Yelp Makes Small Businesses Scream
July 4th, 2008 by
I got this link by email from one of our clients (for Botox, San Francisco folks can’t go wrong with Dr. Roy Kim – yes, it’s a blatant link-drop) and it got me going on a pet peeve of mine:
Small Business owners giving up control over their own online destiny.
From the SFGate (San Francisco Chronicle Online): Merchants angry over getting yanked by Yelp
This article brings to a head a few issues of significance from professionals like us and from the service providers.
Businesses like those in the article have come to rely on Yelp for the connection to buyers. If only it were just Yelp…
…There’s Insider Pages, Google maps, WordPress and many other free services on which may small businesses rely and which have completely opaque and oftentimes arbitrary rules and enforcement thereof.
There are a couple of significant challenges for small businesses online which are related but not always connected:
- Ignorance of Technology
- Control of Brand (or loss of)
Aaaaaargh! Makes me want to scream. Really.
Greg Sterling constantly points to the need for education as one of the biggest impediments to small business acceptance of online marketing and I think he’s right. But the problem is, the ignorance that comes with a lack of education is really hurting small businesses.
Look at these poor saps in the Yelp article. Even if they knew what they were doing was wrong — and I’m sure they didn’t fully understand the rules, the emergence of these new yellow pages replacements is completely inscrutable to small businesses. As the recent local search ranking factors study (which I intend to write some more about) from David Mihm shows, there’s not even agreement among professional practitioners.
And then The New York Times stirs the pot with an article regarding Incentives for video reviews. You mean there’s something wrong with incentivizing reviews?
And then there’s my dearest Ms. Laycock berating those complaining about failings of a free service (Twitter).
For me it all leads back to a central frustration I feel from small businesses: they understood the Yellow Pages. You pay more, you get a bigger ad, you get more calls. How hard is that?
The problem with online is that many of these services on which the business must rely are free. And since they’re free there’s no repercussions if they don’t work, or don’t work as intended. And worse still there’s no way to get a realistic grasp of the totality of the rules nor an appeals process when one accidentally crosses the line.
So with all these problems how do you effectively use internet marketing for small business ?
Simple – you go back to the basics. You don’t rely on raw technology and you definitely don’t get caught up in “They’re doing it so should I”.
Oh, and you don’t fall for a slick sales pitch from the likes of SEOMatrix, Yodle (formerly Natpal), or LinksHog (or one of their hundred other names).
The problem with many practitioners and many small businesses either doing it themselves or outsourcing is that they get caught up in the flavor of the week. There are some very smart discussions about regarding how you rank well in Google maps, the value of reviews and the sites on which they live. But…
All that doesn’t matter if you, the small business owner, don’t control your own destiny!
Here are a few clues that the sales pitch you’re hearing isn’t going to allow you to control your own destiny:
- Use of the word “Proprietary”
- Mention of “Optimized Landing Pages” (hint: if they optimize a landing page they own, they’re not optimizing your site )
- Inclusion in proprietary “Directory” listings — don’t get me wrong, directories are great but the ones we like are the ones whose listings don’t go away when you stop paying
- Switching costs – in other words you have to pay to leave
- Mention of ownership of “thousands of sites“
In short, if you’re looking for small business internet marketing, or even if you’re in a niche with higher returns and you need plastic surgery internet marketing or any other internet marketing remember one thing:
- If it doesn’t increase the search engine positioning of your site look twice — make sure you understand the outcomes and that the reward is worth the risk.
So make sure you cover the basics before before you try the flavor of the week and if you don’t understand the pitch ask more questions. And if you don’t believe the answers get a second opinion.
Just to be clear all of these distribution methods have value: reviews, directory listings, blogging, video optimization, even pay per click.
Please be sure you know the reward and most importantly be sure the click you buy lands on your site or makes your phone ring!
I and many of our mutual clients are grateful for your belief in transparency and education. I only wish more people could benefit from your crusade to clarify online marketing for small businesses. Through what venues could this information reach the thousands of small business owners in need of guidance?
Thanks so much for your comment.
I wish I knew the answer to how we can get the word out. Unfortunately the only times I get to talk about it are in a sales context and I’m therefore suspect in the presentation.
Thanks again for your support — couldn’t do it without you.
Personally I think sites like Yelp have too many of these ‘rules’ and it impossible to know if you might cross the line. Why not let one trade recommend another, it happens in real life anyway, and I get frustrated when techies try to ‘program’ human judgement out of the equation – news for programmers: us consumers are not dumb, we don’t need that sort of ‘protection’, we have a brain and can make a judgement. Whilst there are many of these ‘review’ sites, I want to single out The Brownbook (http://www.brownbook.net – yes, I am involved with this site – but that doesn’t mean my view is irrelevant) because there are none of these rules that say a business owner can’t join the conversation and respond to reviews. Indeed we try to mirror what happens in the real world – yes its a free-for-all, but that is reality, we shouldn’t have ‘review police’ stopping business owners from speaking back. You also talk about the ‘ransom’ sale where businesses feel like they get dependent and therefore feel they must continue to pay these sites, well its free to be in Brownbook.net, and it will stay that way. I have worked for big directory companies and I know how they think, but I’ve also owned small business so I see that side too. Indeed Brownbook.net was born out of thr frustration of getting my wife’s business listed on multiple online directoryies. They all wanted 20 – 50 bucks to get listed (or to have a link to her website) which doesn’t seem like much, except you have to multiply that figure by the number of regional plus vertical sites you want to be on. Now you’re looking at many hundreds of bucks, and because you have no way of guessing the ROI you end up going in none of them.
Anyway, rant over, i’ll go now.
Thanks for dropping by and thanks for your comments. I think you make one particularly interesting point which I missed in my rant.
The idea of businesses recommending one another is an offline behavior and attempts to squelch it online only serve to enforce an unnatural order.
Think of every networking group you’ve ever been in. I’m a member of BNI, for instance, and even though I might not have ever used the guy in our group who sells granite, you can bet I’ll recommend him because I know him.
Great point Dave! Come back any time. I’d be more than happy to do a writeup/interview regarding BrownBook if you can give me an elevator pitch email.
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“Oh, and you don’t fall for a slick sales pitch from the likes of SEOMatrix, Yodle (formerly Natpal), or LinksHog (or one of their hundred other names).”
I’d like to take issue you lumping Yodle in with these other names. I’ve worked for the largest names in online advertising (Yellowpages.com, Citysearch.com & acquisitions like insiderspages.com, merchantcircle, etc. Prior to this I owned an SEO and web development company.
The point of listing my resume of sorts is to say, while I agree with you on many points, Yodle does not belong in the same conversation. Having seen the inner workings and value proposition of the internet’s major local search players, I have the experience to say, Yodle is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
While Yodle does have like competitors (reach local). There is no apples to apples comparison. Yodle does exactly as the “slick sales pitch” says. Yodle gives local businesses a simple, transparent and cost effective way of gaining local customers online.
Yodle is the first company I’ve worked with that strives to exceed client expectations by using call rating and dedicated account managers to lower the cost per call and cost per customer month over month. This is a huge separation from major lead generation companies like Service magic whose goal is to maintain and increase the cost per call to their clients.
Yodle gives local businesses the freedom to run their business and not have to worry about keeping up with changing technology. Yodle keeps it simple. Use Yodle and get calls. Rate the calls and improve the quality of the calls month over month. No long term contracts. Start and pause the campaign with seasonal or work load changes.
Lastly, what I love most about Yodle is the reverse transparency. Many local businesses get in the way of their own success. The number one cause of lost business is poor call processing. However, what I’ve found is that with out proof, most business owners will deny this till the cows come home. To their defense…many just didn’t realize their own negative impact on their sales process.
Yodle changes the playing field. Want proof? Simply listen to the calls. If a customer calls and the business answers the phone with “yeah?” or “Bill here” or better yet, sending the call to voice mail because they don’t have a live answering service, it’s no wonder a customer loses confidence and goes elsewhere.
So Yodle does so much more than offer online advertising and certainly should be excluded from this article.
If you question this response, feel free to contact me.
Best to you,
First, thank you for taking the time to comment. I want you to know that I really appreciate your enthusiasm for your company.
I have had direct conversations with both Yodle customers and sales reps and all I can say is that the value proposition isn’t universally perceived.
Again, thanks very much for your time in stopping by.
All the best,
Thank you for your professional reply. I would be very interested in hearing you expand on your point that the “value proposition isn’t universally perceived”
I’ve been tempted from time to time to revisit my post giving kudos to Court Cunningham.
Perhaps you are implementing some technologies which would enable quality measurement. And for that I applaud the effort.
But in my opinion there are still many customers where your company’s ignorance of SEO best practices is assuring that they can’t quit you for fear of losing all their traffic — especially as in the case above where your conversion tuned site outranks the client’s main property due in part to the lack of a robots.txt (not exactly SEO best practices).
This is a perfect example of the dangers of the Yodle / Natpal doppleganger site issue. If this customer ever leaves Yodle they’re in a worse position than when they were first sold due to your doppleganger outranking them and being perceived as the authoritative site.
To quote from an email I received anonymously from one of your co-workers:
And then, from Court Cunningham himself in his response to my original post about Yodle where he says:
That was over a year ago and here we still find sites which are, in my opinion, doing a disservice to the customer who’s paying you.
And then there’s the conversation I had with one of Yodle’s former customers who told me about his account manager bidding on irrelevant, low value and out of area terms just to spend his budget. This guy even quoted his account rep as saying something to the effect of “you can’t make money with cautious money” — I mean, come on! Was she channeling Vin Diesel in Boiler Room or what?
Again I appreciate your enthusiasm and I’m not vain enough to suggest that we have 100% customer satisfaction on every day. And we certainly make mistakes from time to time too.
In the best case you’ll take advantage of this to help your company do better.
Thanks again for your input,
(NOTE- I am a customer of SEO. All comments are unsolicited and unpaid, but you probably won’t believe that, since you’re probably too cynical. That’s too bad for you. You need to enlarge your circle of trust. )
I have recently been amazed by my innocuous Google searches for other types of businesses for their address, like auto repair, coffee shop, restaurants, hotels, and received a bunch of highly ranked items from Yelp. My feeling is that the actual business website along with the address should be first in organic search.
If Yelp has this much power, what about Citysearch? Google Maps? Videos in the future, like Youtube? There will only be more competition in my opinion, not less. And who has time to deal with all of their rules? And why do these for-profit companies get to make the rules, and thus be able to make or break you? There must be a way to have your own business website be at the top, just because from a common-sense perspective it makes the most sense.
Of course, I have the utmost faith that long-term, the algorithms at Google will always put the small business owner on top of organic search. That way, you will never have to tweak your website, pay for Ad Words or other types of search advertising, and never need a SEO company again.
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