30 thoughts on “Yelp: When the Hard Sell Goes South”

  1. Word of mouth travels quick..and digital word of mouth even quicker. Wouldn’t it be great if the very thing that made them, broke them.

    Highway robbery combined with extortion & fraud.

    SMBs should claim their (free) Yelp business profile and igore the barrrage of sales calls, review hostage situations, and their own local review solicitation tactics with regards to Yelp.

    Throw up a window cling and let it do its thing – if it helps great, it not at least there’s no loss. That’s my Yelp strategy.

  2. I just had a client tell me last week about a hard sale from Superpages (he thinks, or Yellowpages – not 100% on the “who” here).

    They wanted him to run is paid advertising through them because “they’re the #2 buyer of AdWords in the world.” I had to explain to the client that because they buy and resell AdWords, they take a portion of his budget for their “fee” so if he has a $150 budget per month, he might actually be spending $100 on ads, maybe a bit more, maybe a bit less. This is OKAY if they DISCLOSE that’s what they’re doing, which they didn’t – unless it was buried in some fine print somewhere.

    I think these local directory hard-sales tactics are the worst, and they sour many small business owners against all forms of online marketing, even us folks that try to really deliver value for their money. Such a sad state of affairs. I’m so glad this poor lady was able to cancel, hopefully they don’t give her a hard time to get through the whole cancellation process!

  3. @Chris
    A number of weeks ago I put out a call for SMB success stories around Yelp advertising. I was not able to find any. I am sure that there are some but most came back and said “we tested and ended up just going with a claimed listing”.

    So you are not alone. But the SMB are apparently “fair game” in Yelp’s world view and it would seem that all too often Yelp “wins”.

  4. @Carrie
    Oft times what the IYPs do is take an adword ad that drives people to the Yellowpage category page and the businesses on that page are essentially covering YPs cost and then some

  5. @Mike,
    That’s interesting – so they buy ads to the category, but not for the individual businesses? Either the client completely misunderstood that, or I did – probably a combo of both….

    Either way – the clients are way better off spending their money elsewhere IMO :)

    Thanks for the clarification!

  6. Mike:

    First best of luck to the person around whom this story is written. Frankly I hope they refund her money and don’t charge a penalty. They shouldn’t. This person went through misery.

    But I don’t think they are the only culprit in the world of local seo:

    Here are some other groups:

    Most of the IYP’s don’t deliver traffic to most smb’s. There may be some verticals where they are strong or some metro regions….but overall their contribution to most smb’s is incredibly weak. So when they hit you up for advertising, most of the claims don’t hold water.

    Certain of google’s reseller partners are really nefarious and have deservedly received terrible reps and reviews from many unhappy customers. My experience is with ReachLocal and Yodel. Both of them were simply horrible in my experience.

    Here is the lowdown. They basically mark up adwords at 2-2.5 times actual cost. Though google “blesses them as “partners” and has provided a level of whitewash cover by getting them to “identify actual adwords costs on the reports to clients” this info is so hidden and difficult to find that most smb’s will never see it. Of course nobody from the reseller will ever tell an smb how to get to that information in the first place.

    They are brutal IMHO.

    Yelp, in selling ads off its content of reviews….and essentially placing those reviews against competitors is not a nifty sweet entity. No doubt.

    OTOH, yelp is one of the few entities that at least currently is showing to people…and its traffic is significant. Consumers want to read reviews. Its of course great content.

    And it does lead people closer to buying. Of that there is little disagreement.

    Of course yelp has a long history of pissing off businesses and treating them like dirt!!!!!!

    My own experience with yelp salespeople was that they utilized more of the arm twisting and/or threatening elements in their sales pitches several years ago than they do now.

    Do they lie not tell the whole truth ? :D well heck…they all lie.

  7. @Dave
    I would agree that there is a paucity of truth in the local arena and that there are a great many snakes in the grass.

    I think though it a tragedy that Yelp could come up with some way to be really, really helpful to SMBs given their traffic and yet they seem mired in thinking that does nothing but annoy (or worse) SMBs.

    They should be be able to come up with a better way of having businesses pay to get in front of Yelp’s readers AND a better way of selling that.

  8. Dave writes: yelp is one of the few entities that at least currently is showing to people…

    This is something really worth pointing out, in my opinion. The dominant role Yelp is now playing in Google’s SERPs has become increasingly obvious. Is it just me, or has the sheer variety of local business directories appearing in the SERPs dwindled down to next-to-nothing. I can’t even think of a direct competitor for Yelp that has anywhere near the visibility in Google’s results. There is TripAdvisor for hotels…but for restaurants and so many other verticals, who else is there with any real visibility at all at this point?

    Interesting post, Mike.

  9. I can relate to this story and so can some of our clients. I think unfortunately businesses like Yelp are pressured to continue growth and put up bigger numbers, and it lends itself to aggressive sales tactics that tend to understand the whole premise for being involved.

  10. I have a listing on YELP, I’m unable to fix anything on my listing without having to pay for it. I feel for this lady. YEXT is the same. If you want to fix your NAP+W on any listings found through YEXT it’s hijacked. THey want $500 to fix it and you can’t DIY. THat’s just highway robbery.

  11. @Andy

    Immediately followed by a rep at ReachLocal and every other Local SEO firm in their city. I know small business owners who get dozens of faxes each day from SEOs.

  12. Mike:

    I agree with what you said here:

    I think though it a tragedy that Yelp could come up with some way to be really, really helpful to SMBs given their traffic and yet they seem mired in thinking that does nothing but annoy (or worse) SMBs.

    They should be be able to come up with a better way of having businesses pay to get in front of Yelp’s readers AND a better way of selling that.

    But I don’t have ideas on how to monetize for yelp that would be more productive. Do you? I’m sure they would love great ideas.

    A lot of restaurants don’t like OpenTable (OT) One can find many complaints about them. I’ve also spoken with some restaurateurs who love it.

    OT, though, provides a valuable service: Reservations: That translates into $$$….and OT also provides a quantity coupon to users.

    It seems to be working very well.

    I really believe the Reseller google adwords partners can be among the biggest ripper offers anywhere. And they do get Google’s blessing.

    Here is a rundown on the Yodel account from beginning to end:

    1. The proposal promised Local SEO, organic SEO and the adwords resale.

    A.) Nothing was done on the Local/Maps side. Nothing.

    but if something decent had been done and the business was showing in the PAC for discovery phrases….possibly it would have cut down on orgnanic clicks. That doesn’t help the reseller. It helps the client but no the reseller.

    B) On the organic side, with the possible approval and/or suggestion from the business the search phrase was somewhat of the equivalent of

    Union Street Computer Repair. How that evolved is something of which I was not a party nor do I know how it evolved. But clearly that was a targeted search phrase that had no value in search.

    Using that as a target was tantamount to taking advantage of the lack of knowledge of the business.

    BTW: They did a achieve a high ranking for their target phrase. ;).

    C) On the adwords side there was one situation where the reseller gave the customer one report from adwords. It was hard to find. I’m sure the customer didn’t see it. The time period info was stripped from the report.

    Over time though the reseller gave the client daily reports on spend and costs per click. The clicks were coming in at 2-3 times what the single report identified.

    The calls came in on a redirected phone number off of adwords set up by the reseller. Listening to them was educational.

    A lot were from customers, existing vendors or salespeople. Some of the same callers kept calling over time. In this latter case obviously callers captured the redirected phone number off of the ad on a mobile phone and kept using it.

    OMG!!!!! Was the reseller billing for each repeat call??? I don’t know. You couldn’t track that.

    I can tell you this. They weren’t getting billed by adwords for clicks for those repeat calls. Unless of course Google and the reseller had a deal for a payment for every call.

    We’ll never know.

    The whole thing amounted to a complete waste. It was dropped after 4 months and payments amounting to in excess of $4 figures/month.

    Huge waste.

    Guys and businesses like that shouldn’t get a pass. They should be roasted by honest SEO’s. They do nothing for SMB’s.

    Since then the smb has not spent a penny on adwords or utilized seo. needless to say they were soured on the experience.

    Does any of that absolve Yelp???

    NO. But they aren’t the only goniffs in the local SEO world. Are they??

    (goniff–look it up in the urban dictionary.

  13. Most local business owners are busy putting out fires all day and do not understand the ever evolving world of marketing or marketing on the internet. This makes them vunerable to slick salesmen who promise the world for $395.00 per month. It’s guys like this that give our industry of servicing local businesses a bad name! Cassandra Segoviano

  14. @Mike @Carrie

    A friend of mine worked for YPG for awhile (here in Canada). They mostly buy to their category/landing pages, and then list only the paying customers. And they additionally sell “featured listings” on those pages. An SMB basically gets told they’re paying for ‘100 clicks from Google’ and YPG drives traffic to that category page, when they click on a listing they stay on the YellowPages site.

    They do it because it’s easier to manage than creating new adwords accounts and campaigns for each business. And they will fudge the numbers if they didn’t drive as much traffic (allegedly). You can’t throw your own analytics tracking on their pages, you have to trust their numbers. It’s a huge rip-off.

  15. I agree with Miriam ~ Yelp seems to always be on page one for searches with local intent – often multiple times. We’re currently exploring a new Yelp CPC campaign for a client. Maybe this change is for the better.

  16. @Jeffrey
    Apaprently Yelp does do some limited CPC for larger clients. It is not available to everyone. I assume that they do not have enough “inventory” (ie page views) do allow more folks into the program.

    Let us know how it goes.

  17. I wonder if the free ad has a noindex code added to it. That is how yelp blocks pages it does not want showing up, since yelp does not delete pages. I wish there was a way to verify this story. I did contact yelp about a business that had been deindexed and this is the answer I recieved, “our criteria are that you need to be able to have an in-person experience with a business for us to feature a listing” If the art is sold online and not face to face, the business would not be able to be listed on Yelp. I would be curious to see more details on that comment.

  18. This story reflects my experience with them. Their sales team, just like Yext, is a bit overboard with the intimidation. I respect companies that provide a service I want to pay for, but the truth is that most people ‘write reviews’ in social media… No one wants to sign up for a Yelp account and write a review, unless they just happen to love Yelp.

  19. We claimed our free Yelp ad from the moment we opened our spa. It has been extremely instrumental in the growth and exposure of our business. Yes a few months into it, we were contacted about buying “prime” ad listings. We declined and were followed up with many times. We considered it, but have still declined to opt in. We have not seen any drop in our listing placement at all and it would appear our customer reviews have catapulted us into the #1 listing for certain services in our local market. We’re exremely happy with the free listing, and IMHO if you manage your Yelp account regularly and make sensible choices for your marketing dollars, Yelp is a great asset to growth. The new feature for ads allows you to set your own daily budget and cancel the promotion at any time, and you only pay per clicks to your page. So , overall .. we love Yelp and so do the customers who use it to find us.

  20. @George
    I am glad to hear about the pay per click program. But your point about using the free product and NOT the paid product is the intrinsic issue confronting Yelp.

  21. Awesome Yelp logo there mike, and comment 13 was really insightful. I’ve been seeing some bad things specifically with ReachLocal and Yodel as well. It’s sometimes difficult to talk to local business owners when they’re looking at these services but don’t really understand what they’re getting into.

  22. @Mike

    Very true, I’ve been moving more and more towards networking and building relationships with local businesses. This has been much more effective then trying to sell.

  23. I’m late to the party but thanks for the discussion Mike, we’ve seen a lot of the Yelp and RL sales reps come in with the “best friend” sales pitch. Once a client cancels, you never hear from them again.

    I know the article is mainly about Yelp, but we’ve had quite a few RL reps share insider information concerning competitors spend in AdWords. In one market they (RL) managed at least 5 competing companies targeting the same customer base in the same industry. Exclusivity much?

  24. @Aaron
    I too have heard stories about RL. I haven’t written anything because I don’t have first hand experience. But the hard, non consultative sell is the hard, non consultative sell. And an overly aggressive salesperson is an overly aggressive salesperson with all too much incentive to lie…. question is: Is that how they are trained or are they born that way? :)

  25. They will do a month to month contract. It is a little more expensive but worth the flexibility if their ads don’t generate any results. Be sure to put in place so e way to track the value of the ad.

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