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:

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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:

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Google Local: Improved Messaging on Moved Businesses Now Showing

Starting in December Google started rolling out improved instructions & listing messaging on pages for businesses that Google knew had moved locations. Instead of stating that the business was closed Google will, if proper procedure is followed, indicate that a business has relocated. This new messaging is starting to appear in the wild. While still not perfect and the moving process is still too complicated, it is an improvement.

Google Maps

 

 

 

Here are the instructions to mark a place as moved:

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Google+ Local Now Suggests Places to Review Based on Your Search History

Google may no longer allow SMBs to run client contests  for money or charity to gather reviews. That doesn’t slow Google down from encouraging G+ Local users from leaving more reviews by digging into a users search history.

The Google Plus Daily noted several days ago that Google+ Local Now Suggests Places to Review. Google is using your search history and checkins to inform the nag.

Clearly Google is exploring one more way to “close the search to sale loop” and determine when a searcher actually makes a purchase. When you combine this with Offers, Check-Ins, Driving Dirctions, Wallet, Zavers (Coupons), various iPhone apps and the use of Android, Google is clearly going to triangulate their way to conversion information if they can’t get it directly and they are obviously looking across all of their software to find it.Screen Shot 2013-01-18 at 5.21.18 PM

 

Do Review Contests that Donate to Charity Violate Google’s Review Guidelines? Yes

Earlier this week when I reported that Review Contests Violate Google’s Guidelines, Dave Squires, Contractor’s Online Access asked this question

Review contest incentive

HI Mike, In Seattle last year I was in local U when I asked Joel Headley during his presentation about indirect incentives. We have a system that provides an incentive to customers by offering to make a monetary donation to 1 of 5 local charities the company owner selected, if the customer would donate some of their time to leave a review–good or bad.

We did this so that the customer had no direct gain from it and it fit within the Google “do no evil” mission statement. We wrote the program that managed and tracked this for our customers because we liked the idea that it could potentially generate thousands of dollars to worthwhile charities around the country. At local U Joel specifically said that Google would never have a problem with a program that donates to charity to ‘incentivize’ a customer to take the time to leave a review. I am curious if this is still true.

Personally, I would love to see Google endorse this concept since we learned it does very well as an incentive for customers to take the time to leave a review without any direct reward to them… and it would generate a lot of money to many great local charities if others ran with our idea as well.

Google’s response: “Any incentive offered in return for a review of a specific business is against our policy.

I guess that you can conclude that any incentive of any sort for a review on Google is not allowed.

 

Loci 2012 – Lisa Barone

photoA new contributor to the Loci series this year is Lisa Barone. Hired in September by Overit, she oversees Overit’s marketing consulting, social media and content divisions and serves on the agency’s senior staff. She is known internationally for pioneering many of the best practices and strategies for social media, marketing and content in the online, digital world.

OK that’s the official version. My version? Lisa is a unique voice that never fails to put the whole mishegas of internet marketing into perspective for both SMBs and marketers. She is a fearless observer in a world that is all too often full of fear. If you can’t tell, she is one of my favorite writers in the industry. Her current writing can be found at Overit and SmallBizTrends.

On her G+ profile she notes that “I save brands. Most often from themselves” and takes what should be a self evident position in saying: “I am morally opposed to this. All of this”. The same could be said of her relationship to marketers. She saves us from ourselves and often provides a compass to follow.

Here are some articles that influenced her thinking about local in 2012:

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How to Optimize Your Business For Local Search and Social Marketing

This super-meaty post from Neil Patel serves as an incredible resource for small business owners. Whether they’re just getting started marketing their business on the Web or if they’ve been doing it for years, there’s still something to take away from this post.

Local and Mobile Domination: Harnessing the Changing SERPs

During December’s BlueGlassX event, Michelle Lowery blogged an awe-inspiring presentation from Michael Dorausch about how to absolutely dominate local search. With his presentation, Michael walks SMBs through the process of generating links through content and opens everyone’s else eyes on HOW and WHERE to find unique content inspiration. Stuff you haven’t even thought of! What I love about Michael is that he’s not an SEO. He’s just a really, really smart business owner who is doing amazing things to conquer the SERPs and grow an engaged customer base.  Michael’s slides are also included in Michelle’s session recap.

Running a successful business means becoming a master at earning buzz and bringing eyeballs to what you’re doing.  Here, Startup Nation compiles a great list on how to get media coverage for your startup. It’s a Must Read for all local business owners. You can’t wait for press to come to you. Go get it.

Facebook Graph Search and Local From Across the Web- Let the Fight Begin

MUHAMMAD ALI ROCKS GEORGE FOREMAN ON THE JAWFacebook with the rollout of Graph Search (terrible name) is staking its ground in local search. Here are selected comments from Matt McGee, Danny Sullivan & Greg Sterling that I thought summarized the situation well:

Greg Sterling

What Does FB (Graph) Search Mean for Local?

If Facebook’s execution is successful and the UX is good then the local search market may consolidate around Google, Facebook, Yelp and to some degree Apple in mobile. Vertical and niche sites/apps will remain viable and perhaps continue to thrive. But “thin” horizontal local sites could effectively be done.

The early weakness of the product will be data and the fact that its database is limited or incomplete vs other competitors. This was especially true in my test of Nearby vs. Yelp.

While it’s still a bit too early to say I’m not going that far out on a limb to argue that it’s possible Facebook Graph Search (and Nearby) could become just as important in local as Google.

Matt McGee

Facebook Graph Search Arrives To Challenge Google, Yelp, Foursquare & Others

Facebook Graph Search will be more valuable to active Facebook users — those who’ve actively Liked businesses and pages, artists and movies, and so forth.

The big question for the long haul is whether or not Facebook Graph Search is good enough that users will change their search activity enough to put a dent in “the Google habit.” Although Facebook is saying that its new search product offers a different use-case than traditional web search, anything that keeps users on Facebook longer and away from Google would be a win in Facebook’s view.

Local search may be one of the most compelling use cases. As the second screenshot above shows, Facebook can build a very Yelp-like and Foursquare-like local recommendations engine based on the combination of friends, their Facebook check-ins, their “likes” of local businesses and similar data.

SEO For Facebook Graph Search? Facebook Has Some Tips

The business Page is what a small/local business can control the most, and Facebook’s three specific tips for business owners, then, are focused on optimizing a Page for the new search (and this is straight from their post):

  • The name, category, vanity URL, and information you share in the “About” section all help people find your business and should be shared on Facebook.
  • If you have a location or a local place Page, update your address to make sure you can appear as a result when someone is searching for a specific location.
  • Focus on attracting the right fans to your Page and on giving your fans a reason to interact with your content on an ongoing basis.

Danny Sullivan

How The New Facebook Search Is Different & Unique From Google Search

With Facebook Graph Search, the objects we search for aren’t web pages but instead virtual representations of real world objects: people, places and things. The connections are primarily Facebook Likes. Did such-and-such a person like a particular photo? A particular doctor? A particular restaurant? Those likes are the ties that bind the information in Facebook together.

A Facebook search can show you restaurants in San Francisco liked by your friends. Or further, those liked by your friends who actually live in San Francisco, as opposed to those who live elsewhere. Or those liked by your single friends, your straight friends, your gay friends, your friends who work for a particular company….

Need a good plumber? An electrician? Someone to do your taxes? A doctor? A dentist? These are all typically questions that are great to ask friends. You trust friends. With Facebook Graph Search, there’s the promise of asking all your friends this at once without actually having to ask them. You can just search and discover professionals like this that they like.

That all depends, however, on whether those professionals themselves have created a presence for themselves on Facebook. In turn, it also depends on whether those who use them have also liked them. Without those connections, there’s nothing to mine.

If the utility to use Facebook as a type of super-Yelp or super-LinkedIn doesn’t prove itself at first, at the very least, Facebook Graph Search will allow people to search within Facebook itself in a better way than they can now. For example, people will be able to find all the photos they’ve liked on Facebook.

It remains very early days, but I already find it fascinating the types of searches this is allowing me to do, searches I hadn’t contemplated before. It reminds me of how in the past, we wouldn’t have thought of doing things like YouTube searches or Twitter searches, since we didn’t have those resources. Now, we search at these places for unique needs. Facebook is a great repository of data, and it finally has a search catching up to all it knows.

John Batelle

FACEBOOK IS NO LONGER FLAT: ON GRAPH SEARCH

Prior to seeing the new search, I was not certain Facebook would ever live up to the hype it has accrued over its short life. It’s a good service, but it’s flat – over time, it struck me, people would tire of tending to it. They set up their social graph, toss a few sheep, poke some pals (or not), “like” this or that (often off-domain), waste hours on Farmville, and then…engagement drops slowly over time. I’m also not a fan of Facebook’s domain-specific approach to the world, as many of you know. Facebook’s new search doesn’t address Facebook’s walled garden mentality (yet), but it nails the first issue. Once this search product is rolled out to all of its members, Facebook will no longer be flat.

Put another way, Facebook needed a service that layered a fresh blanket of value over its core topography. Graph Search is it.

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I think the above sums up the situation pretty well. Facebook has a chicken and egg issue and local is devilishly difficult to do at grand worldwide scales. And that raises this question: How will Google respond?

The view from where I sit? Facebook has scale and they have an audience. And they have bright people, lots of money and desire. In that regard they are unlike any competitor Google has had in local in recent times. Can Facebook change people’s behaviors? Can they get enough data to solve enough queries that it becomes a useful discovery engine? Yes but it will take time.

And Google never sits still. They are hyper competitive and are unlikely to give any quarter to Facebook in local. Google has a long history of directly confronting competitors in local and winning. With the YellowPages, Google did a better IYP. With Mapquest they did a better map. With Yahoo they did better search and better mobile. With Groupon they did offers and waited. With Yelp they are doing reviews and if not better quite yet, at a bigger scale. They have confronted every competitor head on and aggressively.

Google clearly has been working hard on building out a social graph and their knowledge graph around local entities. They are in the process of building out a more robust, stable and comprehensive local infrastructure. But that process has left their local product in a state of disarray that every SMB hopes will be fixed quickly. Its product is too complicated and opaque for most businesses to get their heads around.

Now that Facebook has shown their hand though, Google can now focus their energies. And focused it will be. Will Google win this one as well? We won’t know the answer to that but the games have started and it should great game to watch.

Loci 2012 – Nyagoslav Zhekov

Nyagoslav Zhekov is a 20 something Bulgarian that owns and operates NGS Marketing. He has spoken at SMX West, is a guest author for SearchEnginePeople.com and elsewhere. When he isn’t answering questions on the Google and Your Business Forum, where he is a Top Contributor, and Quora you might find him playing (European) football with his teammates from Absolut AFC (Varna) or traveling with his wife Jenny.

Wherever or whatever he has a passion and integrity about local and has become a student of the craft. Read along with him on his journey of self discovery about the realities of business.

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I am relatively new to the online world, having used the Internet for the first time just about 7 years ago. That was long after Google has established itself as the dominant search engine and I was hearing everywhere how cool it was and how the team behind it was strictly obeying to their “Don’t be evil” creed. Probably that is why when I started doing what I do for a living I was observing Google’s actions from a somewhat romantic and idealistic point of view. To my greatest disappointment, this grandiose image was gradually demolished by no other but Google themselves.

One point I feel I should make before sharing my thoughts is that I am not really a fan of conspiracy theories. However, there are so many details involved that it would be hard even for the greatest conspiracy skeptic to deny them.

Awakening

My “awakening” began in the summer of 2011 with Google removing the images that were previously “attached” to each Google Places result in the organic SERPs. It didn’t make much sense and they didn’t give any proper explanation why they made this move. A little later, in October of the same year, the Googlers decided to change the red balloon markers that were previously found next to each Places result, with grey ones. Again – no logical explanation. In January 2012, they “reduced” the number of local listings that were showing in the local SERPs, a phenomenon that was observed across a wide array of verticals and locales. And that is when I started questioning myself – why?

The following events gave a relatively clear answer to my wondering. In the end of January (early February), the Venice algorithm update was rolled out, which could have been one of the potential reasons for “blended” Places SERPs to replace the “packs” almost everywhere. In February, the web descriptions disappeared in the blended SERPs. In June, the golden stars that could have previously been achieved if you have 5 or more reviews on your Places listing, were replaced by numbers, but only in the organic results, not in the paid ones. All of these changes made it clear that Google understood that the local listings had too great of an influence on the user’s click-through decision making and they were trying to reduce the “eye magnetism” in every way possible. At the same time they were pitching paid advertising and potentially developing a “marketing portal” targeted predominantly at small businesses. There is nothing bad, you would say, in a corporation trying to increase its profit. And I agree, but just partly. There are two main problems:

1. It would be a conflict of interest if Google starts prioritizing its own paid products. Oh, wait, they are doing this right now, openly and not so much.

2. It means that Google is ready to sacrifice part of the usefulness (removing images and descriptions) and relevance of the organic search results (reducing the number of listing results) in order to prioritize the paid results.

The Bright Light at the End of the Tunnel

Hope for improvement, as frequently happens in economics, comes from the competition. And there is not as much hope to see the competitors coming up with something better, but rather hope for competitors to come at least a little closer to Google in order for them to feel threatened. And fortunately, there was a lot of action in the world of “local” apart from Google. The biggest news came from Apple, but in my opinion it was Yelp who was the most active. Facebook launched Nearby, and Nokia – Here. There are also hopes that the new CEO of Yahoo – Marissa Mayer, will move the things around local inside the lethargic behemoth.

Let’s hope 2013 will show us some signs of Google returning to its roots of non-evil-doing.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search