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

*** UPDATE ***

So my 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. Learn more about “Growth Hacking” and how you can use it to take control of your own branding and marketing (and not get swindled by Yelp) by picking up a copy of my book (co-authored with my business partner), “Growth Hacking: Silicon Valley’s Best Kept Secret” on Amazon.

Growth Hacking on Amazon

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

  1. Vic Levinson

    This was an expensive error that I wish I could tell every business owner I come into contact with about. If I could rate the experience on Yelp, I would give it zero stars. The ad budget that I gave- $450 PER MONTH did not result in ANY increase in business or increase in web traffic to my site. Additionally, $75 additional dollars for an enhanced listing did not improve any incremental traffic to our site. I am now over $1000 in expenses – WITH NO SALES ATTRIBUTABLE TO YELP. (This has been verified via my Google Analytics and Webmaster tools. The Yelp explanation on the sign up page should say “WE WILL BILL THIS AMOUNT MONTHLY NO MATTER WHAT” regarding the monthly budgeted amount- and if Google works differently in the CPC, then Yelp should have made it abundantly clear. If this was coming from a customer of mine regarding my business, this would have appeared on my business’s public review where any potential client could see it. Is there anywhere where I can review YELP! on YELP! so that other businesses could see my displeasure and maybe avoid a $1000 waste of money? Is there anywhere on YELP! where I could lambast Yelp and create pressure for a refund/resolution – the way that Yelp encourages other clients to do to their advertisers? When I called the advertising line to complain, I was told by the representative that I should have used the Managed Advertising Campaign- but that since there was nothing for him to help me with and he transferred me over to another department.The representative in that department, who was very nice and professional, told me that my only recourse is to provide feedback was to send an email. I am frustrated and angry with them. It would be interesting to look on Yelp for an attorney that does class action on contingency…

  2. Jason Parsons

    I had my 7th and 8th call from a Yelp Representative today and was feeling the squeeze. I have been in business for years and don’t think not advertising on Yelp will hurt me as much as advertising with them. We have just had the 2 best years of our 21 year history and we are on the 2nd page of Yelp with 8 businesses ahead of us that are out of business. Sometimes small business owners just need a little advice from an impartial source, in order to make an informed decision.

    I am posting a picture on the Yelp page and will take advantage of all the free stuff……..but after this article I will continue to do what I do best……take care of my customers and continue to let the WOM (word of mouth) advertising work its wonders.

    Thanks, Raymond

    A dollar saved,

    Jason Parsons

  3. Chester

    Oh this was soooooo helpful! Thank you so much! I have been in “the dance” with a pretty helpful guy from Yelp for about 3 days now. He’s answered all of my questions, sent me price lists, listing sites that would resemble mine, the works! I was pretty convinced in all honesty. The kicker was that in my industry, in my area, I was already the top result, so why buy more? The key is asking the right questions, which many of the ones I was asking weren’t. Yeah, the ad guy was VERY SMOOTH…we’re supposed to close the deal tomorrow. But I kept saying I needed more time to research and get a better picture. It was then I felt the “sales squeeze.” “What’s preventing you from completing right now? We both agree that this can help your business dramatically!” The more I said “Tomorrow,” the more frustrated he seemed to get.

    Thanks Ray for this post! It was worth doing the extra research!

  4. Rauf Novruzov

    Hi Raymond. I wish I have red all this before I started my yelp advertising. I’m a licensed low voltage installer in West Hollywood. So after a some back and forth phone calls with yelp sales person I signed 3 month contract with $475 plus $50 incentive from yelp, $525 total. It started Dec.15, 2016. So far, more than month and half passed, I received about 7 (seven) calls total. I pick up 3 (three) out of these 7. It is a rip-off. I didn’t make anything close to what i’m paying for the ad.

  5. Michael YourTechie

    Sadly Yelp is a terrible scam. I did there 6 month $325 lowest possible deal to “just try them out” as a safe trial. First month zero responses but somehow I had click throughs from my website which I did not register from my end on my website. I’m a Tech Service and we run our own website and monitor all data from the internet to our website. No customer from Yelp clicked our links. Then they used my max cap and I asked them how they priced my per click. I was told it fluctuates based on the market and in my market it was $18 per click! But what they did was take my cap budget and divide by the clicks to give me that number. The next month was lower clicks and guess what? Max cap was billed and of course, my clicks cost $25 each this time! Hahahaha

    I have canceled and paid their ridiculous $325 early fee so I can back out of that scam! I will be letting an attorney review this issue for misrepresentation.

    1. Vic Levinson

      Same thing happened to me!!!!!!! Exactly the same. Please post what your attorney says. I will be asking mine as well. I think that there may be enough victims for a class action!

  6. Shayna C

    Wish I researched more ahead of time!! Just advertised for 3 months with yelp, spent the most I’ve ever spent on advertising and got the least return I ever got with an ad- NOTHING. Then they tried to tell me some crap that it takes a lot of time to have the leads turn into actual paying customers. Now I have to spend $700 on their crazy cancelation fee. SO ANGRY. Wish I did more research beforehand. I would have been better off taking all that money and printing postcards to mail out or go door to door

  7. Jay

    I had a terrible experience with Yelp Advertising. The salesman got me pumped on the phone by telling me how great my new business is and for $75/month it will be even better. He even told me I could cancel at anytime. I mistakenly signed the agreement without going over all the details. (Yes, I know this is my fault) What I actually got was $350 per month for 4 months and I only received 6 phone calls over that time period that originated from Yelp, none of which were from my local area code. They continued to charge me $350 per month for the next two months after I cancelled, and then charged me another $700 for early termination. My business received no value from Yelp after we decided to use there ad services. Don’t make same mistake I did. Good Luck

  8. Paul Episcopo

    It’s unfortunately sad that companies like “Yelp” exist to take advantage and basically steal from small businesses just trying to make it. Since I can only speak to my business and we are a service company. I would tell you not to have any part of Yelp. If your not making it in your business they are not going to help in anyway. I’m really starting to think if your an honest person your end up living in a van down by the river.

      1. Vic Levinson

        We were recently charged $475 for two months of Yelp advertising and we received 6 referrals to our site from Yelp based on Google Analytics. I called to complain and cancel. They told me that there was no way that they would give me even a partial refund. I said that if a business on Yelp behaved towards their clients the way they (Yelp) behave towards me, they would be full of negative reviews. Interesting that you can’t review Yelp on Yelp! I would be interested in seeing if there are enough other businesses out there that have been scammed by Yelp advertising and if there is currently a class action in the works. I am also interested to see if my complaint to them will result in them downgrading my rating…

  9. Stephanie Corbin

    Thank Raymond, for this article! I so wish we would have seen it sooner…to think, I usually always search “customer reviews of ______” before we purchase anything, but this time we got so suckered!
    Our first ever advertising, since our business was founded in 1953, and it went to their hidden ballooning of “price per clicks go up, as more people click on your ads! Like the laws of supply and demand”, rep said. I said “usually the law of supply and demand is that the customer is demanding, yet there is a shortage of product, driving up the price. There is no shortage of our service, and we haven’t received one call! How do you call them ‘contacts’, when they aren’t actually making contact??”
    I see you didn’t mention the ballooning price per click in your article? Maybe it is a new tactic? They told us the maximum would be ______, and yet it faaar exceeded that price! Grr

    1. christine

      I just opened a business and listed us on Yelp. Within a week someone called me to discuss advertising. I thought, wow this is great stuff, how awesome that someone from YELP! cares enough about my biz!

      I kid you not, but it was yesterday after a handyman that I hired via Yelp, told us how he had a solid 4 star rating until he told Yelp to back off with their calls and emails asking him to set up advertisting and then all of a sudden someone reviewed his services with a 1 star review. The handyman didn’t even remember serving this person, which goes to show you that Yelp most likely did this.
      Thank you, Ray for the words of wisdom.
      I will rethink this marketing strategy when Facebook/Instagram has been serving me well, so far!

  10. John O'Brien

    I was burnt on Yelp as well paid them over $2000 and got not one call. Then cancelled their service and was charged and additional $700. Worst advertising choice of my life. Would never recommend them to anyone at any cost. Total ripoff


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