Yelp: Real People. Real Reviews. Deceptive Sales Tactics.

deceptive-yelpIn my talks, I have often said that Google is the print Yellow Pages for the new millennium. But as Rocky Argawal has pointed out that title really falls to Yelp. He has noted that Yelp, in charging some local advertisers $600 per 1,000 impressions,  “despite ostensibly being an Internet company, [their] business model is closer to that of yellow pages companies: sell a questionable value proposition to many who don’t understand what they’re buying. 

It is not just their pricing model that mirrors the old yellow page companies but their selling techniques as well. I was recently pitched by them on behalf of a client. The sales person I dealt with, like the well trained ATT Yellow Page salesman of yore, was well spoken, persistent, organized and supremely confident in the product. The sales person would set up an appointment, call to me remind about the appointment, call to double check I would make the appointment and then remind me that I had missed it. It was if he was channeling my yellow page salesman of 30 years ago.

The pitch was persuasive and well organized trending strongly towards the hard sell and not the least bit consultative. The sales rep provided a list of 5 links referenced during the phone call that built the case from the top down that Yelp is the leading online directory, that they uniquely understand the internet and that you as a business person can only ignore them at your own peril. Hey if Steve Jobs says they are important who are you to disagree? You are asked to affirm these points along the way as they make the final point that their advertising makes sense. If you agreed to all that went before you can’t very well disagree on that one, final eensy weensy point.

The problem? Like the Yellow Pages, Yelp uses FUD (fear, uncertainty & doubt) and more than a little slight of hand to make their point.

  • When asked about ROI they respond that since your average selling price is $x then it will only take one sale to make this pay (yea right).
  • When asked about conversion tracking and analytics you are are told how good their dashboard showing impressions is.
  • When they are going for the close they point out that by taking out an ad you guarantee that your competitor’s ad will not show up on your listing. What SMB can refuse charging that red flag?
  • When asked if they had an offering that required less than a 12 month, the rep noted that yes but the best returns occur in month ten (hmm I wonder why that is?).
  • But the biggest slight of hand is their use of Google Trends to “prove” that they are the leading online business directory

This last bullet actually moved the pitch from slight of hand directly into the art of deception. And it was the foundational first point for the whole sales pitch. To demonstrate Yelp’s prominence they compared the searches on the term Yelp in the Buffalo market to searches for a number of online business directories. Here is the chart from Google Trends that “proves” Yelp  is the leading local opportunity for SMBs:

Screen Shot 2013-01-19 at 11.01.39 AM

When I asked again because I wasn’t sure that I had heard the sales person correctly the rep said: “This [Google] trends chart is a measure of the popularity of directories, which directory is used the most. It shows that Yelp is the most popular online directory.

Claiming that the number of searches on Google for “Yelp Local” is a reasonable metric to assess importance of Yelp is, as Rocky pointed out, obviously preying on the uninformed. And who, pray tell, would be searching for “Google Places” on Google? Using Google Trends to graphically portray absolute traffic and market dominance is the ultimate in misleading sales tactics as it demonstrates nothing of the kind. I doubt that one in a thousand SMBs would catch Yelp at their effort to close at any cost.

The question of whether their pricing model ultimately succeeds is up in the air but I can say that these tactics, like their use in the era of the Yellow Pages, will come back to haunt them.

Here are the reference links that the provided for their sales call:

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Yelp: Real People. Real Reviews. Deceptive Sales Tactics. by

68 thoughts on “Yelp: Real People. Real Reviews. Deceptive Sales Tactics.”

  1. @Donovan

    I think all of the sale managers and trainers from the old print YP companies have moved over to the internet. 🙂

    But the hard sell is one thing. The deceptive sale is another. I find it reprehensible wherever.

  2. Good post, Mike. I’ve gotten sales calls like this but not from Yelp. I’m usually surprised at how quickly the sales pitch breaks down (I’ve flustered sales reps with very elementary questions about their services). Is it possible the sales rep you spoke to misunderstood the Google Trends graph? Just curious.

  3. This is 100% correct. And to top it off, they disappear after you give them your credit card. My store was shut down under water after Sandy hit…I was not open until a few days ago and wanted to be credited for it…I can’t get my sales rep on the phone for the life of me!

    My question now is…

    Where can I leave a review for Yelp??

  4. Chad, I also enjoy “calling out” directory reps.

    What’s scary though is how many uninformed SMBs actually fall for the Blue Skies pitch.

    This is simply a numbers game for Yelp and the system they have in place is good enough to get the SMB emotionally hooked (at least until their phone is still not ringing in month 3 of their 12 month contract)

  5. @Mike you’re right, hard & aggressive sales is a legitimate approach (not for me), but deception is right out. And thanks for the FUD acronym. Can’t believe I’d never head that before.

  6. @Chad
    A great question whther it the misuse of information is isolated to the sales rep or is systemic in the training. I assume, given how disciplined that the sales rep was that he was well trained…. but it is a question worth exploring.

  7. @Josh
    Unfortunately Yelp has skated under the radar on their tactics. Rocky called them out last year but there is still a general perception on Wall Street that they are worthy of attention.

  8. @Bill
    FUD was popularized as a sales technique in the era of Big Blue (IBM) using it very successfully. And became endemic in the 70’s and 80’s. It is unfortunately all too common of a practice still… just not labeled. Fear is a powerful if deceiving motivator. Particularly when used in a context of lack of knowledge.

  9. Great Post. I have been involved in 4 or 5 of these type “sales calls” in the last 18 months or so. I did a blog about one with a contractor lead company it was so ridiculous.

    Dex, ATT, Yelp, and others use what I call “vernacular fear” to sell. The prospect assumes they are honest based on they have no idea what they are talking about.

    I would recommend all of us who have even a small voice, blog about these misrepresentation, as you just have, to help small business who are searching for the truth. Boy, that sounded large.

  10. @Mike
    Depends on how it’s viewed by the business owner.
    If at the end of 12 months, the SMB feels like they got their money’s worth, Yelp wins.
    OTOH, if business owners do not feel the value is there, this could backfire big time for Yelp!
    Really depends on how many that sign up actually track their ROI. On of those that do, how many are willing to voice their discontent if they feel they’ve been had.

  11. @Scott

    I am not sure that unethical behavior can solely be viewed from the POV of whether the SMB received value for their purchase or not… but the fact that Yelp is generating its local-advertising revenue from just 36,000 business” of the “almost 900,000 ‘claimed’ business listings” would indicate that the tactic is not being successful.

  12. Business directories live and die by the quality of their data.

    My problem with Yelp is they want us to pay to improve theirs.

    They won’t allow bulk upload unless you pay for advertising. So there I am, looking at all their live, completely botched data for my client (a huge hotel brand) and offering them 100% accurate data and they don’t want it unless I pay them first.

    1. @Martin
      Yes, I have run into that as well. And unfortunately they don’t take data from the upstream suppliers and integrate it often enough to make a difference. Obviously an intentional decision to hijack larger companies.

  13. I’ve dealt with Yelp on many occasions and haven’t had a good run-in with them ever. Mainly it’s been because a client will have bad login information and we have to try and track down the correct login information(old employees, erroneous listings, etc.) and their customer service is also filled with sharky salespeople. I’ve had the old “well in order for us to verify that you are associated with company, we can give them access as a manager of the page and the easiest way to do that is to get into the advertising program” I wish I would’ve recorded that conversation because it was gold.

    1. @Jorge
      When all processes in a company succumb to the sales process it feels like you are being taken for a ride at every touch with the company. Not sustainable from a sales POV.

  14. Mike: I’ve gotten the same sales pitch from them. Its remarkably similar. Either it was the same person or they train them in very identical styles.

    I would suppose that method works enough to merit repeating in their POV.

    I actually thought the Yelp salesperson was one of the better one’s I’ve encountered recently among salespeople for different web entities. More effective, more focused, more professional. When I said I’m not doing this NOW. she put me on a “no list” and told me to call her.

    Hey no time wasting. Good move. of the many sales pitches I receive, yelps value vis a vis that smb, seemed better than any other entity.

    After all is said and done I see Yelp as the BEST DIRECTORY, by far. It gets the most traffic, it has the best SEO, it tends to rank more highly more often for more search phrases than any other directory.

    (I believe it was Search Influence that published a study on rankings by directories, with yelp far outranking any other directory for many many local search phrases).

    I don’t mind their pitch. Its up to the smb operator to say NO or YES. Clearly though, most smb operators aren’t as knowledgeble as you, and I suspect that sales pitch works enough they repeat it again and again and again.

    The Fear part of FUD is reprehensible. All things considered though, IMHO they may offer more closer to value than most other entities that want to sell you something on the web.

    1. @earl
      I assume that it was a different sales rep as it was a different gender. The similarity of pitches means that the problems with the pitch are probably institutional NOT due to one rogue sales person.

      The FUD is bad enough and most SMBs don’t realize what is happening to them… they are responding to their fright/flight response to information intentionally posed to elicit that response. To make the fear go away they buy the product.

      But deception is deception. Using Google Trends to imply traffic while using examples that are clearly not comparable is beyond the pale in my book.

      They may be the best directory but that doesn’t warrant them taking advantage of SMBs and over charging for their product.

  15. Great post. Any time you try to ask for further information such as searches performed for certain areas they have to “request” that information from a supervisor and never provide it. They also have 3-6 month contracts but the rate tends to be 20-30% more than the long term agreement.

  16. SMB’s must first learn about the single largest scam when considering sales presentations from tertiary publishers. It’s the flawed concept that is “impression based pricing”.

    When is the last time an impression walked into your client’s business? Be prepared however because normally it’s right after the click pulls out its wallet.

    1. Frank
      Impressions, as you note, have little value. Rocky pointed out in his article: At a time when much online advertising is being sold for 60 cents per thousand impressions (CPMs), Yelp is charging some local advertisers $600 per 1,000 impressions.

      The market has decided the value of an impression as worth 1/10 of 1% of what Yelp charges. There is some potential value to these impressions but that value is just significantly lower than Yelp would have SMBs believe. Even if you assume that Yelp is the best directory, with the best SEO, getting the most local traffic its hard to argue that their premium could be that much.

      The only way they are able to do so is by playing off the ignorance of those that they are selling to.

  17. Illuminating post, Mike. Adding to Yelp’s clout with LBOs is how highly their listings frequently rank both for brand name searches and kw+city search for so many terms. I’ve talked with LBOs who get a big percentage of their calls because of the prominence of their Yelp listing…not because of their website or Google+ Local page, etc. Now, if Google were to de-index Yelp results, I think it could be quite a different story.

    1. @Miriam
      I would love to see some of your examples. It is likely that if these very same businesses invested their $600 a month in site development, marketing, SEO etc they would see better returns. That is not to say that Yelp doesn’t provide value, they do. Its just hard to imagine that it is a front line choice.

  18. Miriam: I don’t have the problems or perspective that Mike has w/ Yelp. IMHO they currently ARE the best directory, they probably do get the most traffic as portrayed in that Google trends analysis, and according to a study Search Influence did a while back they had the most high listings of any comparable directory for a slew of local search phrases.

    For our sites we see more search traffic from yelp than from other directories fora variety of smbs in different areas.

    Now I was “weighing/considering a pitch from yelp for one of our smb’s. Relative to the traffic/ the smb had higher yelp traffic than others. They probably monitor traffic and direct sales calls on that basis.

    The pitch was incredibly similar to the one Mike described. It must be a sales pitch they have worked on over time. It probably works for them in generating revenues from many many calls.

    We were considering the effort if only because the volume of traffic is better than other outside sources. Value is the question for us….and the Yelp price was not that outstanding in our POV.

    We were firm and they gave us a 6 month offer rather than a 1 year deal. From comments above it appears they negotiate on time spans.

    I don’t believe Google might simply “de-index” them as you wrote. Currently they simply have far far better basic SEO site wide than do the other directories. I believe Chris Silver Smith had addressed the issue of SEO years ago with regard to the IYP’s and frankly Yelp has done a dramatically better job than any other directory in that regard.

    Similarly I think Chris and Andrew Shotland in the past wrote about the state of directories and IYP’s subject to how the PAC was moved above the organic results and often above IYP’s and directories; again it was a while back. I think Chris actually tracked traffic and showed a relationship….just interesting stuff relative to the primacy of the 7 Pac, the importance of WHAT is on the top of the SERPS and how it seemed to negatively impact traffic for the IYP’s.

    As an SMB we always need to monitor all our advertising costs. We are looking for bang for the buck and in the language of today…a real positive ROI.

    They seem to price their advertising on the high end. What can I say. Try and knock them down on price. We always feel its important to experiment w/ advertising, different operations, etc. We are not brilliant, we work hard, try different things, stick with the things that work and discard the things that don’t work.

    1. @earl
      they probably do get the most traffic as portrayed in that Google trends analysis

      You obviously misunderstand what Google Trends shows in its reports. It is a measure of the relative trends of search phrases entered at Google.

      If you compare the search Obama to a search for Linda Witte, the mayor of Olean, of course it would show that Obama has a high number and Linda has a near zero. It accurately shows the trend in the search phrases.

      It doesn’t show site traffic. The fact that the phrase Yelp has some searches is not surprising. But
      1) that means that people are going to Google to get to yelp.
      2)comparing the phrase to phrases that have no search traffic is a fool’s game. NO ONE would go to Google to find Yahoo Local. They might type Yahoo but certainly not Yahoo local.

      And since Google Places is no longer the name AND it has a menu option NO ONE is going to search for that from the google box.

      3)there are a number of reasons why someone might not search for the name at Google but who knows.

      The trend chart does not show traffic. It shows searches. For yelp to compare their “dominance” in local search they would need to compare themselves based on actual traffic reports NOT search phrases that no one searches on.

      All you can reasonably conclude from the chart is that 1)folks search on Yelp’s brand at Google more than they search for the YP brand and 2)Yelp thinks people are idiots.

      The fact that they making the comparison and offering it as any sort of “proof” is total BS.

  19. Yelp is a major factor in local search, so get used to it. I have a client now that we would like to position in the organic as his business covers a “service area”, according to Google. But to displace the top organic listings we have to jump over a number of Yelps. Not easy to do given the traffic and resources of Yelp.

    Yelp is indeed a pain in the buttocks. Their “filter” is flawed beyond belief. But we as local Internet marketers have to deal with this beast. Just like we deal with the “Google Local” beast and its many frustrations.

  20. Sounds like the sales calls I get from Angie’s List on a regular basis. They say many of the same things and then 6-8 weeks later another rep calls and states they are the new internet/directory/Big Deal rep for our area and says all the same things all over.

  21. @ earlpearl – “We are looking for bang for the buck and in the language of today…a real positive ROI. They seem to price their advertising on the high end”

    Well, you think? With all due respect, why don’t you take us through your computational math within your SMB sector for yielding an effective ROI at $600 per 1000 impressions? Was this not the core subject of Mike’s commentary?

  22. An important post Mike. I’ve found Yelp and some other directories, as well as YPG (Canada) to be very misleading in their advertising tactics.

    I have several clients who’ve had the misfortune of dealing with extremely unscrupulous YPG sales people; to the point they thought they were getting SEO rather than SEM. After speaking with YPG and assessing their incredible broadly encompassing contracts, I can’t even say what it is the clients signed up for. But they will not get out of the contrats without a lawyer… this has been my experience.

  23. Wow, I could go on for weeks. Great post, love exposing deceptive sales tactics.

    Most clients wouldn’t know an impression from a conversion, once they get more savvy Yelp will have to change their shady tactics & extortion based model.

    +1 Donovan; Citysearch has been a nightmare as well – won’t go into specific instances but its unreal how these companies virtually hold information hostage from the info owner – SMBs. Or just seem downright incompetent.

    Yelp’s MO.

    Not a question I really want the answer to..but when will the litigation blitz target these crooks specifically? (not over reviews, but fraud/misrepresentation)

    Free listings are better than no listings (YP, Yelp, Citysearch..etc.). Then its a matter of communcating & educating customers to deal with bothersome predatory sales calls by instructing them not to fall victim to unsavory business practices of both nationwide big guys pointing out disparate data and local vultures who don’t know their ass from their elbow.

  24. I’m taking a beating here for my perspective!!! 😀

    I’ll go over it again with some other info. I know yelp already delivers more traffic to my site than other IYP’s or directories. I went back and reviewed the business in question for a 6 month period using my analytics…not yelp’s claims or those of anyone else.

    Over a recent period yelp delivered 9 times as much traffic as the next best IYP. About 20 times more than the next best IYP type site.

    It relatively delivers. We have far better more voluminous sources of traffic (thank god), and that is primarily search. Needless to say Big G is number 1 in that area, but Yahoo and Bing deliver more traffic also.

    In this industry, search dominates. As many things as we do to expand beyond search…internet search dominates.

    When they called I knew there traffic was relatively strong. That makes me willing to listen.

    Why do they deliver traffic? They rank highly.

    Search Influence: ( has referenced this more than once. Here is one of the articles, though it just references restaurants

    I do my own research for smb’s by category, name, and geo location.

    More often than not Yelp has higher visibility than other IYP’s.

    Their SEO is better than that of other IYP’s and b/c of that they are more visible in Search.

    …and that is why they deliver more traffic to the SMB in question. (at least 9 times better than the next best IYP.

    BTW: This business was picked up by link and description by a local media piece. It references us and others. It says nice stuff about everyone, but effectively nice stuff about us.

    It is delivering traffic. Not tons, but enough to get noticed.

    Why is it delivering traffic? It ranks highly. It shows up well. It has a credible media name behind it. It works.

    So I know yelp already delivers traffic. I know we are making some sales from it. Right now its free for us.

    So it grabbed my attention. They hit me up with a price and terms. We aren’t in a category that demands highest volume yelp traffic and highest priced terms. The price per month offer wasn’t out of the ball park for our revenue stream.

    I didn’t like their terms. I told them I won’t do a 1 year term, no questions asked. Regardless that the price wasn’t a killer I don’t want to commit to something new for that long. We can tell if it will work or not in less than 12 months. I didn’t like the price, and I didn’t look at it in terms of price per impression but it wasn’t out of the question.

    I looked at it in terms of price per potential sale. It was okay on the smell test.

    I’m concerned about sales. I could give a rat’s @ss about price per impression if I’m not getting sales or if the site is delivering to the wrong audience.

    Now as it turned out the salesperson hit us up at the wrong time of year. The whole package wasn’t a killer for us, but it wasn’t out of the question. At that time of year, the price and deal would have to be truly spectacular for us to be willing to make the spend. Its that simple.

    I evaluated the process. Yelp would run ads on our company for traffic to smb’s in our broad category. I like that. How well would it work? Also yelp would turn the link to our site from a no follow to a follow. Would that get us enough link juice or not…I don’t know? You’d have to ask google and Bing. Yelp would give us a video with the 1 year term but didn’t offer it with the less than 1 year term.

    Frankly we never got to the point of trying to get the video for less than a year and a better price.

    The point is that Yelp delivers traffic already. I know it contributes to sales. Could the extra dollars deliver more sales and enough more to pay off? To me that is the issue.

    All sales entities BS and exaggerate. All of them. They all promise the sun and moon and stars. I used to sell into the smb world. I promised great results. Big deal. yelp is no different.

    All in all, I don’t have a love affair with Yelp, but I don’t hate them. They have done an infinitely better job with SEO and serps rankings than any other IYP. They carry compelling content for users and searchers. They clearly already deliver more traffic than the other IYP’s.

    If you aren’t aware of that w/ regard to your business or clients you probably aren’t paying attention or possibly they aren’t getting any outside traffic besides search.

    I always want to expand traffic, leads, etc beyond google. Its a monopolistic monster on eyeballs. I don’t want to be that dependent on them. If something goes wrong, we lose rankings, another competitor starts kicking our butt, google changes stuff in the PAC or organically we take a beating. I want diversified sources of leads. That is basic business.

    and that is why I looked at and considered Yelp.

  25. @earlpearl – Once again you advert the main thesis. How does an SMB attain a reasonable ROI based on a paying out $600 per 1,000 ad impressions on YELP or any publisher or search engine for that matter? Maybe I can shed some light with this simple math. Let’s take the HVAC sector. Begin with, what is a reasonable expectation of (range) CTR per 1,000 impressions on YELP? Next, how many clicks to landing page convert to phone calls (and/or email)? How many phone calls convert to scheduled appointments? So we derive a cost-per-customer acquisition (and for this exercise, I didn’t even include all other associated campaign costs such as internal campaign management, etc) – I have a pretty good understanding of maximum cost per acquisition in this service sector and I can flat out tell you, this formula makes for a losing proposition.

  26. @Earl

    I don’t disagree nor am I beating you up about the bulk of your statements. There is one and only one that is at issue for me: All sales entities BS and exaggerate. All of them. They all promise the sun and moon and stars..

    The example that I gave was not about exaggeration nor hyperbole nor a promise. It was about deception. Sales organizations can blow smoke all they want and the buyer needs to be able to see through it.

    But if they lie or deceive knowing full well that the audience will be misled that is a different beast all together.

    That is my premise and that is something that I stand by. And that appears to be the case here.

  27. @Frank: for this smb we don’t care about impressions IF impressions go into the wrong places. We’ve been running it a long time, pre and post internet. We’ve paid for impressions where they don’t convert. So in our POV that ended up being worthless.

    We and others have run “impressions” that at first glance would seem reasonable. They never worked. They didn’t convert either immediately or short term….or long term. They were impressions into wrong audiences although they seemed reasonable. In that industry others made the same mistakes. They were expensive with no payback.

    There are other places where impressions work. Frankly, in that industry visibility or impressions in search work. The aspects that work though are narrow tied to “intent” which is often characterized by certain types of keywords. Others don’t work, and they end up being not worthwhile to advertise in.

    So, for this industry I’m less concerned about impressions on an overall basis. I do though want impressions where they count and are tied to conversions (and by that I mean sales…not just leads).

    It so happens that the Yelp leads for us show up in conjunction with appropriate conversion search phrases that work.

    So in this regard I care about impressions, okay…but I’m only concerned where they work.

    I frankly didn’t give a crap about the price per impression part of their story, its true. I was concerned with different values.

    Yelp works currently. Yelp does get visited more often than other sites. I don’t put much faith in their stats, but I measured our stats. they already deliver visits…and we can measure the leads into form contacts. they deliver. Then we speak with leads and customers. Yelp has impact.

    I listened to their sales pitch. They promised a delivery of “more impressions” but that rang on deaf ears. So what? Can I measure it or not?

    The issue was where they were delivering the impressions. It would go into a realm of our “subgroup” as we are defined by yelp. A broad range. As I looked at that category and smb’s that defined our group, the only one’s I valued were the impressions that fell on our competitors and some businesses with a high similarity within a broader range. Not a lot of high value.

    The benefit in that small number was that our ad would show on competitors and some somewhat like candidates.

    We already know we get some leads and sales when people search on some competitors names and they see us. So we know there is value to that scenario.

    So…I suppose I’ve factored in impressions in the context of trying to figure this out. Per the yelp ad program there will be impressions.

    To an admittedly small # though they will go into areas that make us money…versus not making us money.

    In our experience not all “impressions” are the same. That turns out to be a big part of our decision making process.

    Frank: I’m sure you are aware there are advertising programs wherein an smb will pay dramatically more for a certain quality or status of a lead than others. There have been derivations on that in adwords. They are better developed leads, or leads with more obvious buying intent.

    Basically, in this experience with yelp it met a lot of “smell tests” for this business. We haven’t bought. The value proposition isn’t “that great”. Plus the offer came in at the wrong time of year.

    We may, we may not. If we go back, we’ll try and get a “better deal” in terms of value.

    In the above case, I suppose I was factoring in impressions but it was part of a big mix.

  28. @earlpearl – don’t care about impression? Impression is the foundation of any performance matrix. No impression, no ad served. Truthfully, you lost me.

  29. Mike:

    Okay. The line they used is inappropriate and deceptive or not germane but the spirit of it as reflected in G trends is probably accurate excepting actual usage of G Places. And cripes you don’t have to search for G Places…google shows it all the time.

    Yelp is generating more traffic than the IYP’s. Again, when I looked at my smb in question it had generated 9 times more traffic than the 2nd highest IYP and roughly 20 times the third ranked IYP. That is an enormous difference.

    I’m sure we got the sales call b/c the sales person/team had been notified our Yelp traffic was up. I’d seen that in our own analytics over time.

    But I believe what they sell, which you describe as a misrepresentation…is a sense of a visual representation of what is occurring. Yelp is delivering more traffic than the other IYP’s. Its not delivering more traffic or is as present and visible as G Places…but compared to the others, for us its much more relevant and I suspect that is the case for many smb’s now.

    The words may be deceptive and misleading but the spirit of that graph from trends is accurate excepting yelp versus G Places. I see it every day.

    I take much bigger exception with other web vendors into the smb world. Frankly I think some of the google resellers are rip off machines. At worst case they can damage a business. At best case, if an smb has lousy visibility they can create ppc visibility albeit at a terrible price.

  30. @Earl
    “This [Google] trends chart is a measure of the popularity of directories, which directory is used the most. It shows that Yelp is the most popular online directory.”

    Not even close.

  31. @Frank: I just had a set of emails with a webmaster that better clarifies my thinking vis a vis Yelp.

    that site also refers people to the smb I’m referencing. We have an “affiliate” type of relationship. We don’t call it an affiliate relationship though. We do pay them for sales on an affiliate type of arrangement.

    I looked at traffic to our site from some relevant places, including that site and Yelp. Frankly while both rank very highly relevant to referrals from particular websites, neither drive a lot of traffic to the site relative to search.

    They simply don’t generate enough “impressions” to even consider me paying them using “impressions” as an important metric. FB is large enough for that, Google, Yahoo, and Bing are large enough. As much traffic as Craigslist generates on the aggregate, when you get to our narrow local niche, its not enough. yet CL generates some traffic, leads and sales.

    there are certain sources of leads, IMHO wherein impressions are simply not enough on an aggregate basis for me to consider it as a viable perspective. In those cases I don’t care what the metric is to evaluate cost per impression. I’d rather look at the cost in a different perspective.

    OTOH I relish paying the above referenced site an “affiliate” type of payment based on sales, and apparently the site owner is similarly pleased.

  32. Mike: I was thinking about this thread some more. I referenced the thread in a thread at Cre8asite The thread was about spammy activities by people selling seo on the web.

    As I thought about it I realized that as similar as the pitch was I never got the piece about google trends in the pitch.

    Probably I acknowledged that yelp delivers traffic.

    I check traffic sources for our smb’s all the time. I want diversified traffic. I want to turn up things that will deliver relevant traffic and conversions/sales. I look for them. My goal is to add leads that convert from sources beyond I don’t want the smb’s to be dependent on Google.

    Yelp has delivered for us. I knew it in December when I took the sales call. I just checked over the last 7 months. Outside of search (G, B, and Y) and direct, yelp is one of the better deliverers of traffic.

    Its very small relative to google, but its way bigger than most other sources. We have a couple of sources that deliver traffic in its category and we have worked on them. They deliver a reasonable amount of traffic and it converts.

    I know when the sales call came in I acknowledged Yelp was a good deliverer of traffic. I acknowledged it was better than the other IYP’s.

    Hence I never got the pitch from google trends.

    Possibly if I heard those lines I might have found the references inappropriate as you did, or a representation that is a lie. But OTOH, it does deliver more traffic than IYP’s (excepting G places).

    I don’t know how they would “prove that to you” . They don’t know the traffic you are getting from different IYP’s, Yahoo local, or whatever.

    They used a different presentation to get their point across. The language might be disconnected from the sale, but in their case I know for us and that particular smb it was spot on.

    How much traffic does yelp deliver. I just checked for the last 7 months. Google organic and ppc deliver abt 100 times what yelp delivers. Yipes.

    ….and I consider yelp pretty good relative to other non google sources. That speaks to how dependent this smb is to google search and why I want different sources of leads.

    I really never considered cost per impression stuff. Look, when the difference in traffic to the site is 100 to 1 we are speaking about apples to oranges. I was looking for different qualities.

    Would yelp deliver more traffic converting to leads and converting to sales? They were going to put our ads in front of our sub category. I needed time to evaluate that opportunity. They’d put a video on our site. They’d convert the link from no follow to follow (whether google would give that a plus or not…I don’t know (google has to know do follow links from yelp are paid)

    So, I didn’t get the pitch from trends, as I bought into the value immediately. I never had the opportunity to evaluate that part of the pitch.

    But I do know yelp delivers more traffic to that smb than do other IYP’s. On that basis it moved past the “smell test” to determine if we could get more value out of it via a paid campaign.

  33. We have a new client that has 15 or so good reviews on Yelp. The problem is Yelp only shows the 3 bad ones from a few years back, on the main page, and all the others are under a filter. No matter how many new good reviews this client receives, they are buried.

    I assume that if they advertised that might all change? We are calling the Yelp representative to get the direct response. Will let you know.

  34. Jim: Good job keeping the thread rolling.

    Believe it or not I just got another call from yelp…a different salesperson. I asked why are you calling me?

    Per salesperson: good reviews/lot of traffic. I told him they filtered most of our reviews and there is a faked attack review by a competitor still up there.

    Next point. I told him I spoke w/ somebody in Dec. Why are they calling so soon afterwards, let alone w/ another salesperson.

    he referenced a previous person. I do believe the name he gave me was the person with whom I spoke in Dec. She had sales notes. They only said she had sent emails, never referenced speaking.

    Again, I thought that as a salesperson, she was good, polished, economical, to the point. But I probably didn’t tell her that, and evidently her internal notes were brief and after I didn’t buy she blew me off.

    I gave the guy a brief summary: Don’t want to go one year, price was high relative to traffic, not interested in speaking this week and call back next week.

    @Mike: I know you brand them as liars. May be on the specifics of that trend pitch…but i still believe that pitch reflects the “spirit of how they are trying to present themselves: They generate more traffic than IYP’s.

    In my experience that is accurate.

    Now they may be arm twisting a holes…per Jim’s report. I believe we’ve known that for a long time. If they are still pulling that on a continuous basis….well then they are d*ckheads.

    For this one business though, b/c of both traffic and that our customers do reflect a reliance upon reviews I may just consider them, and I’m constantly looking to expand outside of google, I’ll consider them.

    Who knows.

  35. I hope Yelp will go away indefinitely! Lousy business practices! Asking small business owners to pay and advertise with them so that they could remove bad reviews! I am looking for a review site that reviews YELP then I will give it my “peace of mind!”

  36. This is from Yelps contract:


    This was the text of an email sent to my client’s Yelp rep. Despite paying a fortune for impressions, the alleged impressions were completely absent from any relevant searches on Yelp. The impressions, if there were any, must have been appearing on unrelated searches, because neither I, nor my account rep at Yelp could find any instance of my client’s ads appearing. The Rep, despite all evidence to the contrary and despite the fact that their own contract specifically denies any accountability, claimed that the proof that impressions were being delivered was evident in the Yelp report for the client – a report that the Yelp contract categorically denies having any relationship to reality.


    In other words, Yelp does NOT provide any guarantee of any kind of service including “NUMBER OF AD IMPRESSIONS”. So the fact that neither you nor I can find Maurie’s ads under any relevant search category ( such as Psychiatrists in Philadelphia) is a mute point. The fact is that Yelp is charging Maurie 350 dollars per month for doing nothing. Yelp warrants no performance. Other than providing him with a graph showing him what Yelp claims are impressions and actions taken we have no evidence of Maurie receiving anything valuable for his payments which will measure over 4000 dollars by the time he is done with the year’s contract.

  37. The only thing more astounding than the huge mis-pricing of their service and the incredible lack of accountability in their contract, is the fact that Yelp is so close to building a truly competitive product to Google but is incapable of finishing their platform. Google needs a competitor to keep them honest. Yelp ran all the way to the finnish line but refuses to take the last step to cross it. All they have to do is offer a real PPC auction market like AdWords, they could offer conversion tracking, basic analytics and a display ad remarketing program. Yelp does have a PPC option, but its flat fee, not an auction.

  38. I find that many of the businesses who think that Yelp is great for them are confusing organic with paid traffic from Yelp. (And I’m guessing this is the case with earlpearl.)

    You get the organic traffic for free! Yes, Yelp can drive a lot of traffic purely based on its SEO. But you can get all the value you need from Yelp without paying these scam artists a penny.

    As far as the “impressions” they deliver, despite selling “highly targeted” search advertising at insane CPM rates, under their contract they could serve your ad to someone searching for plumbers in San Francisco if you’re a florist in New York.

    Take a look at some of the examples I found:

    I didn’t have to work very hard to find these. Spend 30 minutes on the site doing searches and you’ll be able to compile your own stack of crappy examples.

  39. I was on the Yelp call list for awhile. Extremely unskilled telemarketers trying to sell services they didn’t even understand. I don’t get those calls anymore but I swear I had to request being taken off the list 20 times before they stopped.

  40. For a while I was trying to figure out of they were filtering reviews. I figured something must have just went wrong, how could a company like Yelp even think about it let alone get away with it. Sure enough, I came across others claiming the same thing! Then I hear that if you complain or make claims against Yelp you will end up being deleted! So how could anyone trust them in any aspect of the business when they don’t even treat the users who provide the guts of their business model with any respect. Given their history and the quantity of yelp bashing websites (not just posts) out there, how are they still surviving!

  41. @Stacey, you write “Then I hear that if you complain or make claims against Yelp you will end up being deleted!”.

    See the post I left here on 1/29/13 re: FTC investigating Yelp. I posted this article on my FB & G+ pages as well as here.

    Although I am a “Yelper”, have dozens of Yelp “buddies” and have posted scores of reviews, within two days of these postings every one of my reviews went into the “filtered pot”. Coincidence?

    While it is gratifying to think that Yelp actually reads my posts, if my suspicions are true, what a cheap shot!

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