Yelp Takes a lot and Gives a Little – Is it Worth It?

Nearly every small business owner I know has a “Yelp experience”, which is often negative. 

Yelp is an online directory and review site for local businesses. It has been around years. Their business model is selling online advertising to businesses on their directory site. These ads appear at the top of the page, so if you look for a “carpet cleaner” on Yelp in Kona, Hawaii, the paid advertising is seen before the non-paid listings. 

Here are some of the Yelp complaints I hear from local businesses:

  1. Yelp crowds out local business listings on Google. You might search for “Kona plumber” and see among the listings ‘The BEST 10 Plumbing in Kailua-Kona”, which, when clicked takes you to Yelp instead of the actual businesses that do plumbing in Kona. In effect, Yelp is pushing out truly local companies from Google’s results.
  2. Yelp’s advertising is very expensive. I’ve seen per-click costs from $10-$20, which is often five to ten times the cost of Google Ads clicks. A $400 monthly budget might only get you 25 clicks to your website, which might only result in 1-2 sales. A high margin business might find this acceptable, but a restaurant, small retail or personal services business like massage or a salon will find these to be horrible numbers, especially when there are other options like Google Ads, Microsoft Advertising, and Facebook ads that are a fraction of the cost.
  3. High-pressure sales. Yelp’s salespeople are persistent, bordering on annoying, calling multiple times a week. I believe the weaker the products (i.e., timeshares, used car, prepaid legal, etc) the harder the pitch. The aggressiveness of Yelp’s salespeople tells me that their product is not such a great deal. It doesn’t sell itself.
  4. It’s nearly impossible to have a fake review removed. We had a review from someone who was never a customer. I was certain that we had never done business with him yet complaints to Yelp did not result in the removal of the fake review. I finally contacted the reviewer and he decided to remove the review. See Yelp’s BBB reviews for several complaints about the same issue.
  5. It’s impossible to have your business removed from Yelp (other than closing it). It’s your business and if you don’t want it on Yelp, for example, because of many fraudulent reviews, they will not remove it. 
  6. Their review algorithm is very faulty. Over the years Kona Impact has had about 18 Yelp reviews, but Yelp has labeled 10 of them as “Not Recommended” and therefore not part of our review average and not visible on the main business listing. I am 100% certain that none of these reviews are fraudulent. They are all my clients, and we have never provided an incentive for them to leave us a review. We recommend that people who want to leave us a review do so on Google and not risk their review being ignored on Yelp.

So, as a small business owner, what can you do? I recommend three things: 1) claim your business on Yelp and get your business’ contact info and hours listed correctly. 2) get at least a few reviews. Never write fake reviews for yourself or have anyone do them on your behalf. 3) avoid any paid listing on Yelp. Yelps BBB complaints are full of people who allege deceptive billing and advertising costs on Yelp.