Yelp Strikes Again…

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I went to a hookah lounge the other day just to relax and hang out with my girlfriend.

This is a hookah lounge that I’ve been visiting once in a while for the past year now and I’ve gotten to the know the owner a bit since he’s always out on the floor greeting customers making sure everyone is having a good time and things are going smoothly.

He’s a super cool dude and he, along his entire friendly staff, is one of the reasons I keep coming back (the hookah is good too).

Well, that night he came out and I, as I tend to do, asked him about his business and we just started shooting the breeze. He told me about his marketing plans including happy hour, $5 off coupons, trying to get the city to permit him to carry liquor license, rebranding it as a “restaurant” rather than a “lounge” (there’s more profit in food than hookah).

And well, one thing led to another and Yelp came into the discussion. (And BOY was that a hot-button for him!)

I asked if he was offering rewards for reviews and check-ins via Yelp because I noticed his Yelp listing only had 16 reviews and was sitting at only 3.5 stars.

He shook his head and said he tried that but it’s not working. I asked him what he means by “it’s not working” and that’s when he revealed that he has over 60 reviews that have been “filtered” and of those, like 50 of them are 5 stars. But on the actual public Yelp profile, only 16 reviews are displayed which shows his rating at 3.5 stars (when in reality, if all the “filtered” reviews are accounted for, he’d easily have 4.5 stars and not to mention a lot more social proof with 75+ reviews.

But he wasn’t done… he also disclosed that he gets a call from Yelp once every month or two and it’s the same pitch… “We see that you have only a 3.5 star rating, if you advertise with us, we can help you improve on that rating.

He, being the owner of a marketing company as well, refused the offer (guess he didn’t like the idea of being extorted…) and well, his rating remains a measly 3.5 stars which sucks because his service, hookah, and food are so much better than that.

Here’s yet ANOTHER example of Yelp practicing extortion. And looking at all the comments on my blog post, “A Candid Yelp Advertising Review – Is Yelp Ripping People Off?” he’s one of the MANY business owners who are being extorted and are PISSED about it.

And for more examples of the “darker side of Yelp”, take a look at this article CBS MoneyWatch author, Erik Sherman, wrote after interviewing me: When Yelp advertisers yelp at rates.

C’mon Yelp, get your act together and start being ethical and accountable. These allegations of Yelp engaging in shady sales practices are warranted, no matter how much Vince Solitto, VP of Yelp (and some of Yelp’s lovely sales-folks who like to come visit my blog and, with a fabulous display of uncontrollable emotions that is devoid of logic, attempt to attack me personally) try to deny them.


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Maybe you know and maybe you don’t… but Yelp (a local search and reviews online service) offers paid advertising for businesses called the “Yelp Sponsorship Program“.


To sum it up, according to the page advertising this opportunity, this Yelp Sponsorship program allows you to:

  1. Put up a slideshow of the images of your business.
  2. Highlight a user’s review that you like the most (as the business owner)
  3. Promote your business as a sponsored search result and on your competitors’ business pages. Target potential clients while they are making decisions about where to spend their money on a business like yours

It sounds all fancy spansy right?  Sounds like you get even MORE control over your business listing which will help “put your best foot forward” and sneak attack your competitors, stealing all their would be clients.

But Stop the Music, Do These Yelp Advertising Features Actually Accomplish Anything?  Or are They Just Fluff Designed to Lure You in so They can Zap You?

Suck Them in & Then ZAP Them!

Before we proceed, I’d like to first state that my experience and knowledge of this Yelp Sponsorship program comes from dealing with them on behalf of one of my clients.  This client signed up with Yelp (despite my warnings – apparently Yelp’s salesman are SMOOOTH) and I got to learn all about this program.

Having said that, that’s only ONE experience which doesn’t make me an expert but it certainly makes me more knowledgeable of this Yelp marketing program than those who’s never experienced it.

Furthermore, in case you are not familiar with how Yelp works, anybody can post a business on Yelp, as long as it falls under one of their categories and is a “fit” per their policies.  And the rightful owner can claim that Yelp page by jumping through some hoops and voila, you have a FREE listing about your business.

FREE Yelp Reviews Page

FREE Yelp Reviews Page

And for comparison’s sake, here’s an example of a PAID Yelp review page:

PAID Yelp Review Page

PAID Yelp Review Page

With that said… let’s examine feature #1.

The “Slide-Show”

Now, granted the larger images and the “slideshow” adds a bit more snazziness to the page but honestly, how big of a difference does it really make?  If you wanted to see pictures, wouldn’t you be inclined to go visit the business’ actual website?

I’d love to see some split test on this…

Favorite Review

As far as feature #2, I suppose this is a good thing, like Yelp for Business Owners says, “put your best foot forward”.  But then they go and shoot themselves in the foot by posting the “Rating Distribution” graph next to it.  This graph, as you can see, shows all the reviews, INCLUDING the negative ones.

As humans, we are so inclined to ask “what’s wrong” that I reckon most wouldn’t take the “favorite reviews” at face value; they’d go and seek the worst reviews to find out why those folks gave bad reviews.

Yelp’s Business Owner’s Sponsorship Program feature #3 is my favorite.

Yelp Advertising… on Others’ Pages

So the idea here is similar to Google AdWords, when someone searches for a term related to your business, your listing shows up (as, “Sponsored Result”) with the hopes that your business gets clicked on.

Here’s the caveat though, Yelp is charging you per impression basis instead of per click basis.  What this means is that whenever your listing shows up in this manner, it counts against your total allotted amount that you paid of (so you are paying “cost per impression”).  If it were click based (cost per click) you would get charged ONLY if your ad gets clicked.

This brings into a few questions, the least of which are:

  • So how much is it per impression?
  • How many impressions can you expect to get (this is of course dependent on the search volume) – bear in mind that this is a LOCAL search and review online system.  Which means»
  • Are you able to test different the keywords with which your listing shows up (which is costing you money)?
  • Are you able to TRACK the results you are getting on fine details?  I.e.»
  • How much control do you have over this campaign?  After all, you ARE paying for it.

Before I Go On, Let’s Talk About Leakage

What is “leakage“?  Well, in digital marketing term, it means actions taken by your website visitor that doesn’t contribute to your ultimate goal (such as capturing the lead, making the sale, etc.)  This often includes having active links which serve as distractions that take the visitor ELSEWHERE.

Now… take a good look at just about any Yelp review page, do you see leakage? Do you see links everywhere?  But more importantly (and relevantly from a marketing perspective), do you see the box that says, “People Who Viewed This Also Viewed…”?  Do you see how these links tend to be links to direct competition to the business review page you are viewing?

GEEZE! Can You Say, "Leakage Leakage Everywhere!"?

GEEZE! Can You Say, “Leakage Leakage Everywhere!”? Pay Per Impression is a Friggin’ Joke (& Rip Off You Can Argue)

Okay, so going back to the sample list of questions listed earlier on.  Let’s dig deeper and find out exactly what sort of program Yelp is running (and charging you for).

First of all, here’s the cost for Yelp’s advertising program:

$300/mo – promotes you to 1,500 people in your area looking for a business like yours.
$500/mo – promotes you to 4,000 people in your area looking for a business like yours.
$1000/mo – promotes you to 10,000 people in your area looking for a business like yours.


Blind Mouse TOY

So you are looking at $100 CPM (cost per thousand impressions) to $200 CPM to advertise on their network. In the AdWords world, this is ridiculously high for paying CPM unless you are in some highly competitive and profitable business like real estate and 401k portfolios (oh wait… given the crash of the economy, DOH!).  Even then you are pushing it a bit.  Folks who are paying high CPM on the pay per click networks have thoroughly tested their campaigns, have tracked EVERY single detail, and have all the control in the world.

But on Yelp?  Hellllll no!  You don’t know what your “campaign” looks like let alone have any control over it.  You are like a blind mouse and they are the big bad kitty toying with you.  And yet, they are still charging you an arm and a leg.  And one quick look around Yelp will tell you that most businesses are NOT high-price markets, they are mostly smaller markets like restaurants.

This brings me to my second point of frustration when dealing with these Yelp folks, where’s the proof of these impressions people paid for???  Where are my listings showing up?  And what’s the conversion rate??  Again, they tell you nothing and keep you blind.


Sales Team Who Doesn’t Know Jack and Preys on Toy Mice

Okay, so I had the opportunity to speak to a Yelp representative on the phone on my client’s behalf.  Armed with my knowledge of AdWords, marketing, the works… I came prepared.  Sadly for the person on the other line, that’s more than I can say for her.

I asked about all the things I mentioned before (about click through rates versus impressions, how I can track my campaign, how much control I have, etc.) and she was STUMPED.  She couldn’t understand why we would care about such matters.  As a matter of fact, I’d venture so far as to say she didn’t know JACK about marketing, and yet, she’s representing a team that’s suppose to help us market.

But what REALLY got to me was when I asked her about a 24 hour backout clause, which means that within 24 hours of the start of the campaign, if I am not satisfied with the results I am seeing, I can cancel.  Nope she said… and the reason is because it takes time for the program to ramp up for me to really start seeing results.

EHHH?  It’s the internet we are talking about here right?  I can track clicks fairly easily right?  Hmmm… okay.

So then I went on and asked what is the minimum sign up period, to which she replied, “6 months”.

OMGWTFBBQ, 6 month minimum at $325 a month where you have NO IDEA what’s going on?
For some reason,»   Thanks but no thanks.

The Proof is in the Pudding – Proof that Yelp Sucked

Against my better judgment, my client went for it anyway, and looking at the chain of emails he received from Yelp along with how their program is setup, I can sympathize why.

See, Yelp is banking on folks NOT knowing the difference between “impressions” and “clicks”.  They are banking on the fact that businesses will confuse “impressions” with “visitors” – as in, “For $300 a month I can get 1,500 NEW customers every month?  SWEET, sign me up!”  They are banking on folks not knowing how to track their progress and not caring to either.  They are banking on being able to just sweet talk their would be victim on the phone and dazzle them with fluff.

And worse yet, without the clients being able to track the campaign, Yelp is able to get folks to resign, again and again, by giving out meaningless stats.


Don't Let Yelp Do This to You

To give you a perspective of just how much SUCKINESS is in this program, with the aid of Google Analytics and my idea of adding a page that leads people to a printable in-store coupon, we were able to see how the program performed.  Here are the stats, in 2 months time, Yelp drove 64 unique visitors to this special landing page (which again helps us track the comers from our Yelp advertising campaign) and of those 64 visitors, we got 9 customers that we can tell.

This meant 32/1,500 = 2% conversion from visitor to Yelp to the website and 0.3% from impression to actual customer.  Put it another way, my client paid $72.22 for each of those clients – clients who are just diners to his restaurant.



Look, You Don’t Need to Pay for Yelp, Nor Do You Want To

Don’t get me wrong, is awesome, I use it all the time to get the low down on new restaurants, find a plumber, etc.  But you don’t need to pay to use it!  Business owners can get free Yelp review pages and those rank (from a search engine optimization perspective) just as well as the paid for pages.

This means you’ll get traffic regardless!

Hope this was enlightening for you.  Like I said earlier on, I’ve had only one experience with Yelp and boy was it a horrible one.  I’d love to hear some success stories and some proof that it worked.

Until then, don’t pay Yelp a dime to join in on their “Yelp for Business Owners” program, especially if you are a restaurant owner.

Raymond Fong

If you are looking for real trackable result, I’d like to recommend you take a look at our internet marketing consulting company which specializes in helping local businesses gain more exposure, get more leads, obtain more customers, and ultimately add to their bottom line leveraging the internet.


P.S. You might be interested in this post I wrote as well, “Yelp Strikes Again…

that you are really throttling the number of impressions your ads will show up because the number of LOCAL folks doing searches related to you business within your area is a tiny tiny fraction of the searches done nationally combined.
what keywords are converting, when is the best time to show your Yelp sponsored listing, etc.  Basically, questions that any savvy AdWords expert would ask.
they charged my client $325… maybe a price increase?
We are not even sure if these visits and visitors are a direct result of my client PAYING for this Yelp advertising program, read below to see what I mean.

So I see a lot of my colleagues and friends looking at starting CrossFit and some have asked me for my amateur insights into what CrossFit is and how they should go about getting started. So I thought I’d post some of my thoughts…

Let me start by saying that I am by no means a “CrossFit” expert, I am just a big fan of it (or perhaps more appropriately the CrossFit gym that I am a member at) after getting started a little over a year ago and one of the lucky ones who found an amazing CrossFit gym with a great coach and a great community.

So I’ll leave the “professional advice/tips/explanations” to the well… professionals.

However, I will give you some of my personal perspective on CrossFit from a trainee perspective and hopefully you can derive some value from it.

So First Off, What is CrossFit From My Perspective?

(Remember I am not interested in reciting to you the professional version of it.)

It’s a means to getting more “fit” by putting your body through various types of workouts designed to challenge the ten areas of fitness (Google them if you don’t know what those ten areas are).

Is CrossFit for you?

Well, can you walk?

Do you breath?

Do you have at least half of a brain to understand your own physical limitations?

Can you promise yourself that you will do your absolute best to NOT get injured by following GOOD sensible coaching and advice from qualified trainers?

Then yes, CrossFit CAN be for you.*

* But for the sake of you not suing me, I want to tell you to consult with a medical professional before starting bluh bluh bluh…

How Do You Decide on a CrossFit Gym?

Odds are, there are probably at least a dozen CrossFit gyms within a 4 mile radius of where you live. And by the time you are done reading this… I bet there will be at least one more.

Fact of the matter is, CrossFit gyms are popping up everywhere because it’s the “cool” thing to do. And it’s trendy and frankly, it doesn’t require that much from a qualification perspective for anybody to open a gym.

This means tons of people and their Uncle Bobs are opening one up around every street corner every day.

But tread carefully because not all CrossFit gyms are created equal.

Some are better than others and let me explain what “better” means…

How qualified is the owner?

Understand that to open a CrossFit gym doesn’t require a whole lot of qualifications. Check the owner’s background and experience along with his/her certification levels.

How GOOD are the coaches?

Remember that just because someone is good at something doesn’t mean he/she is good at TEACHING it. And this includes CrossFit.

What is the programming like?

You want a gym that lays out the big picture in mind… that looks at your training as a whole (conducive towards your overall fitness goal). A good gym owner knows that achieving one’s fitness goal doesn’t happen day-to-day…

Rather, it takes time and a strategy. And as such, the owner/coach will plan out an entire training “cycle” in waves of weeks and months. This not only helps maximize your gains and helps you towards you goals but also helps prevent injuries.

I.e. a savvy trainer will lay out a strategic workout program that will hit certain body areas with various loads and intensity a limited number of times a week while a trainer who doesn’t have a good program in mind could and often do end up over-stressing your body/body parts resulting in less-than-optimal training and gains and increasing your odds of getting injured (which would suck).

So if you come across a gym with no programming and every day’s workout is put together haphazardly, you have a sign that the gym is run by a caveman who probably was better off opening a hot dog stand than opening of a gym.

Do the coaches actually COACH you?

Do the coaches actually train you on the various movements and explain to you the intention of each workout within the grand schemes of things?

Or are they too busy barking at you like a rabid dog or too aloof texting on their phones to notice that you are literally being squashed like a bug by a barbell?

What are the people like in that gym?

I noticed that GOOD gyms tend to attract ego-less trainees, no matter their age, fitness level, experience etc.

If the gym has a lot of self-centered meat-heads who look like they either just got out of jail or are about to go to jail, that’s a red flag…

Look for a gym with a sense of community, where folks actually look like they are having FUN and are genuine caring people.

How do you get ready for CrossFit?

By taking it one step at a time.

By setting proper and REASONABLE expectations and by being a GREAT learner and follower because if you have a good gym, there will some damn good mentors/coaches/leaders who are there to HELP you achieve your fitness goals.

And for them to help you, you have to give them permission. And just as importantly, you need to humble yourself (check your ego at the door).

I’ve been doing sports since I was a kid and been taking health and fitness pretty seriously since ’98 (which is when I first started lifting), and I am loving CrossFit not because it’s CrossFit but because of the people I am surrounded by.

I love my gym because of the commitment to excellence of the community I find myself in.

Am I surrounded by and train with world class athletes? No.

Is my inspiration to be the best? No (although that’d be kind of cool).

But I can say that I am surrounded by some of the coolest, fun-loving, genuine, and ambitious like-minded individuals that I’ve come across whose fitness goals resonate perfectly with mine.

And this is why I stay and continue to do CrossFit.

It’s the people.

Shifting Gears – In a Business Sense

Now I want to totally blow your mind…

All joking aside, I want you to look at this article but replace the word, “CrossFit” with the word “business” and even in some cases, “LIFE.”

I want you to stretch a bit and draw some tangents and parallel between choosing to do CrossFit (and utilize it as a means to achieve your fitness goals) and choosing to do well in business and using that as a means to achieve your life goals.

How you go about business and life and set yourself up for the best chance at success largely relies on many of the principles I shared here.

Don’t go about business alone because no one was BORN with the knowledge of how to start and run a business. You need a mentor or mentors. You need to follow in the footsteps of someone who’s walked the path before you.

So what that means is you need to humble yourself and find a great leader whom you trust and like and follow his or her footsteps.

Be very careful and selective in terms of whom you call “mentor” and whom you choose to follow. Beyond just them achieving the level of success you desire, you have to ask yourself, do you resonate with them? Are they genuine?

And again, just because someone is GOOD at something doesn’t mean he/she is good at TEACHING it.

In business, you need to have a compelling goal and vision in mind. You need a passionate “WHY” as to why you are doing what you do because when the going gets tough (and believe me, they WILL), and you feel like quitting, you need that overwhelming reason as to why you MUST keep going and why quitting is NOT an option.

Success will come through your failures, remember that.

Also, set proper expectations as you embark on your journey – understand that success may NOT happen overnight and frankly, won’t!

I’ve seen way too many aspiring entrepreneurs who want to run before they can even crawl. And guess what? More often than not they crash and burn. Then they quit and blame the system that failed on them when in reality, they failed themselves.

And for the love of everything that is good and holy, have a plan… have a strategy.

Don’t go day-to-do doing whatever your little heart desires nilly-willy. Have a big picture in mind (if you don’t have one… GET ONE) and work towards that plan. Make sure everything you are doing is conducive to your long term goal.

Don’t ever lose sight of that.

Finally, a Word on Community…

I started CrossFit because I wanted to stay fit (and have fun doing it) but I stick around because of the community… because of the people and family (well, that and the fact that I am a masochist and love pushing my mind and body day in day out).

And that’s another big take away I have to share with you.

In business, you really can’t go at it alone – you want to find a “family/community” to belong to, to contribute to, and other like minded individuals to network and mastermind with. It’s critical to point out that those you call family really need to be “like minded” and share similar goals, aspirations, and motivation as you.

Because it is only then will you gel together and collectively elevate each other. You’ll find this family… for a lack of a better term, “useful” in your highest moments and also your lowest moments.

They’ll celebrate your triumphs, comfort you in your defeats, love on you when you are down, and collaborate with you on brilliants ideas and strategies designed to help everyone.

So if you are going at your business alone or thinking of BEING alone, STOP.

Reach out to others, network with others and find your “family.” Because with the right family, you will go further in business (and life) than you can ever dream of doing it alone.

Got it?

– R

P.S. Back to CrossFit…

One more critical question that I get a fair amount from females.

They ask if CrossFit is suitable for women.

And after much thought and many sleepless nights thinking about the most appropriate answer…

Here it is.

The profound answer is…

Absolutely, resoundingly, unequivocally YES.




(Reposted from No Excuses Summit.)

Categories : Business
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