*** UPDATE 3 ***
A documentary on Yelp called “Billion Dollar Bully” by Kaylie Milliken of Prost Films was just released (currently on Amazon Video, iTunes, and DVD). I was honored to be interviewed to provide my analysis and assessment of Yelp’s paid advertising program for business owners. I am sure you can guess my recommendation…
*** UPDATE 2 ***
It’s hilarious (and by hilarious I mean sad), to see that 7 of our legitimate reviews are hidden. Some of them were from the get-go but others just magically disappeared into the “not currently recommended” section despite having been allowed to show up on our profile for over a year… Since the last update when we had 3 hidden, we are up by four to now seven that are hidden. *tsk tsk*
And yet, the one bogus scathing review from a “Mindy” whom we never spoke with remains…
P.S. We did not sign up for their Yelp paid advertising non-sense (see previous update below). Hmm, interesting eh?
*** 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.
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.
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…
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)…
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.
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:
- Put up a slideshow of the images of your business.
- Highlight a user’s review that you like the most (as the business owner)
- 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.
And for comparison’s sake, here’s an example of a PAID Yelp review page:
With that said… let’s examine feature #1.
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…
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.
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 of 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.
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.
I was a toy mice. They promised me and only took from me. Forget getting your money back and the service is atrocious…incorrectly named ‘success team’
I wont use them even as a regular consumer either. I should have read this article before I let them in the door.
BEWARE they are sicophants that offer nothing. The highest paid CEOS at YELP receive 500k plus annually. Its a scam of global business especially small fledgling ones.
They really are a special kind of
god complex type bully. A digital god. The oz behind the curtain. Instead of just stealing our lunch money they take a percentage of the lunch ladies/men’s wages to boot. Then send in a complaint or compliment on the weekly quality of freshness. Come to find out..THEY don’t even go to this school!
Getting a refund from them- next to impossible. Getting them to remove an obvious blatant non informative 8 year old post-impossible. Getting them to post a proper logo profile pic-ain’t happening. Getting them to charge my credit card over 1k in two months without my permission?? Definitely something they’ll work on.. I don’t need yelp, I need help!
I will always appreciate a genuine public review forum. It is helpful, informative, and a necessity this day & age. What I don’t appreciate is their complete disregard for merchants. No consumers thoughts to peddle or profits to make from our gains and losses without businesses!
Oh and thanks for the “customer success email” that I’m pretty sure allowed a hack into my iPhone.
I just discovered I’ve been charged nearly $2,000 for Yelp “services” that I didn’t understand I’d been committed to. And of course their “customer service” was no help. As far as I’m concerned, I am the victim of misleading business practices and fraud.
I have the following metrics from Yelp when we signed up to try it out:
Month 1 – 6,000 impressions, 18 clicks, $8ish/click $150
Month 2 – 4,000 impressions, 22 clicks, $6ish/click $150
Month 3 – 2,000 impressions, 11 clicks, $14ish/click $150
anything fishy? We didn’t sign up for any extra features, but they billed us for them, I went back in to turn them off, they still billed them. I called for refund and was told I cancelled features incorrectly and I should have called sooner to correct things, so they wouldn’t do anything for me.
They are a class-action lawsuit waiting to happen.
I would be interested in filing a class action suit against Yelp. ////////i have experienced everything Raymond Fong went through with Yelp.
Is it possible to start a class action suit? I feel the pain… can’t live with them and can’t live without them…
So, my question on this is – if they are so blatantly a racket and rip people off (which I agree they probably do), why oh why does Google prioritize them so highly in search results? We are trying to combat the single 1-star review that appears, because when you pull up our company in Google, it’s the first listing after our own website, which just looks bad at first glance. I feel like Google should not be prioritizing them, since their goal is to deliver relevant search results.