Does Yelp Even Matter?

Yelp Love

We have all seen the stickers at businesses.

But, what is Yelp? And, more importantly, does Yelp matter to my business?

I'm asked about Yelp at least once a week. When I first started paying attention to online reviews, Yelp intrigued me at first. This feeling of bliss around Yelp was  very short lived. It didn't take me long to see that Yelp is pay to play, and Yelp is full of phony reviews.

Business owners ask me if Yelp is necessary for their business' success. Short answer, no. I tell every business owner that asks me about Yelp, not to even worry about it. It seems that as time goes on, more people (both business owners and consumers) are becoming aware that Yelp is a racket, in other words, a scam.

I tend to see the best in every one and everything, until I'm given a reason not to. At first glance, Yelp looks like a great idea. It seems like an independent review site that is not owned or controlled by either Google or Facebook. It seemed like their only agenda was to provide honest reviews to fellow consumers. If this is done correctly, without ulterior motives (money), it can be a great thing.


My Yelp Experience

I have owned several businesses over the last 18 years. In that time I have not been a member of the BBB, and I only made the mistake of getting the big advertisement in the yellow pages once. I am saying this now because I will tie this in to my story soon.

My latest business, Steve Davis Marketing, I was very interested in the beginning about all online reviews. Yelp seemed like a great platform. I reached out to several current clients and asked them if they would leave a review for me on Yelp. I had five star reviews from seven clients. I began actively reaching out to more clients asking them for Yelp reviews.

Then something interesting happened. I received a phone call from Yelp asking me to run Yelp ads. They had a great sales pitch about how they could promote my business so that it stood out among my competitors. They had a set of data showing far more searches for my niche than the Google free keyword planner had at that time, They gave me one reference in my niche (I didn 't bother calling). They wanted $400 a month for the ads.

I turned them down. I did not see the need to spend on their ads. Plus the pricing structure seemed higher than Google or Facebook.

That's when things started changing. My seven reviews that were all 5 star? They took down 5 of them and said "not currently recommended." What happened that made 5 reviews not recommendable? I checked my Yelp profile this morning and the same 2 reviews are posted, but now only 2 reviews are not recommended. Where did the other 3 reviews go?

Screenshot from my Yelp Profile:

yelp screenshot

What Yelp Reminds Me Of:

yellow pages

Does anyone else remember the Yellow Pages?

Most people in the US below the age of 25 do not remember them. But, back in the day the Yellow Pages were the "ultimate marketing tool." Can you hear the sarcasm in my tone? It's there for a reason. The Yellow Pages practically stole money from hard working business owners, convincing them to try to buy the larger ad than their competitors. Most of these over priced ads did not produce the results business owners were hoping for.

Back when I started my first company 18 years ago, the internet wasn't a factor in business. Facebook hadn't been thought of yet. So, a very young Steve Davis (at least I thought I was young) went to see the Yellow Page sales person in my area. To put it into frame, this was 2001. Longview, Texas had a population of around 60,000.

A full page ad in the Yellow Pages was $2,000 a month. I ended up going with a dollar bill sized ad. This cost me $400 a month. I think I had gotten 2 clients from that over priced ad. I might as well have thrown the money out of the window. To make matters worse, the 2 customers were price shoppers that wanted something for nothing.

I remember the Yellow Page salesman sneering at me the next year when I wouldn't renew the ad saying that, "Businesses can't make it unless they are in the Yellow Pages." Challenge accepted. I sent direct mail, went door to door, and business to business. I received a much higher ROI on that activity than I ever saw from the Yellow Pages.

Once the internet started taking off, and the advent of social media (especially Facebook), we saw the Yellow Pages on its last days. I laughed really hard seeing how the Yellow Pages has fallen.

What I am saying is, Yelp is like the Yellow Pages of the internet. You pay way too much to get garbage clients that are far from ideal.

Many Businesses Have Had the Same Experience with Yelp

It would be one thing if Yelp experiences like mine were isolated. However, these seem to be the norm instead of the exception. There are many cases of Yelp refusing to post 5 star reviews because a business refuses to pay for Yelp ads. It's funny how the 1 star and 2 star reviews stay up, no matter how many there are when you are not paying for Yelp ads.

Just a simple Google search will give you a plethora of reading material. There are also Facebook pages devoted to exposing Yelp for what it is- a pay to play platform that provides no benefit to either businesses or consumers. Here are just a few of the Facebook pages I found:

There are plenty of other sites online that deal with the Yelp "extortion" and scam ads that are prevalent today.

This is a site with a detailed case study of why Yelp ads didn't work for them:

Just one Google search will give you more than enough proof on why you don't want to do business with Yelp.

yelp fraud

Is There a Way to Get Around The Yelp Review Scam?

There are two ways that your business can not only exist, but thrive without Yelp. The first way, and this is the way that I advise the majority of my clients, is to simply ignore Yelp. Focus on Google Reviews, and maybe Facebook Reviews. 

I only advise the second way if a business thinks that Yelp is just absolutely necessary for their businesses. Certain businesses like high end salons and restaurants want a good Yelp review rating. In this instance, have someone else call up and say that they are your marketing director for your business. You are looking to start running $1,000 (USD) a month in Yelp ads, but with a low review rating on Yelp, the business owner doesn't want to take a chance. I have seen this method used on three different occasions, and on each one the negative reviews disappeared in less than 24 hours.

My Closing Thoughts on Yelp

I don't think that anyone has to guess about how I feel about Yelp after reading the above article. I haven't pulled any punches, but I also haven't hyped up anything either. I feel that Yelp is a company motivated by greed, and they do damage to honest, hardworking business owners by selling them ads that don't work, or holding their positive reviews until they are paid.

Going back to the Yellow Pages and the BBB (Better Business Bureau), the one thing I noticed in my businesses was that customers that relied on either for their purchases were not top tier clients. They were price shoppers, also known as "tire kickers" and typically wanted something for nothing. Which leaves me to wonder, are the consumers that use Yelp just like them?

What is your experience as a business owner? Are customers that use Yelp top tier, or just tire kickers?

If you are a consumer reading this, do you rely on Yelp for reviews before making a purchase?

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