What Does Advertising on Yelp Get You?

Filed in Local Search, SEM by Matt McGee on March 10, 2010 25 Comments

That was one of the topics of Luther Lowe’s presentation Tuesday at the annual SearchFest conference in Portland. Lowe — Yelp’s Manager of Business Outreach — gave a generally clear description of what the company says are the benefits of advertising on Yelp. I say “generally” because he said that advertising on Yelp gets a business owner “SEO,” but he really meant to say “visibility.”

These are not the same examples he used during the presentation, but they show the same points he made.

1. Visibility on Yelp search result pages

Advertising on Yelp gives a business the opportunity to show up above the regular search results for category/city combinations, like this search for dentists in Los Angeles.

Yelp advertising 1

2. Visibility on other business profile pages

A Yelp ad may show up on a competitor’s business profile, like in this example here.

Yelp advertising 2

3. No competitor ads on your profile page

Using the example above, no competitors’ ads will show up on the profile page of that dentist because she’s advertising. She’s essentially paying to keep competitors from advertising on her profile page. But note that Yelp still does show other competitors on the page under a “People Who Viewed This Also Viewed” heading.

Yelp advertising 3

4. Added content options

Yelp advertisers can also add extra content to their business profiles, such as a photo slideshow and an extra content spot to post alerts or discounts.

5. Promote a “favorite review”

(Update: shortly after this post was published, Yelp announced the end of Featured Reviews.)

Yelp sponsors can also choose one review of their business and mark it as a “favorite.” In doing so, that review will show up first on the business profile page, as seen here.

Yelp advertising 4

Lawsuits: The 800-lb. Gorilla

Before his presentation, Lowe called out the 800-lb. gorilla in the room: the recent lawsuits from small business owners who claim that Yelp has offered to remove negative reviews in exchange for payment. I don’t recall his exact wording, but Lowe rejected the claims of the lawsuit, saying that the alleged behavior — if it were true — would cause Yelp to lose the trust of its users and advertisers.

But from several conversations I’ve had at conferences over the past two weeks, that trust is on shaky ground with some. This isn’t the first time Yelp’s been accused of taking money to remove negative reviews (see Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0 from last year), and some are wondering if the phrase “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” is appropriate.

One suspects that, as long as Yelp offers a way for business owners to manipulate reviews in exchange for advertising (see #5 above), they’ll continue to run the risk of lawsuits — no matter if the lawsuits are justified or just the result of misunderstanding.

Comments (25)

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  1. Matt –

    Great (and balanced) post.

    Yelp needs to consider tweaking their model and materials to expressly say “if you advertise with us, we will NOT remove negative listings. However, advertising will broaden where your business appears on our site, and also allows you to highlight a positive listing of your choice.”

    The fact is, if a negative listing is at the top, and by advertising, you can displace it as the first listing, you are doing 2 things:

    1) in effect you are demoting (but not removing) the negative listing

    2) Google Universal search often lists the first Yelp review for a business in the first page of its SERPS. So you are also doing some major Online Reputation management by advertising on Yelp.

    Does the above cross the line into extortion? I guess it depends on a) whether the Yelp salesperson knows how to properly explain it without scaring the bejeezus our of the SMB owner, and b) whether the Yelp algorithm gives “bad review hiding or retiring” advantage to advertisers.

    That’s all I got at this hour…

  2. Matt, another great post. That “pick your favorite review” feature got Yelp in hot water recently–they have been sued over that one, the allegation being that they are allowing false, negative reviews and then “selling” (extorting) the right to bury the reviews back to advertisers.

    I got pitched on this Yelp program, and I was unimpressed. They try to get 3 or 4 hundred a month and guarantee a certain number of impressions–but they guarantee no clicks. I don’t know if they have changed that model. But compared to Google Local, it’s not worth much IMHO

  3. Justin M. says:

    Does anybody know about how much Yelp charges monthly for this service?

  4. Drew says:

    Matt – Good article. Really balanced all around, and I like the tone. IMHO, it’s annoying to read something that swings all positive or negative.

    George – I agree that there’s an issue in language here. As a yelp user for years, my intuition has picked up on what’s happening. One thing to note is that the review they move to the top is the review they quote in their ads.. it might be a technical difficulty to halt it. But I’ve also seen coupons as ads, so maybe not?

  5. Sandip Jariwala says:

    I get a call every month from them asking me to list my business on yelp. But the fees are quiet steep and I think I can spend that money elsewhere and get better SEO results. I would sign up if the fees were reasonable, say around $100 per month.

  6. Justin M. says:

    Yikes! That’s up there…
    Thanks for the info.

  7. Yelp, I simply don’t trust them. No large online entity has been able to crack the local code yet. They just can’t scale to the needs of SMBs. More here http://www.camares.com/blog/smb-web-btwn-rock-and-hard-place-pt-2-yelp-extortion

  8. I completely agree, I have registered on Yelp last month and have got 3-6 leads from it. I live close to industrial area ( Rainham, London ) and it is very effective for me and my clients to have some local available for a quick fix to hardware or software solution then calling someone from miles apart. Yelp defiantly provide good “Visibility” but really not a replacement of SEO.

    Sudeep Sakalle
    Director, Infovinity Systems Limited
    Rainham, UK

  9. TJ says:

    Got a phone call from a yelp Rep. The fee they are asking for is–
    $350/mo – includes 450 targeted ads per month
    $550/mo – includes 1100 targeted ads per month
    I did some research, seems like they are charging more and more on these advertising program.

  10. Rachael says:

    I have been talking to a yelp sales rep this morning. I like that their demographic is my demographic (mid 30’s woman)For $350 a month they will pay for a production of a video to be hosted on their site. Plus you can pay the video company $25 a month to host the video on facebook, you tube website etc. Videos are all the rage these days!
    It is a year contract however. What if I get a bad review in that year?
    I might do it.

  11. Dan says:

    Great post. Does anyone have any stories of measurable ROI from Yelp Advertising? I think we would all agree it wouldn’t matter the costs if we were getting 2X back. I am asking because we are putting together a database that will help prove which internet marketing service works for which type of industry.

  12. Dan says:

    I tried the ppc program @ $3.50 a click. This is after I spoke to a rep about the impressions program. She offered me 500 impressions for $300 and 1200 for $500/month. It’s a year long contract and for an additional $50/month they would shoot and post a video to your profile. As far as the ppc program, I threw $100 at it to see what happened and I got one lead. It covered the investment but it is so broad and vague, it’s hard to tailor it to your audience.

    I can’t submit specific keywords, locations or even the fact that my business is mobile. My business does mobile paintless dent repair. Yelp lumps me into a 30 mile radius in the body shop category. I live on the coast so I would prefer a radius up and down the coast, not inland. I get a lot of calls (clicks I paid for) asking about repairing large damage in cities I don’t work.

    I brought this up to the rep that tried to sell me a monthly subscription for impressions and she told me that the ppc campaign is for branding (getting a name out there) and not specifically targeting your criteria. I asked her if there was more customization for the monthly subscription and she said yes. It’s not true though because I’m still gonna be in the body shop category and 30 mile radius.

    Yelp charges more than I spend in Google every month and Google is used more and totally customizable. I am tempted just to dump $300 more into my Google adwords account and dominate my area.

    • Matt McGee says:

      Dan – just wanted to say thanks for a very interesting comment there. I haven’t had much contact with actual Yelp advertisers, so it’s nice to hear real experiences (positive or negative).

  13. Austin says:

    I hadn’t heard about them maybe taking money to remove negatives – hmmm, a new income source for internet marketers.

  14. I am really struggling as to whether to advertise with Yelp or not. I am a small home based window covering business and the price does seem steep. What really bothers me is every review I have is FILTERED. I need feedback! Is it worth the $300 per month?

  15. Hi Pamela – I don’t think the $300 would be worth it. On a different note, I’m guessing the reason every review you have is filtered is that most of your reviews seem like they are not by real people. (I’m not judging here – just saying what it looks like at a glance).

    For example, on 7/17 you posted a review while logged in as yourself, but signed it “Ryan P.”

    Ryan L, one of your other reviewers, has a woman’s photo, and has reviewed your business using 3 names: James, Ryan L, and Janice.

    Gabe T reviewed your business but signed his review “Sandy Wilcox” etc.

    The best thing to do to fix this is mention that you are on Yelp and encourage a real customer that’s happy with your work, right after you do a job, to check out your profile (and review you if they feel like it).

    You will quickly get some more authentic-sounding reviews. And they are less likely to be filtered. Good luck!

  16. It seems to me that Google Local is still a better option.

  17. Jess Avalon says:

    Thanks for the advice! We just started a local hair salon, and have been considering advertising on Yelp–mostly because of the combination of Yelp’s great reputation and their high-pressure sales team.

    What really makes me mad is that Yelp pits businesses against each other: we have to pay, really, to stop Yelp from sticking other people’s ads into our page!

  18. Dan Lewis says:

    For the window coverings business, I would say (from what I know), that it’s worth it. I say that because doing window coverings on one house would cover that expense for the advertising. As for me, it takes 3-5 jobs to cover mine. It is significantly easier for you to cover your expense.

    Ask your customers to review you and even though a lot will get filtered, it will greatly improve your rank. As for the salon, yeah, they do pin you into paying to cover up the competitor’s ads, but if you have a lot of reviews, they won’t even look at those ads.

  19. joel klutch says:

    For businesses, there are only a few major players on the Internet that one should absolutely never upset, and Yelp is one of them. In terms of Yelp’s size & strength, its popularity, and its influence, it has no real competition within its specific arena.

    Yelp may not be perfect, but who or what is? Yelp provides a very useful service to millions of people, absolutely free of charge … and in spite of accusations made by some businesses, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that its reviews are handled appropriately.

    I may be an example of someone who seemingly could take legitimate issue with some of Yelp’s policies … my little business has 7 Yelp reviews, and they’re all 5 stars, but only 3 of them are openly displayed … the other 4 are filtered. Yet, I don’t complain about this, because I understand that Yelp isn’t trying to punish me or hurt my business … Yelp has certain rules in place that apply equally to everyone. It’s my responsibility – not Yelp’s – to earn more 5-star reviews that display openly.

    So regardless of what you think of Yelp – whether it’s their advertising or anything else – consider: “If you don’t have something nice to say … “

  20. Furqan Butt says:

    Hello to everybody trying to put their thoughts onto how Yelp help businesses get more audience. I am not asking for any review here but I have been offered a Job in Yelp.com as Account executive selling advertising space to local business in London area and I am very excited about going into social media sales or advertising space but I have never done this before. I dont know the trend Matt Can you help me out how does this work for a local business and would it be very hard to sell across the board to SME’s . I am wondering if people are that much educated and aware of power of social media networking or PPC/ Internet marketing?

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