“When people want to find a place to go to dinner, they’re not searching; they’re going to Yelp.”
– Steve Jobs, Apple Chairman and CEO (April 8, 2010)
I don’t always begin a blog post with an iconic quote from the visionary Steve Jobs, but when I do, it’s because I think that the guy was really on to something.
The Apple CEO said this in 2010. Since then, I’ve written a couple of critiques on Yelp, and I was never truly sold on the Yelp value proposition: instead, I was less-than-thrilled with their review filter, and I found their advertising sales tactics to be a bit aggressive and predatory.
In the past year, however, Yelp has made improvements to it’s business model, and as a result my attitude towards the company has changed.
What hasn’t changed is the fact that the Yelp user base continues to grow. Despite what your feelings towards the business ratings and reviews giant might be, looking at the company’s growth you can’t deny the truth of Steve Jobs’ observation: they’re going to Yelp.
Local Search and the Power of Reviews
The reason that they (your customers) are going to Yelp is because they want to know who you really are.
Sure, a prospective customer could go to your website and research your fabulous products and services and your rich “About Us” content. But what they’re really interested in is an unbiased account of what it’s like to buy something from your business, as experienced by a real person.
This is the true value of the Yelp review. Granted, a review is not always totally accurate (or even legitimate), and only represents one person’s opinion – but taken together, a collection of reviews usually tell a pretty revealing story about what really goes on at a business.
Despite criticism (mostly from bad business owners) that Yelp “unfairly” filters their reviews, I believe that Yelp does an overall good job of making sure that the reviews on it’s site are as REAL as possible. Negative reviews are as important as positive ones, and it’s in Yelp’s best interest to ensure that both types of reviews are fairly represented on the site.
Customers rely on negative AND positive reviews being legit in order to help them make purchasing decisions, and businesses also use this information to help gauge the value of the Yelp advertising program.
New CPC Advertising Program
Speaking of advertising, Yelp has really stepped up it’s game in this area. The company recently launched a “cost-per-click” advert program (the lack of which used to be one of my chief complaints about Yelp’s advertising strategy) back in October 2013.
Businesses now have the option to compete for their customers’ attention with this new CPC program, where they only pay Yelp if a customer clicks on their ad, or by the traditional “subscription” model based on a set monthly premium and number of impressions. This new, more flexible approach to advertising offers businesses on Yelp more options to reach their customers, no matter what their marketing budget is.
Despite the improvements the company has made, however, Yelp still suffers from the notion that it will unfairly punish a business that fails to buy advertising by filtering out it’s good reviews (while leaving the bad ones unfiltered).
Play the Yelp Game
Even if the allegation that Yelp manipulates it’s “review filtering algorithm” to try and extort advertising revenue from businesses is true, people searching the site for a good pub or a reliable roofer don’t seem to mind.
Furthermore, any business owner that realistically expects to benefit from using the FREE Yelp business listing service (but who cries foul when they don’t see a positive return on their $0 investment) should re-evaluate their online marketing strategy.
I don’t know if Yelp manipulates reviews to make money, but in my experience, businesses who are active in the Yelp community are more successful: this includes completing a listing full of photos and descriptions, engaging customers with discounts and feedback, and yes, buying advertising.
In summary, if you’re a small business owner, you have to play the Yelp game, because if Steve Jobs was right, you really don’t have a choice.