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

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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!”

  3. This is from Yelps contract:

    FURTHERMORE, TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW, YELP SPECIFICALLY DISCLAIMS ALL WARRANTIES AND GUARANTEES REGARDING (I) THE PERFORMANCE, QUALITY AND RESULTS OF THE AD PROGRAMS, INCLUDING AD CLICK RATES, CONVERSIONS, AND ANY USER-GENERATED CONTENT THAT APPEARS IN YOUR AD PROGRAMS, (II) THE ACCURACY OF THE INFORMATION AND METRICS THAT YELP PROVIDES IN CONNECTION WITH THE SITE OR AD PROGRAMS (E.G. TRAFFIC, VIEWS, VISITORS, USERS, DEMOGRAPHICS, AND BEHAVIORAL INFORMATION ABOUT VISITORS AND USERS), (III) YELP’S ABILITY TO TARGET AD IMPRESSIONS TO OR IN CONNECTION WITH PARTICULAR USERS, TYPES OF USERS, USER LOCATIONS, USER QUERIES, OR OTHER USER BEHAVIORS, (IV) THE PLACEMENT, CONTENT, PROMOTIONAL VALUE, QUALITY, TIMING, OR NUMBER OF AD IMPRESSIONS.

    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.

    Emily,

    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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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:
    http://venturebeat.com/2012/02/14/yelp-ads-leave-bad-impressions-for-small-businesses/

    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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. @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!

  9. Glad to have found this blog. I was contacted by a very smooth talking charming Yelp salesman this summer and he was everything you described but much much more.

    THis guy was good, I got to hand it to him. He got me. He pretended we were friends and sold me. And I’m not an easy person to sell to either. After calling me day and night for about a week, I finally started to believe that what he knew was best and my opinion didn’t matter anymore. So I signed up for a year at $425 a month to be effective Sept 1, 2013. I signed up beginning of August.

    2 days after I signed his contract I realized I had made a horrible mistake, so I contacted him to cancel.

    I argued with him that Sept 1st start date didn’t happen yet, so why couldnt I cancel? He said “your already in the system”. I didn’t want the $850 cancelation charge so I agreed to leaving it on.

    The next two weeks I beat myself up. I was devistated. Even my kids noticed my mood change. I couldnt’ believe what I signed for. and I’m just AN ARTIST, I’M A 1 WOMAN ARTIST that works occasionally, but I don’t even consider my art – a business. It’s just something that I do FOR FUN, that pays, when I have TIME.

    Anyway, after the 2 week emotional breakdown (I actually signed up for therapy session because of it). I get contacted by another woman from Yelp. Her job was to make sure my yelp page “looked good”. I avoided her at all costs! I didn’t reply to her messages, hung up on her calls and didnt’ return anything. I was in YELP TRAUMA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    She was upset with me as to why I was avoiding her (after all, she wasnt trying to sell me anything, I was already “in the system”. So finally I decided to reply to an email and I said “YES OR NO… CAN I STILL CANCEL?”.

    She replied “I’m so sorry you feel this way and your campain has not even started yet, I really need to speak to you about this, but to answer your questions, YES, you can”.

    Immediatly I called her and told her my whole story. Almost broke down to her. She sounded like she was not at all suprised. She cancelled me.

    Although I don’t have the cancellation papers yet like she promised she would email me, I have in writting saying she would, so I’m cool with that. I know I can put a stop payment with that alone.

    Just so you know, since then, my “free ad” is no place to be found on YELP. Technically it’s still there, because I can link to it. But its not coming up at all on any searches like it was BEFORE THE PHONE CALL FROM HIM.

    wow. that’s all I can say. No worries, I will open a new yelp page and he wont know it’s me. that’s all….

  10. liz

    They are slick aren’t they…. I have experienced this type of salesman forever so I was somewhat hardened but they are “good” if you define closing the sale at all costs as good.

    Sorry you had such a traumatic experience but I am glad you moved to the other side successfully. You should send Yelp your therapy bill. :)

  11. @Bill. LOL. It’s cool, I don’t want anything from them! I don’t even want the free ad anymore (the one that miraculously is gone after i cancelled).

    Even the clients that contact me from yelp have to tell me they are contacting me from yelp as if… “you better be nice to me or I’ll tell on you!!” I don’t really want to hear the word “yelp” in my daily life anymore. ha ha….

  12. Mike…This is the most accurate assessment of Yelp today! it’s sad that they are getting offers from Google and Yahoo and now turning to the old YP tactics to raise revenues…my clients avoid their cheesy sales reps and direct the calls to me…I have fun with these calls and extend the white glove business courtesy!

  13. Yes, I ran ads with them for 5 months.. Only got ONE actual conversion in all that time, I paid out over $240 to them and got absolutely NONE of the ROI that they promised over the phone.

    Everything that this person said is 100% true.

    I filed a complaint with the BBB and they refused to refund me even $60 saying they made no guarantees of that the service would generate any conversions whatsoever. They said “We cannot offer you a refund” .. I love those sleazy scammer types..

    as if God came down and said THOU SHALT NOT GRANT A REFUND.

    They are fucking refusing with FULL WILL POWER to grant a disgruntled customer a $60 refund. Ridiculous.

    Oh, other thing is too. My customer wrote a review of my service and it immediately got filtered, showing up so on the site. It looks like one of those comments on Youtube that got voted down and isn’t shown by default as a result.

    I called them and told them that it is deceptive it makes it sound like a false review. They said it’s an automated filter that they can do nothing about.

    What it comes down to: They rip you the fuck off. If you complain, there’s nothing they can do about it because it’s all automated. Riiiight.

    Never doing business with these scam artists ever again.

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