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Yelp advertising is a really touchy subject

There is no doubt that prospective customers use Yelp in high-frequency as a source for business information. However, it is also another avenue of advertising for business owners.
Much like Facebook and Google AdWords, business owners can use Yelp advertising to get preferential ranking and placement. The results, and perception, of Yelp advertising are extremely mixed. For every success story, you’ll find another labeling Yelp advertising as a scam.
So what do I think? Is Yelp worth your hard-earned dollars? While I’m not going to jump the shark and call Yelp a total racket, I am definitely on that side of the fence. Here’s why.

Yelp has a super shady history

Every service has its extremes as far as experiences go. There are some who have had great success advertising on Yelp. There are those who have had great frustration with the platform. However, if you do a little research, it seems that the overall feeling from business owners is that Yelp isn’t worth it. We will get into some of the main reasons, but a little recent history certainly isn’t helping their cause.
There have long been accusations of Yelp manipulating reviews and pages into leveraging ad sales from business. Accusations have ranged from Yelp hiding positive reviews, promoting negative reviews and more. Of course, Yelp vehemently denies these claims… but it doesn’t really matter. In 2014, a San Francisco court ruled that even if it could be proven that Yelp is involved in manipulation, it would be perfectly legal.
Whether or not these claims hold water, the allegations and evidence against them is enough to make me seriously question getting involved in the company.

Yelp locks you into a contract

Unlike many other advertising methods like Google AdWords and Facebook which are on a pay-per-click basis and allow you to come and go as you please, Yelp insists on locking business owners into contracts for their advertising services. Contracts with Yelp range from a modest $400 per month to $2,250 per month. While the price tag and perks are reasonable, that isn’t what irks me about the idea.
There are some services that are reasonable or even logical to lock into a contract for. However, online advertising is not one of them. Say a couple months into your advertising venture you realize that it isn’t worth it or the return is not where it needs to be. With Google AdWords or Facebook the solution is simple: just stop. However, with Yelp, regardless of your success, you are forced to pony up dough that could possibly be better used elsewhere.
Beating a dead horse and sticking with something that doesn’t work makes no sense. Especially if you are a small business with limited funds.

Yelp analytics lack important information

Insights and analytics are the lifeblood of advertising. With analytics, you can learn what works and why, helping you to develop more effective marketing strategies and focus. Without analytics, you are just tossing wet spaghetti at the wall and hoping it sticks. 
For all the criticism, Yelp actually does provide some decent in-depth analytics. However, they lack one particularly relevant piece of data: keywords.
Google AdWords and other tools allow you to not only plan keywords for SEO purposes, but lets you analyze the keywords that have led to your discovery. With this kind of information you can begin to prepare new content or update your current site to capitalize on these search terms. Yelp doesn’t provide this information. If you are going to be forced into a contract, it would at least be convenient to have access to this information so you can adjust accordingly and make the most out of your time on Yelp.
Makes sense to me… but apparently not Yelp.

Pros of Yelp Advertising

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m taking Yelp to task. For the most part I find Yelp to be an ineffective method of advertising, but it does have some pluses that should be addressed.
First, if you are in the food and beverage business, this is where Yelp shines. Lots of people, me included, turn to Yelp for a quick list of where to go right now. But in general, consumers are less likely to turn to this platform for other services, but when they do, they are really interested in the companies listed. 
One of our clients does some Yelp advertising and we recently did a little side-by-side analysis of their results from Yelp advertising and Google AdWords. After one month of spending about the same amount of money, we determined that Google ads led to a much higher number of website visits. However, the visitors from Google averaged about 2 pages per session while Yelp visitors averaged about 5. This data points to a trend that, although fewer in number, the visitors from Yelp are more engaged and possibly higher-quality prospects.
So, is Yelp advertising worth it? It certainly has some redeeming qualities, but for most companies, I would suggest spending that money elsewhere or at least limiting the amount you devote to it. You are probably better off focusing more on proven methods like Google AdWords or Facebook.
Before you decide, take a look at your website analytics. If you get a good amount of monthly traffic from Yelp, it may be worth advertising there despite some of the negatives.
Not sure if you should spend the dough on Yelp? Roundpeg is an Indianapolis-based digital marketing and strategy firm. We can help you decide.
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