Following the launch of Yelp Deals, the service has introduced a new marketing feature for local businesses: gift certificates.

Businesses are now able to sell gift certificates direct to consumers through their Yelp Business Pages. Unlike Deals, which are discounted, gift certificates are full-value cash equivalents.

The company tested this feature earlier this year and found that while Deals are a great way to introduce new customers to your business, gift certificates help turn your existing customers into evangelists.

Deals don’t make great gifts, and is some cases, were priced too low to cover the cost of a full meal or service. Gift certificates, which can be bought for the customer or a friend, encourage word-of-mouth marketing, which is especially beneficial for restaurants.

The timing couldn’t be better for Yelp, which now integrates with Bing Local Search and Apple’s upcoming iOS 6. WIth more eyes on Yelp, Business Pages are valuable pieces of digital real estate. Gift certificates are a great way to encourage more business. By going digital, Yelp has given you one more way to reach and reward your customers.

[Image credit: Robert S. Donovan]