Why you should (not) advertise on Yelp 

 July 1, 2010

By  Pascal Depuhl

I’ve been looking at local search for a while now, being listed in Google places has helped my business tremendously by being ranked well in Google organic search results, so much so that my business is a favorite place on Google. (I got the fancy QR code sticker and everything.) In the last few months, I have been studying other local searches such as foursquare and yelp. I have been asking experts in the photography field about how local search affects photographers online and had an interview with Rosh Sillars, co-author of “The Linked Photographer’s guide” on his podcast the new media photographer. Yesterday I got a call from a very kind and knowledgeable sales rep from Yelp and I had a long phone call with him this morning. I learned a lot about Yelp and thought I’d share it here.

The free business profile on Yelp

Yelp’s business listings let your customers write reviews about your business and also give you a chance to add some basic information about your business, similar to a profile on Google local. It includes your address, contact info, link to your website, map of the business location, room for a special offer, your opening hours, some options for sharing this listing and writing a review, and a space for an ad of your competitor (more on that later).

Below the fold, your business listing continues with your reviews and some more information about your specialties, your businesses history, and a brief bio of you the business owner
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All this information can be entered by you on Yelp, where all you need to have is a personal profile in order to claim your business listing (or to write a review for that matter). Once you claim your business, Yelp verifies your information with an automatic phone call that prompts you to enter a code.

The organic search algorithm in Yelp is based on a couple of factors, reviews, completeness of listing, age of listing (I assume all this – since it’s secret), but it also takes into account the reviewer. When I do a search for photographers in Miami there are listings that have higher rankings, although they have fewer and worse reviews, the reviewer is a top reviewer on Yelp with many reviews.

Yelp provides a lot of information about the reviewer how many reviews, how many 5-star, 4-star, 3-star, … reviews how many reviews of what type of businesses (‘x’ number of restaurants, ‘y’ a number of bars, ‘z’ number of hotels) and it seems that if you have a person that writes a lot of reviews on Yelp reviews your business that this pushes that business listing to the top of the pile – even if the reviews are not good. For instance, my company – at this point I have 2 5-star reviews that came in behind 2 3-start reviewed businesses – although one of the companies had only one review, the reviewer had written many reviews on Yelp. Yelp also does not seem to be able to differentiate on what was reviewed, so if an expert reviewer that has 500 restaurant reviews for instance (and would arguably be an expert on reviewing restaurants) – if that person reviews my photography business, and that review is the only photography-related review, it would rank higher than a listing that is reviewed by photography experts that have not reviewed an aggregate of 500 businesses, although their opinion should carry more weight.

However, Yelp also has another method of advertising:

The paid business profile on yelp

Yelp has a paid advertising program, that has a lot of benefits over their normal business listing. Let’s start with the Search Page Ad. The business listing with the yellow background is the sponsored result. Yelp places this on top of the search when people search for related topics, Yelp says this is not keyword-driven, but more concept-driven, i.E. this listing for a photographer would pop up when someone is looking for photos, photography, images, …

So is it worth the money?

This specific program is based on impressions (the Yelp rep guaranteed me 500+ impressions a month, for roughly ¢70 per impression.) – There is a PPC version available as well, but it is limited to 10 clicks a day for $2.- per click. It does not give you the enhanced business listing.

The second benefit of a paid listing is that your listing is placed in your competitors ad (again see the sponsored yellow link inside the Business Page Ad of another photographer – see I told you we were coming back to the competitors ad in your business profile). At the same time paying for this program guarantees that no competitor ads will pop up in your listing.

Finally you can track your profile views on your business owner’s account page (which looks very similar to the information I get with the un paid version of my Yelp account).

The last big thing difference you get for this paid program is the Enhanced Business Listing. This listing features a slide show with unlimited photos, where the first image is actually a video that is produced by TurnHere.com, a web service that comes to your place of business and produces a 60-90 sec video – actually a pretty cool concept.

My conclusion

I like Yelp. I like the concept. I like the interface. I like the reviews. I like the fact that real people write real reviews – at least that what Yelp is trying to do.

But so far all of my SEO efforts have centered on organic search. I have played with Google Adwords for a month with not a single sale and I have done some paid Facebook advertising without any success either, whereas my organic (can you say free) SEO efforts have paid off immensely – Photography by Depuhl is a ‘Favorite Place on Google‘ for instance, so I need to confess that I am a little gun shy about paid search. Going from a $0.- search budget to one that would cost several thousand dollars is a little steep for me right now.

However, this paid search on Yelp has some really good benefits, I like the idea of the professionally produced video they throw in – that’s pretty sweet (but also something I can do my self with a couple photographer buddies of mine), I like the enhanced listings, but not enough to pay that kind of money for this. I also like the fact that you pop up in your competition’s profile as an ad – although I almost always completely ignore sponsored results in a search result.

Today I don’t think my target market (companies that are looking for a commercial photographer in Miami) is looking for that on Yelp. In the future, I think that Yelp is definitely a valid resource to be listed on and I like where the company is headed (so does Google, they tried to buy out Yelp for $500 million but were turned down in late Dec. 2009 according to the New York Times blog).

My biggest issue is the lack of metrics. Sure Yelp says that 1,000 people were looking for photography in Miami last month, but I would assume that most of those are looking for shooters for their weddings, portraits, and events. But I can’t see that, I have to take their word for it. They also guarantee me 500+ impressions – and though I can see them on my business owner’s account page, they are very rudimentary from what they look like to me. Since it is not a keyword-based search on the user’s part, I don’t know when Yelp would serve up my listing – if someone is looking to buy a camera or for a place to have photographic prints made, will I be listed and counted as an impression?

So the long and short of it is that for me the cost of this profile (although it comes with some really nice features and exclusivity) is too steep. My concern is that my target market is not using Yelp (yet) and I would like to see some better metrics for knowing who is searching for what on Yelp and how my ads would get served up.

That being said, if you want to give me the money, I would love to try this out for a year (Yelp’s timeframe one has to commit to for the sponsored listings) and I promise to report back on it in a year. But for now, I can’t justify the expense and the PPC program does not seem to give me good enough benefits – although I may try it on for size. Who knows maybe it will convince me to give Yelp a try with the sponsored profile.

  • Some top advice here, and I agree it is extremely important to diversify your marketing strategy, don’t just focus on one channel.Working in marketing I come across umteen businesses that just do the opposite of your advice re stay local. They don’t even consider it, they just broadcast their message without thinking how to focus on their target market, and even better, their local target market.What Patrick said in his comment is a good point, provide your customers with a means of staying in touch and your success rate will be much higher. Or should I say, your ‘targeted’ success rate.The problem is, and I know this from experience, you can advise people what to do, but for them to get off their backsides and do it is a different matter. They seem as keen as mustard when you tell them about it, but unless they have a schedule and stick to it, they will let their online marketing go stale.

  • Mark, thanks for your comment.

    I do use Yelp a lot as a customer when I’m traveling. It’s a quick way to find a good restaurant in a new town.
    You are also right on the money when you say that commercial photography probably won’t get booked through a ‘homemaker’ or a consumer. How B2B or commercial photography is marketed is very different that one would market a B2C or retail photography studio. Yelp is very much a B2C platform – I can’t see a kitchen appliance wholesaler putting any stock in the reviews of a restaurant’s patrons to figure out where to sell his commercial ovens.

    Lastly SEO is more like marketing and less like sales. If you place an ad in the paper, you don’t pay for results, you pay based on how many subscribers are going to see the ad. I’ve always said that SEO only gets you into the door. Your images and your brand are what gets you the job and your follow through and the experience your client has on the shoot will get you the repeat business.

  • Yelp is for exactly what it’s name is; whiners. While I can agree it’s handy for restaurants, other businesses not so much. One of my clients got a bad review from someone who never used his service. They gave him a bad review just because he received a bad review from someone else. What the? Another big warning flag is the fact that their sales staff will call you constantly. They will even use area codes that are local in your area to trick you into thinking it’s a local call so you are more likely to pick up the phone and deal with their high pressure sales people. I don’t like Yelp but they seem to be a necessary evil so I’m listed there. They would probably do better if they split their service and rebrand it for restaurants instead of whiners. I’m really annoyed, as well, that Apple would partner with them to serve up their listings on Apple Maps.

    As for SEO, while I agree that lots of eyeball increase the chances of making a sale some of us are never going to get anything from someone just seeing your listing. In some genres (commercial photography), the right person is not going to be Harry or Harriet home maker. Which makes me wonder why at all I have a page on Yelp because as it was mentioned, your next corporate gig is probably not going to come from there.

    As for SEO (part deus): You know, if you or I refer someone to a business, they might give us a finders fee IF that lead comes to fruition. If a salesman completes a sale, he gets a commission. He doesn’t get it just for meeting you or talking to you on the phone; why on earth should we pay for eyeballs to see our page. Maybe there needs to be a new model where the PPC doesn’t get any money unless we make an actual sale.

  • […] But there are only a few places online, that let people write these compliments online, I’m thinking primarily LinkedIn (for B2B) and Google (for clients that find you though search) and not so much Yelp – I love Yelp when I’m looking for a restaurant, but I have not seen anyone pull their website up to find a commercial or advertising photographer (that’s why I think it makes no sense for you to advertise on Yelp.) […]

  • Cool review on Yelp, I’m about to launch a paid per click advertisement in which my yelp guy says its 3 dollars per click, I’m skeptical, but want to see for a month if it works. Will let you know :)

  • Excellent analysis and overview of what Yelp offers. A nice neutral perspective too. That’s refreshing. Although there may be a bug somewhere in their program. When you come off paid status, I’ve heard several complain that their pages then weren’t indexed anymore, not on Google or searchable. It got fixed, but I have seen it for myself that some pages are suppressed. So I’d work that into the contract that you are trying for a limited time and that your page will revert exactly as it is now on the free page, still be indexed, etc. just to make sure. They’ve added some wicked killer tracking and back end stuff for business lately so I can see why you’re considering it.

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    Pascal Depuhl

    Miami product photographer, video producer, cinematographer and chief mindchanger at Photography by Depuhl I love to share the knowledge I've gained over the past two decades. Catching light in motion.