignored.

For more information on the strategies highlighted here, call or email your SEO -- we'd love to have a more in-depth conversation!

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