Overview: Yelp is an incredible online community of locals and travelers that have honest opinions about everything. Through user reviews and ratings, you can find a wealth of information on the best and worst places to eat, visit, and do business with from restaurants to dentists. Yelp is a powerful tool with both business and personal applications.

Defined: How did people find anything before the internet? It’s incredible how the internet has made so much information so readily available. With Yelp, you no longer have to ask your coworkers if they know a good mechanic or a romantic place for dinner. All you need to do is type what you’re looking for and where you’d like to find it, Yelp’s millions of active users do the rest.

The majority of reviews on Yelp are for restaurants, but you’ll find information about most any service provider or business. Users can rate nearly anything they want on a scale of 1 to 5 stars and check off a number of useful questions about whatever they might be reviewing to better define the business. You’ll notice most places have pictures, addresses, web links, information about whether they accept credit cards, whether the location is good for groups, smoking or non-smoking, and much more.

For instance, if I’d like to find a place to eat that I’ve never tried before, all I need to do is type in my location and click restaurants to see a list of what other Yelpers in my area have voted best. I can search by type of restaurant, highest rating, distance from a certain location, or by other parameters like price, good for groups, etc. Members can also create lists of reviews they’ve completed like “favorite places to eat in NYC” or “must see attractions in Philly.” You will really be surprised at the number of fascinating things to do, places to eat and more in your own home town. Believe me, I had no idea about the Bosnian restaurant down the street from me or that the Indian place in town was actually really nice inside despite it looking like a dump from the outside.

Yelp is also a very social application, and allows users to create their own profile, add other users to their list of friends, and communicate openly through messaging or in various forums.

Here’s a glimpse at a profile to give you an idea of what it looks like:

Business Applications: Yelp has obvious business ramifications for any organization that receives reviews on the site. If you own a restaurant you are guranteed to have reviews from patrons all over the internet- for better or worse. I think it’s extremely important to monitor what people are saying about your business on the internet, because anymore people are using the internet to screen everything from where they travel to who they call to fix the kitchen sink. Even if your business does not have reviews on Yelp, I would stongly suggest you register your company and monitor your reviews regularly, even encouraging your patrons to leave honest reviews about their experience on Yelp. This way, you have the opportunity to directly address negative commentary and make the necessary changes to improve your business. People will really appreciate and respect that you openly address and correct issues brought up by online critics. Keeping a watchful eye on Yelp and other sites for critiques of your business is essential, especially if you are in retail or the service industry.

Recommendation: Create a Yelp profile, you’ll be glad you did. There are obvious consequences for business owners who do not address negative feedback on the site, and encouraging your customers to post positive reviews on Yelp can really increase your business dramatically with travelers and the growing masses that use the internet for due diligence before making a purchase. Outside of the business applications, Yelp is just an incredible tool to discover great places wherever you go (although it hasn’t grown outside of the US and Canada just yet), and hear first hand the experiences of others through their reviews.