A Candid Yelp Advertising Review – Is Yelp Ripping People Off?

*** UPDATE ***

So my Growth Hacking agency currently have an unpaid Yelp listing so we can help control the online information about us – we’ve had it for some time and recently, an Yelp representative reached out to us via email.

Yelp email

As you can see… it reeked of carrot-dangling vague generalities salesmanship. For example, “$1200 of Extra Free Yelp Ads” which is meaningless because we have no idea what that $1200 actually does and what those Ads are (reading the Main Post below you can see how misleading this is).

And before that he weakly attempted to build rapport by saying that he “previously gone to school and lived in Los Angeles” and as such… knows the “business climate like the back of [his] hand.

I personally have no idea how going to school and LIVING in Los Angeles would have any bearing on how well you know the business climate. I mean, by that logic, any elementary schooler in the L.A. area would also know the business climate!

And he ended his email with the “assume the sale” tactic by giving me an option between tomorrow or Wednesday (taking away the option to say “NO”).

My response was terse.

Hi, What is this about? We already have a Yelp listing.

And you can see below in his response… he just intensified his salesmanship.

Yelp Salesman Email

He again blew a lot of smoke about a bunch of nothing… “lot of opportunity,” “promotion of $1200 of Extra Free Yelp Ads” (which still explains nothing), “gain exposure,” etc.

Blah blah blah.

And he tried the same “assume the sale” close at the end to get me locked down for a call.

I think he was hoping I’d get swayed by the $1200… little did he know that I knew exactly how absolutely meaningless that $1200 meant in this context.

So I told him straight up,

Go ahead and send me some info so I can decide if it’s something worth us hopping on a call, I’d hate to waste your time or mine.

And several days later, he came back like a dog on a bone…

yelp business advertising solicitation

So the dance continued.

I mirrored his email style and shot back the following response (see if you can pick up the similarities between our two emails)…

yelp response

And this is about the time he called quits because a few days later, he responds with “I will no longer be your point of contact over here at Yelp. You will receive a new rep soon. In the meantime, you can call 877-767-9357 if you have questions. Have a great night.

In the same email, he sends over some nonsense generic Yelp Ads Video and Yelp Advertising information which are nonsense fluff not geared lacking transparency – I want to know the CPC, where my ads will show, how much (quality) impression I can expect, who will be viewing my ads, demographics, etc. But nope… none of that. And unfortunately, this sales rep wasn’t able to help.

With that said… it’s been almost a month and no one else at Yelp has contacted us so maybe they gave up? *shrugs*

All I wanted was to get something in writing so I can hold them accountable but they shied away from accountability.

On a separate note… we had three 5-star reviews removed from our listing.

Deviate Labs review

Now… I can understand Yelp removing the top two reviews – they are from no-face reviewers whose sole review are the ones left for us. But removing Bree G. (3rd review) when there’s a legitimate image, location, 114 friends, AND 6 reviews?? That made no sense.

And of course trust Yelp to leave a 1-star review on our listing by a angry resentful person who was NEVER a customer and even resorted to name calling in his review.


Way to go Yelp.

*** MAIN POST ***

Maybe you know and maybe you don’t… but Yelp (a local search and reviews online service) offers paid advertising for businesses called the “Yelp Sponsorship Program“.


To sum it up, according to the page advertising this opportunity, this Yelp Sponsorship program allows you to:

  1. Put up a slideshow of the images of your business.
  2. Highlight a user’s review that you like the most (as the business owner)
  3. Promote your business as a sponsored search result and on your competitors’ business pages. Target potential clients while they are making decisions about where to spend their money on a business like yours

It sounds all fancy spansy right?  Sounds like you get even MORE control over your business listing which will help “put your best foot forward” and sneak attack your competitors, stealing all their would be clients.

But Stop the Music, Do These Yelp Advertising Features Actually Accomplish Anything?  Or are They Just Fluff Designed to Lure You in so They can Zap You?

Suck Them in & Then ZAP Them!

Before we proceed, I’d like to first state that my experience and knowledge of this Yelp Sponsorship program comes from dealing with them on behalf of one of my clients.  This client signed up with Yelp (despite my warnings – apparently Yelp’s salesman are SMOOOTH) and I got to learn all about this program.

Having said that, that’s only ONE experience which doesn’t make me an expert but it certainly makes me more knowledgeable of this Yelp marketing program than those who’s never experienced it.

Furthermore, in case you are not familiar with how Yelp works, anybody can post a business on Yelp, as long as it falls under one of their categories and is a “fit” per their policies.  And the rightful owner can claim that Yelp page by jumping through some hoops and voila, you have a FREE listing about your business.

FREE Yelp Reviews Page

FREE Yelp Reviews Page

And for comparison’s sake, here’s an example of a PAID Yelp review page:

PAID Yelp Review Page

PAID Yelp Review Page

With that said… let’s examine feature #1.

The “Slide-Show”

Now, granted the larger images and the “slideshow” adds a bit more snazziness to the page but honestly, how big of a difference does it really make?  If you wanted to see pictures, wouldn’t you be inclined to go visit the business’ actual website?

I’d love to see some split test on this…

Favorite Review

As far as feature #2, I suppose this is a good thing, like Yelp for Business Owners says, “put your best foot forward”.  But then they go and shoot themselves in the foot by posting the “Rating Distribution” graph next to it.  This graph, as you can see, shows all the reviews, INCLUDING the negative ones.

As humans, we are so inclined to ask “what’s wrong” that I reckon most wouldn’t take the “favorite reviews” at face value; they’d go and seek the worst reviews to find out why those folks gave bad reviews.

Yelp’s Business Owner’s Sponsorship Program feature #3 is my favorite.

Yelp Advertising… on Others’ Pages

So the idea here is similar to Google AdWords, when someone searches for a term related to your business, your listing shows up (as, “Sponsored Result”) with the hopes that your business gets clicked on.

Here’s the caveat though, Yelp is charging you per impression basis instead of per click basis.  What this means is that whenever your listing shows up in this manner, it counts against your total allotted amount that you paid of (so you are paying “cost per impression”).  If it were click based (cost per click) you would get charged ONLY if your ad gets clicked.

This brings into a few questions, the least of which are:

  • So how much is it per impression?
  • How many impressions can you expect to get (this is of course dependent on the search volume) – bear in mind that this is a LOCAL search and review online system. Which means that you are really throttling the number of impressions your ads will show up because the number of LOCAL folks doing searches related to you business within your area is a tiny tiny fraction of the searches done nationally combined.
  • Are you able to test different the keywords with which your listing shows up (which is costing you money)?
  • Are you able to TRACK the results you are getting on fine details?  I.e. what keywords are converting, when is the best time to show your Yelp sponsored listing, etc.  Basically, questions that any savvy AdWords expert would ask.
  • How much control do you have over this campaign?  After all, you ARE paying for it.

Before I Go On, Let’s Talk About Leakage

What is “leakage“?  Well, in digital marketing term, it means actions taken by your website visitor that doesn’t contribute to your ultimate goal (such as capturing the lead, making the sale, etc.)  This often includes having active links which serve as distractions that take the visitor ELSEWHERE.

Now… take a good look at just about any Yelp review page, do you see leakage? Do you see links everywhere?  But more importantly (and relevantly from a marketing perspective), do you see the box that says, “People Who Viewed This Also Viewed…”?  Do you see how these links tend to be links to direct competition to the business review page you are viewing?

Yelp.com Pay Per Impression is a Friggin’ Joke (& Rip Off You Can Argue)

Okay, so going back to the sample list of questions listed earlier on.  Let’s dig deeper and find out exactly what sort of program Yelp is running (and charging you for).

First of all, here’s the cost for Yelp’s advertising program:

$300/mo – promotes you to 1,500 people in your area looking for a business like yours.
$500/mo – promotes you to 4,000 people in your area looking for a business like yours.
$1000/mo – promotes you to 10,000 people in your area looking for a business like yours.

Blind Mouse TOY

So you are looking at $100 CPM (cost per thousand impressions) to $200 CPM to advertise on their network. In the AdWords world, this is ridiculously high for paying CPM unless you are in some highly competitive and profitable business like real estate and 401k portfolios (oh wait… given the crash of the economy, DOH!).  Even then you are pushing it a bit.  Folks who are paying high CPM on the pay per click networks have thoroughly tested their campaigns, have tracked EVERY single detail, and have all the control in the world.

But on Yelp?  Hellllll no!  You don’t know what your “campaign” looks like let alone have any control over it.  You are like a blind mouse and they are the big bad kitty toying with you.  And yet, they are still charging you an arm and a leg.  And one quick look around Yelp will tell you that most businesses are NOT high-price markets, they are mostly smaller markets like restaurants.

This brings me to my second point of frustration when dealing with these Yelp folks, where’s the proof of these impressions people paid for???  Where are my listings showing up?  And what’s the conversion rate??  Again, they tell you nothing and keep you blind.


Sales Team Who Doesn’t Know Jack and Preys on Toy Mice

Okay, so I had the opportunity to speak to a Yelp representative on the phone on my client’s behalf.  Armed with my knowledge of AdWords, marketing, the works… I came prepared.  Sadly for the person on the other line, that’s more than I can say for her.

I asked about all the things I mentioned before (about click through rates versus impressions, how I can track my campaign, how much control I have, etc.) and she was STUMPED.  She couldn’t understand why we would care about such matters.  As a matter of fact, I’d venture so far as to say she didn’t know JACK about marketing, and yet, she’s representing a team that’s suppose to help us market.

But what REALLY got to me was when I asked her about a 24 hour backout clause, which means that within 24 hours of the start of the campaign, if I am not satisfied with the results I am seeing, I can cancel.  Nope she said… and the reason is because it takes time for the program to ramp up for me to really start seeing results.

EHHH?  It’s the internet we are talking about here right?  I can track clicks fairly easily right?  Hmmm… okay.

So then I went on and asked what is the minimum sign up period, to which she replied, “6 months”.

OMGWTFBBQ, 6 month minimum at $325 a month where you have NO IDEA what’s going on? Thanks but no thanks.

The Proof is in the Pudding – Proof that Yelp Sucked

Against my better judgment, my client went for it anyway, and looking at the chain oDon't Let Yelp Do This to Youf emails he received from Yelp along with how their program is setup, I can sympathize why.

See, Yelp is banking on folks NOT knowing the difference between “impressions” and “clicks”.  They are banking on the fact that businesses will confuse “impressions” with “visitors” – as in, “For $300 a month I can get 1,500 NEW customers every month?  SWEET, sign me up!”  They are banking on folks not knowing how to track their progress and not caring to either.  They are banking on being able to just sweet talk their would be victim on the phone and dazzle them with fluff.

And worse yet, without the clients being able to track the campaign, Yelp is able to get folks to resign, again and again, by giving out meaningless stats.

To give you a perspective of just how much SUCKINESS is in this program, with the aid of Google Analytics and my idea of adding a page that leads people to a printable in-store coupon, we were able to see how the program performed.  Here are the stats, in 2 months time, Yelp drove 64 unique visitors to this special landing page (which again helps us track the comers from our Yelp advertising campaign) and of those 64 visitors, we got 9 customers that we can tell.

This meant 32/1,500 = 2% conversion from visitor to Yelp to the website and 0.3% from impression to actual customer.  Put it another way, my client paid $72.22 for each of those clients – clients who are just diners to his restaurant.

NOTE: We are not even sure if these visits and visitors are a direct result of my client PAYING for this Yelp advertising program, read below to see what I mean.


Look, You Don’t Need to Pay for Yelp, Nor Do You Want To

Don’t get me wrong, Yelp.com is awesome, I use it all the time to get the low down on new restaurants, find a plumber, etc.  But you don’t need to pay to use it!  Business owners can get free Yelp review pages and those rank (from a search engine optimization perspective) just as well as the paid for pages.

This means you’ll get traffic regardless!

Hope this was enlightening for you.  Like I said earlier on, I’ve had only one experience with Yelp and boy was it a horrible one.  I’d love to hear some success stories and some proof that it worked.

Until then, don’t pay Yelp a dime to join in on their “Yelp for Business Owners” program, especially if you are a restaurant owner.

Raymond Fong

If you are looking for real trackable result, I’d like to recommend you take a look at our gowth hacking agency. We help businesses (both startups and traditional businesses) gain more exposure, get more leads, obtain more customers, and ultimately add to their bottom line leveraging the internet.


P.S. You might be interested in this post I wrote as well, “Yelp Strikes Again…

P.P.S. You might enjoy my book on growth hacking, “Growth Hacking: Silicon Valley’s Best Kept Secret”, because it’ll help you grow your business.

Growth Hacking on Amazon

505 thoughts on “A Candid Yelp Advertising Review – Is Yelp Ripping People Off?

  1. Irene A

    I’ve considered Yelp advertising in the past, and was considering it again for this year, so thanks for sharing your experience. When I last spoke with a Yelp rep in 2015, they were selling pay per click advertising instead of pay per impression. I was curious what date you wrote this post? Thank you!

  2. paul vail

    Thanks for your review of this matter with Yelp, made my decision of getting involved with them much easier. Seemed to me an awful lot of hype (generally associated with some one getting a big commision?) And $7 a click? Too much for a one man operation! Keep up the good work.

  3. Totally Anonymous

    YELP algorithms are flawed. They don’t post the real reviews. They post the bad ones to make you think they’re credible. They’re not. They ignore many of the good reviews just to mix it up. No matter how old, no matter how much they lack credibility, and give merchants no real chance to dispute them other than to inadvertently give the bad reviews more attention through replies. I will never advertise with YELP and would strongly recommend neither do you. Unfortunately, I can’t even give my real name for fear of reprisal. How sad is that!

  4. jillian

    Oh wow, okay…I have almost signed up. I thought I was just not being savvy enough and not understanding their jargon. My sales rep said something that made me think that they are deliberately burying my page . I have asked my friends to stalk my yelp page like an ex..hopefully that works. I find it odd that people doing searches for childcare aren’t finding me..”they aren’t seeing your page”..how can they not see it.

    I have a coupon code for 300 up front..but now I’m scared to use it at all.


    1. Ingrid

      Jillian… don’t do it! I just paid $650 plus any additional clicks to cancel our Yelp ad. Think about how you search for stuff… I personally just use Google right? I believe, and I am not tech savvy, that the best thing to do is to get people to give you Google reviews. This seems to be how you show up at the top of a search page. Whatever you decide, do not go with YELP!!!

  5. Jon Nolan

    Class action??? Any interest out there? Or at least perhaps advice on how to avoid a $700 cancel fee on their 12 month contract? Sales person touted 30% conversion (phone call to business vs click on the ad) as industry standard. I followed 100% of account managers recommendations, video, the whole 9 yards and I’ve had 2 phone calls in 2 and a half months, paying 325 per month. For what? Conversion is never guaranteed of course, but “value” have I possibly received from this? Anyone have ANY experience with getting out of some or all of the cancel feel with these shysters?

    1. Wendy Steed

      If you would like to reach out to me, I am a business owner and was just thinking the same thing. Just got off the phone with Yelp.

  6. Cat

    This information is crazy!! I can’t believe how many people have been ripped off with Yelp!!
    I have had phone calls for five years from Yelp. I have been on the first page for years, number five. I am very blessed that I am at that rating for being such a small one person business. So how is Yelp going to help me anyway when I’m already on the front page I asked the representative.
    I have had friends that have advertised on yelp and tried to get bad reviews removed. Their reviews were horrible, but they were from people that worked at their business 10 years ago. These reviews appeared on the front page of their ad, even 10 years later. So this friend paid 350 a month and got no business from their ads. She was pissed and paid the thousand dollar cancellation fee. The yelp campaign did nothing for her business, Just wasted her a lot of money.. Thousands of dollars. So long story short I get calls weekly from Yelp. Yesterday I told her that I was going to call local businesses that have ad campaigns with their company. Very interesting information. This person I called used to be on the 11th page at the Yelp pages, She is paying 5 hundred dollars a month and this has helped her to get exposure she told me, So she is happy with the results. But she told me, if i am on the first page or two it would be a waste of money. This information told me loud and clear that any ad campaign with Yelp would be a waste of my time and money. Oh, I forgot to mention, When I told the representative I was going to call local businesses that do the advertising with them and pick their brains, her response was, “And what do you expect to get from that?” Almost like she knew that I would get some negative feedback about advertising with them.
    The funny thing is, I used to be number five on the front page I have now moved down to eight and sometimes 11. I have been number five for years I don’t know if when you don’t respond to Yelp they just automatically push down? This company should be sued, you don’t need to pay for your ads, it’s a rip off. I guess unless if you’re on page 11 And have money to pay 350+ a month for advertising.

  7. Jon

    I also fell prey to Yelp sales guru who touted 30% conversion from click to sale as “industry average”, not guaranteed of course. Even fine tuning key words, no problem with impressions and clicks, but no phone calls? I get calls all day long from google searches and organic listings on other pages. So people will bother to go to yelp, then type in key words and location, presented with ads, click on it, and not call? “Client Management” is a joke. So I keep calling the sales person back and she won’t return my calls. Has anyone else had failed results after being pulled in with empty promises? Anyone know how else to post complaints on them? Or better yet, get out of their iron clad 12 month agreement without a $700 penalty?

  8. Alyssa spencer

    Much like you I enjoyed toying with the Yelp rep ‘Kellie’ who called me on my cell phone & began speaking with me like she was my friend. Told me she was in my center right now & that she was at the animal hospital in my plaza & was thinking of me?! In fact she sounded so convincing I thought for a hot sec ‘WTF.. which freaking Kellie do I know that would be calling me.., ‘ Despite her Jedi mind screw attempt to fool me I called her out on it & decided to fuck with her the way she was attempting to fuck with me. Told her to stop on in NOW because without seeing something in wringing there was no way I would commit & that I preferred to meet live. Silence then scrambling and stammering she said she actually could not meet now but we could talk by phone next week. I refused a phone sale & told her to meet me live or no chance. She committed to a meeting which she of course never showed up for. I have course proceeded to leave her a voicemail after voicemail on her cell phone harassing her the way she had attempted to harass me. ‘KELLIE! I’m waiting for you!i’m super duper excited to hear ALL about your program!! Needless to say, I never heard from her again. They are the original Slim Shady and as a small business owner I will not be fooled.

  9. John

    Yelp took advantage of me. They offered credits but hid fees without returning any value. They helped me set up billing and told me when to close the account to avoid overcharges but then charged me anyway! They said they NEVER reverse charges because the account is “self-service.” They charged $27 per click plus a $75 account fee. I totally got fleeced.

    I was a Yelp Elite for 5 years. I wrote a bad review of a terrible event and location once and was immediately “suggestively” reprimanded by community organizer. I was also approached on several occasions by review brokers offering money for writing fakes reviews.

  10. Tia

    I’ve been burned with Yelp. I recently was charged $225. I called because I thought that I had accidentally “renewed” advertising with them, because the $300 credit I received I had mistaken as something that is renewed each month. Incorrect. I was upset that I couldn’t get a refund, but that’s not what got me angry.

    I got angry when I heard the Account manager explained that the $225 I paid for was for 1000 impressions and 14 clicks. 14 clicks which ended up being a total cost of something around $21 per click, she explained (apparently I had also gotten some credit, from somewhere).

    I then explained to her how ludicrous it is that I would be paying $21 per click! That’s almost as much as it costs for someone to do business with me. It would be complete nonsense for me to pay that much. I would never have agreed to that.

    I am done with Yelp and also feel I was misled and want some additional explanation. I’m surprised people let them get away with this. I strongly advise very small business owners not to be influenced by their $300 credit which is a joke. They do not warn you when you are about to use it all up. They do not communicate that you are about to be billed. And they do not issue refunds. So this will become a dispute for product not as described which will take time from me, but it’s worth it.


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