Should You Advertise on Yelp?

Yelp Tagline
Click to see Ozdachs on Yelp

The social media business review website Yelp reported that its revenue grew by 67% last quarter as it aggressively pushes its advertising and co-branding strategies.

Many of my clients are getting emails and phone calls from Yelp suggesting that they jump on board the Yelp advertising bandwagon.  The come-ons  suggest  both straight-forward advertising campaigns and they suggest that the businesses offer special Yelp deals for customers that check-in at the business using a mobile device.

“Should I advertise with Yelp?” is a frequent question I get asked.

It depends.  On one hand:

  • Yelp is read by a lot of people searching for restaurants and services.
  • One of my professional services clients gets at least a phone call a week from a prospective client who says that they found them on Yelp.

On the other hand:

  • Yelp is expensive.  Its monthly packages run from $300 to $1000 or more.
  • Advertising on Yelp drives people to your page on Yelp and not directly to your website.  Your Yelp page will include negative reviews of your business, and they may be prominently displayed, depending upon Yelp’s mysterious algorithms.  Being a Yelp advertiser gives you no additional ability to focus clients on your positive reviews or to respond to or remove untrue negative comments. So you could wind up paying for ads that drive  potential customers to the worst comments of your worst clients.  (Every business will, sooner or later, get a scathing review.  This is true whether you deserve it or not.)

Here’s what I tell my clients wondering about advertising on Yelp

Since Yelp ads drive people to your business’ Yelp page, it makes sense to advertise only if you already have a good number of positive reviews.  There is no point in sending people to your Yelp page if there are no glowing reports of what you do.

Moreover, most of my clients offer professional services which do not lead to social media tie ins.  So, I recommend that my clients buy the traditional Yelp ads and steer clear of the Yelp deals and other specials that are designed to grab attention in smart phone apps.  I struggle to think of what a CPA firm can offer to snag  impulse buyers looking at their phones as they walk by the firm’s office. Similarly, I cannot suggest a special that a criminal defense attorney can offer someone who checks in at their office on a iPhone.

Yes, Yelp is a good, aggressive business.  If your customers love you and have already Yelped their happiness, drawing attention to your happy clients will attract new ones.

Should you advertise with Yelp?  Look at your current Yelp page.  What’s there will tell you if a Yelp advertising campaign makes sense.

Are Your Yelps Muzzled?

If you’re a Yelper and write a review for a businesses you patronized, you expect that your comments are going to show up on the business’ page and affect the star-ratings.  Maybe they will, but maybe they won’t.

While I was researching the Yelp filtering of reviews for an auto repair shop I started looking at the profiles of people whose positive comments were not appearing on the business’ page.  The list of reviews and the count of reviews on the people’s profile pages showed the filtered reviews.  There was no indication when looking at the person’s page that Yelp distrusted their comments.

In some cases, the profile pages showed that the person had written several reviews, and they looked like a valued Yelper.  But, when you clicked on any of the person’s reviews to the business’ page, the reviews were not there.  Yelp had filtered all of that person’s comments.

If you were the Yelper, you’d have no clue that whatever you were writing on Yelp was not being seen by the community.  Your profile page shows that you’ve posted 9 or 35 Yelps.

The only way you can check to see if Yelp is displaying your carefully crafted reviews is if you click through on each review on your profile page to see if it is also showing up on the business’ page.  That’s time consuming, and there’s nothing you can do about being filtered anyway.

Yelp Profile Information
Yelp Profile Information for GalenW

My own Yelp profile shows that I have 29 Yelp friends and have written 133 reviews. But, at least one of those reviews doesn’t show up for the business. I rated a real experience I’d had, but somehow the review isn’t showing up. I don’t know why, and there seems to be no way for me to tell Yelp that their filtering system screwed up.

That’s the point in my earlier post, too.  Yelp’s filtering system has flaws, and it doesn’t allow feedback.  There’s no mechanism for the Yelp programmers to learn from their mistakes or for reviewers to learn what Yelp thinks they are doing wrong.

Yelp, please open up your filtering process, let us communicate with the Goddess of Reviews, and let legitimate Yelpers participate in improving the site.

Are Your Business’ Happy Yelps Being Muzzled?

This month I received a phone call from an automobile repair shop owner whose business is taking a beating because of its bad showing on Yelp.  There are 7 reviews for his shop online, and 6 of them gave the service 1 star.

The owner told me that awhile ago he was approached by Yelp to buy ads on the site.  At that time he had a lot of positive reviews.  He said that after he declined to advertize, he noticed that his positive reviews started disappearing from the site.  They were being removed by Yelp’s filter.

Yelp lets you see the reviews it has removed from active rankings.  When I checked, the repair place had 22 filtered reviews, and those had an average rating of 4.22 stars.

Yelp Review Matrix -- Filtered vs. Unfiltered
Yelp Review Matrix -- Filtered vs. Unfiltered

I dug around some to see if I could quickly discover a reason — either benign or evil — for Yelp’s filtering.  I couldn’t.  Maybe you can discover a pattern or suggest more review characteristics to check. (Click on the table above to download a PDF of my research.)

I noticed that many of the five-star reviews might be suspicious because they’re from people without profile photographs and from people who had written one review on Yelp, the filtered one for the auto shop.

Many of the filtered reviews were from reviewers whose other reviews are also being filtered by Yelp.  I checked their profiles and clicked on the links to their reviews to see if those reviews showed up.  It looked like that Yelp — for some reason — distrusted everything that these people wrote.

On the other hand, some of the filtered reviews came from people whose comments on other businesses are being displayed, and one of the visible one-star reviews was written by a person without a profile photo who had only reviewed this business.

In addition, when I read the positive reviews, there was no obvious pattern in what was said or the length of the review.  None of the 5-star raves sounded fake to my human ear.

So, why has Yelp decided to show 7 reviews averaging 1.57 stars instead of displaying all 29 with an average of 3.58 stars?  Is it revenge against a non-advertiser?

Yelp is deliberately unhelpful.  They say:

We intentionally make the filter difficult to reverse engineer — otherwise, we would be overrun by reviews written by people hoping to game the system. So while it may be tough to decipher how the filter works, the rules are actually the same for every business and every review.

I understand why Yelp wants to show only real-person penned, non-financially-motivated reviews.  We all want to know that the rave we are reading is an honest report from a customer and that it was not written by friends, relatives, or the owner himself.

Still, Yelp’s software seems — at best — arbitrary.  Its decisions don’t conform to obvious logic, and many — if not most or ALL — of the filtered reviews sure sound like they’re legitimate.

Worse, there is no obvious way to contact Yelp for support.  I could not locate  a  phone number to call or appeal process for the business owner to follow.  So, the business owner has to live with a rant-filled 1.5 online profile that kills his business.

I’ve heard Len Tillum, a lawyer with a radio show on KGO, tell anguished business owners that there’s nothing they can do legally about perceived unfair filtering on Yelp.  He’s said that a web site owner, like Yelp, can decide what content they want on their site for whatever reason.

However, for those of us to rely on Yelp and Yelp ourselves, more transparency would be appreciated.  I want to know that the 1-star business is truly a place I should avoid and not that its owner just decided he couldn’t afford to advertize at Yelp.

Do you see a pattern in the filtering that I’ve missed?  Let me know your insights by posting here or email me (if you email, please answer the spam challenge!).

Yelp Ends Free Announcement and Special Offer Postings

This afternoon I logged on a Yelp business account.  The  account is for my church, the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco, and most weeks I post the weekly service description as an announcement in the 140 characters Yelp has offered for free.  The description shows up highlighted on the church’s Yelp page so visitors can check out what’s coming up that Sunday.

Today Yelp greeted me with a pop up saying that they were phasing out announcements and special offer notices August 11th.

Yelp Notice Ending Its Free Special Offers and Annoucements

Yelp said they’re stopping the free announcements because business owners had requested a better way to reach people. That smacks of an untruth, frankly. I doubt any business asked the free highlighting to stop so they can sign up and pay Yelp to offer special deals.

In fact, I am not even sure that as a consumer I need yet another deal-offering site.  Groupon, Living Social, and Google are all offering deals of the day — Google’s announcement of a program for San Francisco was on the news just today.  Yelp and Open Table have also sent me deal emails in the past months.  A steadier stream of deals from Yelp won’t be welcome in my inbox.

And,  really?  Yelp is making this change for my business, the church?  Wow.  What kind of Yelp deal should my church offer?

A special deal on salvation?  Unfortunately, hellfire isn’t a part of Unitarian Universalist theology, so we’d have to work on exactly what we’re offering.  We don’t encourage visitors to contribute to the collection plate, so we cannot offer a discount there either. Would you want two sermons for the price of one, anyway?

But, I am sure Yelp’s sales staff will call us and help us figure out something we can advertize.

Ultimately, it’s disappointing that non-profit community groups are getting slammed in Yelp’s zeal to monetize its pages.