Up Close With Yelp

March 8, 2011
By Lisa Barone in Internet Marketing Conferences

Hey, hey, fearless friends. We’re still coming at you live from SMX West and we’ll be doing it ALL DAY so stick around!  This time we’re getting ready to talk about local search.  To help us do it,  Greg Sterling is moderating some great local minds in Ryan Fritzky, Will Scott, Matt Siltala and Dylan Swift. I’m not even going to bring up how Matt purposely didn’t pick me up at the airport last night and left me there stranded. Nope. Not gonna mention it all.

Dylan is stuck in traffic so Greg is up at the podium asking some inane questions to buy time.  He finally gets to asking what color underwear people are wearing when Marty Weintraub, blogging for Search Engine Roundtable, asks him to simply put the music back on. Hee.  We’re getting feisty and it’s not even 11am yet!

Yey, Dylan has arrived. He says the 101 was jammed and he left too late.  We forgive you, Dylan. Well, I do.  It seems Will has some anger for you. But more on that in a bit.

Yelp has more than 16 million local reviews and counting, experiencing accelerated engagement. They have 45 million monthly unique visitors and growing.  Internationally, they’ve taken a market-by-market approach. They know that what works in the US won’t necessarily work in Germany or the UK.

Mobile updates:

  • They launched Check-in offers, allowing them to close the last mile from Yelp to the business’ front door.
  • OpenTable on Yelp mobile
  • Yelp iPad app

Mobile efforts are paying off, which I wrote about last month for SmallBizTrends in Yelp Data Shows the Power Of Mobile Marketing.  That post includes some great stats like the 3.2 million unique visitors Yelp gets via mobile and how 1/3 of all searches on Yelp.com come from mobile.  Check it out.

Case Study: 24 Hour Fitness and Yelp advertising components

Helped 24 Hour Fitness to create an Enhanced Listing and worked with them to create a compelling offer. They also supplemented that with advertisements throughout the Yelp Web site. The ad had a 30 percent click through rate.  Yelp listings generated an average of 100k page views and 7 percent lead conversion rate per month. Their visibility on Yelp has grown 89 percent from Sept 09 to Sept 10. Their listing was viewed 477,383 times in 2010. They have 10,233 reviews written about them.   It allowed 24 Hour Fitness to eliminate all their other local search advertising, it’s all done through Yelp.  The Yelp mobile application has helped them to generate an additional 30 percent traffic.

Yelp Deals

Why is Yelp in the deals business? Pretty crowded space right now.  Dylan shows how sites like Groupon have increased the number of people checking out businesses on Yelp.  They see the offer…and then come to Yelp to research the business.  That showed Yelp that this was an area they needed to get involved in.   He shows an example of a business that ran a Yelp Deal and how they were able to sustain the traffic they received from running just one deal. I like that Yelp displays if a reviewer took advantage of a Yelp Deal and how many times they’ve checked in. Offers some great sentiment and conversion data for business owners monitoring their Yelp reviews.  Very cool.

[Will Scott spent some time grilling Dylan to see if the numbers he shared from the case studies were really accurate or possibly attributed to things outside of Yelp Deals.  Dylan did a good job holding his own. Also, FIGHT! ;)]

Key areas of growth for 2011

  • Continued international expansion
  • Further development on new mobile platforms
  • Explore new ways to integrate advertising
  • Deepening presence in existing communities.

Next up is Matt.

He spends some time talking about bad reviews – people leaving reviews so detailed you can tell they’re reviewing their own business.  Most of the time, people simply don’t know any better or what the proper way is to solicit reviews. Will jumps in to say he doesn’t think the stories Matt shared were that atypical.  Once small business owners become informed about reviews, they start wondering how they should get reviews. Those people don’t then go to the internet to search for reviews best practices.  They instead call their brother to get them to write a review or log in from three computers and do it themselves. As much as we tend to damn this behavior, it’s a natural behavior from merchants once they realize something is important.  Amen.

Matt says one of the best places to ask people to leave reviews is to ask them how they found you. If they start talking about Yelp, create a conversation about Yelp and get them excited about talking about Yelp. Once they see you’re on Yelp and you’re passionate about the service (and not just yourself), it shows them you’re there for the right reason and they want to help.

Look at what your customers are using. If your customers are emailing you from a yahoo or gmail account, you can reply to them with your business listing on that service – they’re already logged in.  Matt shows a page that encourages people to ‘compliment’ the business on whatever site they most frequent.  Greg stops for a second and asks Dylan if he consider this type of a page “solicitation”, something Yelp is heavily against.

Dylan says yes, it is solicitation. And then ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE!

Okay, maybe not all hell, but things get a little heated as a fire within Will Scott is woken up and Dylan promptly asks for a Kevlar vest. Hee!

Will gets going saying that it’s about TRUST.  At first, Yelp looks like a trusted resource…until you start reading up on things like the Yelp review filter. Yelp says “Don’t Solicit Reviews” but then say, “give us your money to run a deal for you”.  It’s hypocritical. It’s engaging in behavior that is going to incentivize reviews.  If we look at some of Yelp’s case studies, it’s ludicrous.  By getting more reviews, and more positive reviews because people feel good that they “got something”, you’re incentivizing positive reviews and its self-fulfilling. Last year we were talking about the sales force in engaging in deceptive behavior, this is no better than that. It’s Yelp saying to merchants, “if you want good reviews, spend money with us”. That’s the understanding they’re going to come away with.

Angry, Will gives audience attendees tips on how to spam Yelp’s review filter:

  • Add a photo to your profile
  • Add friends to your profile
  • Go out and write long form reviews on other business before inserting your spam.

That’s how you beat the Yelp review filter and make yourself look legit. Any system is gameable. The whole idea of a review filter just proposes the spammers are stupid.   He shows one business with 16 mother-loving filtered reviews with 14 apparent reviews.   This is a system that can be gamed and by Yelp allowing you to add deals and check-in offers is another way to game it.  It just pisses him off to think we’re not incentivizing reviews. We’re incentivizing reviews by selling crap to merchants. He thinks its bullshit.


Dylan nervously pips in that he wants someone to go outside and start his car for him after this. Hee. Dylan thinks Will is drawing a line of logic that’s difficult to follow. He offers to show Will some stats to show him Yelp isn’t trying to do anything shady. Will seems agreeable but  Greg cuts him off so that Ryan can take the stage.

Here’s Ryan.

Ryan introduces himself and says he’s the quiet guy on the panel today aka the one not screaming. Ryan says reviews as we know them are evolving. You’re seeing it more and more.  We’re seeing an explosion in content whether it’s Twitter deals, check ins, etc. It’s easy stuff you can do with your thumbs.

Make “word of mouth” work for you.  When someone does a search for your business, there are 9 other results outside of your Web site. Things like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Yelp, MySpace, Flickr, Digg, etc. Your Web site is important, but you also need to get out there and be visible outside of your site. Businesses who take the time to claim their profiles and enhance them with content are seeing positive results. Those are the businesses who are successful online. It’s really important to make word of mouth work for you and not be so reactive.

What small businesses say:


  • We’ve linked a slowdown in business to a string of bad reviews
  • It’s usually employees or customers telling me about our reviews or mentions


  • Ask customers for reviews
  • Reply to reviews
  • Rely on push notifications


  • The Internet keeps adding to me to do list
  • Social media is the wave of the future


  • proud
  • overwhelmed
  • open

What are the big trends that you seen in terms of reviews?

Ryan: Yelp reviews are nowhere to be found (he kids). Horizontally, Yelp reviews are growing fast. When you look at other categories like doctors, there are lots of social forums where doctors are hit hard. When you talk about car dealers, it’s all about Edmunds.  He feels there’s a need to make it simpler for businesses to be on top of this information.

Most small businesses don’t use a software tool to monitor reviews. They set up Google Alerts or set up searches on their name. There’s a very low sophistication.

Will: Clients are starting to be asked more about reputation monitoring. They’re looking for some type of service. He thinks there’s definitely a place for the product Ryan’s company puts out.

Ryan: It’s really nascent.  They launched in September and they have a lot of people using their product. Although every business isn’t using a product like this, it will become a core component of most advertising solutions over the next 12 months. SMBs aren’t as Web savvy.

Somehow we end up back talking about soliciting reviews :)

Dylan says don’t solicit reviews, but do what you can to make your business listing on Yelp look great. [Raise your hand if you think this sounds EXACTLY like Google’s “don’t buy links” policy.] Make sure your address and phone number are up to date, add an offer to attract customers, and respond publicly to both positive and negative reviews.  Off Yelp, if you just deliver a great product or service (Yes! The old CREATE GREAT CONTENT myth!) those reviews will come naturally.  There’s a difference between saying “I had a great experience here”.  Will’s not stomaching that line and says that the challenge of this rainbows and unicorns approach to reviews is that its inconsistent to human behavior.  Hee!

Final takeaways

  • Matt: It’s about education and helping people to get good, honest reviews.
  • Will: He agrees that the premise that the best way to get reviews is to offer great customer service. The challenge there is there’s so much noise in review engines.  He wants it to be like the credit union. If someone wants to challenge a review and the review hoster can’t verify it or prove it came from a real person, the review should be removed. There’s an inherent responsibility of posting reviews to do ethically and he doesn’t think anyone is doing that.
  • Ryan:  Most businesses are not at the ground floor where they need to be in terms of being active off their own site. There’s a lot of opportunity to help businesses get there.
  • Dylan: He never wants to underestimate the human brain and its ability to filter through reviews that look spammy. They’re going to continue to grow nationally and make investments in mobile.

And that’s it! Now…who’s going to walk Dylan to his car?

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