Should I Consider Advertising on Yelp?

Many businesses are wondering if it makes sense to advertise on Yelp. Yelp is a very unique site that combines reviews with social networking. It has become progressively important for consumers to be able to read and share real opinions about businesses, and Yelp enables them to do just that. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, over 500,000 businesses have claimed their pages on Yelp, but only approximately 19,000 have opted to pay for advertising on the site. That being said, a lot of big-name advertisers such as American Apparel have opted to give it a try and seem to be sticking with the program.

The Benefit of Positive Reviews on Yelp

Having positive reviews on Yelp has become a very important asset, especially for local businesses. At an exponential rate, customers are turning to their computers and their smartphones to find a local restaurant or retailer instead of using the phonebook or newspaper. More and more customers are using Yelp specifically for their online searches because the reviews are unbiased, and negative reviews cannot be hidden or suppressed by the businesses. Many businesses, especially restaurants and local service professionals, have experienced a noticeable increase in website traffic and/or calls thanks to positive reviews on Yelp. It's also possible to add a Yelp badge to a web site that displays that number of 5-star reviews received; click on the badge and the browser links to the business listing on Yelp.

The Impact of Negative Yelp Reviews

The fact that negative reviews cannot be hidden can be a plus for customers, but a detriment to small business owners. Regardless of how hard you try, it isn’t likely that you are going to be able to please everyone. Every business will eventually have at least one negative review. There is a chance that that review may be displayed for a time at the top of your Yelp business page. Your paid Yelp advertising leads customers to your Yelp page, and not your company website. Therefore, you could be paying for customers to go read a negative review of your business. Checking around with clients and friends, I've learned that it is possible to dispute a review and have it removed if management agrees that it seems unduly harsh.

Other Criticisms of Advertising with Yelp

I have to admit that my initial reaction to the actual layout and design of Yelp was not favorable. Personally, I found the lurid red color and busy design caused me to squint. Another criticism of advertising with this review site has been that the cost is much higher than other comparable, if not more effective, paid online advertising options. Business owners also complain that Yelp charges based on impressions instead of clicks, and it is much harder to track your return on investment when using this structure.

The general impression of Yelp paid advertisements from the small business community seems to be that small businesses might be better off investing their marketing dollars with Google AdWords or Bing. Larger companies, like a retain chain, might do it to take advantage of the high exposure. I doubt most people check how many 5 star reviews their local American Apparel store has received since they know the company by reputation and consistency from store to store. A single hair salon, such as our client Salon 90, most definitely benefits from the exposure of frequent 5-star reviews. The main advantage of advertising on Yelp, as with other web sites, is that you gain control over the message, the image, and the vibe.

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