Category Archives for "local search"

Yelp: The Good, The Bad, The Despicably Ugly

If you own a local business, the game’s changed.

It used to be Google+ Local (or Google Places or Google Maps or whatever it’s called this week) was the only game in town and got the lion’s share of the Local Search action.

And because of its prime real estate on Google and on Android smart phones, local business owners still need to focus most of their attention on Google+ Local.

But, with some major recent developments, Yelp has positioned itself to be almost as important to local business marketing as Google.

While there’s a lot to like about Yelp, there’s also a lot to watch out for as one of my clients recently discovered (and, unfortunately, he’s not alone).

Let’s take a closer look at the good, the bad and the despicably ugly when it comes to Yelp…

The Good

The two huge developments driving Yelp’s rise are:

1. A deal with Bing which makes Yelp’s reviews and content a big part of Bing Local’s search results. Bing isn’t huge, but it’s still about 16{a950ddf0e7a23367a7e0f17377d3737fa8b8b1820bab9af7071f88951eb5d84e} of the search engine market (and rising) which makes it hard to ignore if you’re a local biz owner.

2. Yelp’s integration into Apple Maps and Siri. With the recent OS upgrade, most Apple users will be relying on Apple Maps instead of Google Maps to find local businesses (despite the initial problems with Apple Maps). And Yelp, which had already been a key source of data for Siri, is going to be a big part of the local business results Apple Maps users will see.

Here’s what else to like here:

  • Yelp has over 30 million reviews, 78 million unique monthly visitors and its mobile app is viewed on more than 7.2 million unique smartphones. Those numbers should only grow with the Bing and Apple deals, making Yelp a key hub for people to find local businesses.
  • The mindset of Yelp users. People are on Yelp toward the end of the buying process. They’re actively looking for a local business to spend their moolah in. That makes it more appealing than say, Facebook paid ads, where people are looking to be entertained, not buy.
  • If you own a local business you could (and should!) claim your business’ Yelp listing for free. Add photos, a description, hours, etc. to make your listing more appealing. This will help it get found by others and make it more attractive to those who do land on your Yelp listing.
  • Having a lot of positive reviews on Yelp can have a very positive impact on the financial performance of your business. A recent study published by professors from UC – Berkeley found that restaurants with higher Yelp ratings were fully booked about half the time while those with lower ratings were only fully booked about a third of the time.

The Bad

Speaking of reviews, that brings us to the bad. I’ll split this into 2 sections…reviews and paid advertising.


Getting good reviews can be great for a business. But overall, reviews on Yelp are a mess. Here’s why…

  • Yelp doesn’t want business owners asking customers for reviews, they want the reviews to happen “naturally”. But, if I’m a business owner and know positive reviews can help my business grow, how the hell can you expect me NOT to ask happy customers to leave a review for my business? It’s a dumb, unrealistic policy.
  • There’s also the issue of fake reviews. Knowing the positive influence great reviews can have, some business owners go out (unethically) and try to game the system to boost their business’ reputations.  Some get friends, family and/or employees to leave reviews. Others will actually pay for good ones.
  • There are also fake negative reviews. These could be posted by competitors or by others who, for whatever reason, are looking to shred a business’ reputation on Yelp.

To try to address these issues, Yelp has an algorithm that “filters” reviews from their system that they don’t think are legitimate.

I don’t envy the job Yelp has here. It’s got to be darn near impossible to truly figure out which reviews are legitimate and which aren’t.

And this problem isn’t unique to Yelp. It’s something that all review sites deal with and is why reputation management has become such a big deal for local businesses.

But, as they try to sort all this stuff out, business’ reputations are at stake…as are the livelihoods of the business owners and employees. And Yelp does seem to draw more ire about the way they handle reviews than the other local review sites.

We’ll get back to reviews shortly in the despicably ugly section, but first a word about Yelp’s advertising platform…

Paid Advertising

The good thing about Yelp’s advertising program is it can position you highly in Yelp’s search results. (If competing businesses advertise on Yelp, they’ll essentially be in a rotation at the top of the rankings according to a Yelp advertising rep I spoke to.)

That’s all well and good but I still put their program under the “Bad” section of this post for a few reasons.


500 impressions per month will cost you at least $325. That’s over $1.50 per impression (NOT click, impression) which is very high.

Long term contract

You have to sign up for at least 3 months and the rep I talked to about one of my clients was pushing a 12 month contract.

I’m not a fan of companies being locked into long term advertising packages. If your advertising really works and you can show advertisers it works, then they’ll keep advertising with you. If not, let them move on.

Removal of competitor’s ads from your Yelp page

One of the other “benefits” they tout for advertising on Yelp is that they’ll remove your competitors’ ads from your Yelp page.

Yes, that’s right, if you have a Yelp page and your competitors sign up for advertising, their ads can appear on your page! But if you pay Yelp, those ads can be removed.

Hey, it’s their platform and their rules but, personally, this rubs me the wrong way.

Poor data tracking

I also wasn’t very impressed with the data tracking they provide. They don’t seem to provide good tracking data to help you determine whether your advertising is generating an ROI or not.

The Despicably Ugly

This is where advertising meets reviews. Let me share a story with you…

I have a client who, for a long time, had four 5 Star reviews on Yelp. Last month, however, he got a call from a Yelp rep asking if he wanted to advertise with them. During the conversation she mentioned the negative rating on his Yelp page.

When my client looked on Yelp, all his 5 star reviews were gone and the only one that was there was a brand new 1 star review (and one that, after a lot of research, doesn’t even appear to be legitimate).

The rep explained that the reason the 5 star reviews (some of which had been there for years) had been removed was likely because they were the only reviews those people had ever left on Yelp and, in Yelp’s eyes, that’s a sign those reviews may not be legit.

Then, according to my client, the rep went on to say there are a lot of factors that go into the algorithm that determines which reviews show up and which ones don’t. And she basically made it sound like advertising with Yelp could help promote his positive ratings and bury the negative one.

Last year a class action lawsuit was filed against Yelp for this sort of thing. There were a number of ways business owners alleged Yelp manipulated ratings and reviews including:

  • Businesses that stopped advertising with Yelp saw negative reviews, which had been knocked to the bottom of their page when they were paying for advertising, spring back up to the top.
  • Some claimed Yelp offered to move or remove bad reviews if they advertised.
  • Others claimed that positive reviews disappeared when they rebuffed Yelp’s sales team.

This lawsuit was dismissed pretty quickly so the court didn’t see the merit in it. However, allegations of these sorts of practices still get reported all the time. Though every time they come up, Yelp strongly denies that reviews are influenced by whether or not you advertise with them.

I want to make it clear that in my conversation with the Yelp rep, she did not make any sort of statement that made it sound like my client could make the positive reviews come back and/or bad one go away by advertising on Yelp.

She just said that by promoting the site through paid advertising, we could encourage more positive interaction with customers which could, in theory, lead to more positive reviews.

Should You Advertise on Yelp?

Yelp has a lot of potential. And the site’s prominence in the local space is only going to grow.

However, their advertising program, in its current form, isn’t particularly attractive. And, with their seemingly underhanded practices, they rub me (and plenty of other business owners) the wrong way.

My client may very well end up holding his nose and advertising on Yelp. But, for now, we’re going to hold off and focus on some campaigns we’re running on other platforms. Bing and Yahoo! send about 50 times more traffic to his site than Yelp does so it makes sense to focus there before trying Yelp.

So is Yelp advertising right for your business? Well, as with all forms of advertising you have to test it out, measure the results as best you can and determine if the ROI is there.

And it may very well be there with Yelp, especially in light of their deals with Bing and Apple.

However, I’d be much more likely to recommend it if they made their advertising program seem more like advertising and less like extortion.

2 Startling Images All Local Business Owners Must See!


Ever wish you could get inside your prospects’ brain and see the world as they do?

Well while that might not be possible, you can see how they view the Internet through the use of eyetracking studies.

These types of studies use super-cool technology to track what people look at when surfing the web. And when you combine the results from all those who have participated in the study you end up with one extremely enlightening “heatmap” that shows you where people focus their attention when online.

SEOMoz recently did an eyetracking survey and the results are particularly revealing for local business owners. The study tracked what people look at when on the first page of Google.

Here’s image #1:

Notice how most people’s eyes are drawn to the “7-Pack” of local businesses (also called Google Map results or local search results) even though they are not the first results on the page?

Now take a look at the second image, which I find even more revealing…

Notice how even with a Google AdWords ad and other results pushing the local listings even further down the screen, people’s eyes gravitate toward the “3-Pack” of local results?

These two images clearly illustrate what a powerful magnet these local listings are for your customers (and while these images are from a desktop/laptop, these Google Maps listings get a lot of attention on Smartphones too).

The businesses that get to the top of the Google Maps rankings, win the lion’s share of prospects’ eyeballs (and business).

The first step to getting there is to simply claim your business listing on Google. There’s a ton of great free information on how to do that, and optimize your local search listing, on

So if you’re not at the top of the Google Maps listings for the keywords your prospects are typing into Google to find you, head over to that site, start optimizing your local listings today!


Why Blog? The Eyebrow Raising Discovery That’s Got a Local Attorney Back on the Blogging Bandwagon

“I can’t write.”
“I don’t have anything to say.”
“I’m too busy.”

Mention blogging and most business owners immediately come up with one or more of excuses above on why they don’t want to blog.

There are a number of reasons blogging helps your business but I want to share a story today that highlights one of the biggies.

A few weeks ago I was sitting down with one of my clients, Alex, who’s a tax attorney in St Louis.

When Alex set up the website for his firm last year, he added a blog. Between October 2010 (when his site launched) and April 2011 wrote 13 blog posts, which is about 2 a month. Then, like most business owners who start blogging, he stopped. His practice was growing and he had other priorities so blogging got pushed down the To Do List.

During our meeting, I pulled up Google Analytics for Alex’s site. (Analytics is free software from Google that lets you gather information about traffic to your website.) One of interesting tidbits of info you see in Analytics is the exact search terms that people typed into Google to find your site.

As we started looking at the terms that got people to Alex’s site, he noticed (much to his surprise!) keywords related to various tax laws and regulations that he had blogged about months ago.

The simple act of sitting down and writing a blog post about a tax law was enough to get him high enough in the search engines for people to find his site!

Seeing that data and seeing that his blog posts had a real effect on driving traffic to his site was enough for Alex to get back on the blogging bandwagon.

Adding a blog to your site is one of the best things you can do to help your site’s ranking on Google.  And blogging is not as bad or as painful as it seems.

Every day you have little conversations and interactions with clients that can easily turn into a blog post. In fact, sharing this story about Alex to a new client who was resistant to blogging led me to write this post!

And, remember, Alex got results from just 13 blog posts spread over 6 months so you don’t even have to blog that often!

The Bottom Line

Blogging is not a difficult, time-consuming endeavor. Add a blog to your site, add a few posts a month and, like Alex, you may be very surprised to see more people finding your blog and website.







The 3 Key Uncovering the Golden Local Keywords for Your Business

I won’t make a big stink about it here. But if you’ve been following us at all, you know how important keyword research is to your local search engine marketing efforts.

But when doing your local keyword research, what should you be looking for?

What are the factors that make for the best keywords?

As you’ll see in this short video, there are 3 main factors to be looking for when researching keywords.

Two of them have to do with numbers, or the “science” of keyword research.

The third, and arguably most important, is all about the “art” of keyword research.

Watch the video to see what they are…

local keyword research

Dude, Where’s My Place Page Information?

The changes from Google keep on a-comin’.

The latest ones to Google Places sent many local business owners into a panic when they looked at their business’ local listing on Google and noticed their number of reviews dropped like the United States’ credit rating.

The reviews are not gone, however. Google just decided that the review counts next to a business’ local listing will only include reviews left directly on Google.

You can see in the screenshot below that the review count in the margin is only reviews from Google and ignores the counts from and

Reviews from sites like Yelp, Yahoo!, and others still matter, they’re just not included in the review count next to your listing on the search results page.

A few other changes to note on the Places Page itself…

First, the More Details section no longer gets displayed. This section showed custom categories a business owner could add to their Places page such as “Products Sold”, “Brands Carried”, “Awards”, etc.

You can still enter these additional details in your Places account even though they’re not being displayed at the moment.

Why bother? Because there’s reason to believe they may reappear at some point. Also, Google is likely still looking at that data to help it determine how to categorize and rank your business.

Also gone is the “More About This Place” section. This was particularly useful for “spying” on your competitors to find out what sites they were getting citations from that you could use to get citations for your business.

This section was nice for local search nerds (guilty as charge) but didn’t do much to enhance the Place Page for users. Good riddance as far as I’m concerned. (And, if you’re looking for a source to identify citations, go to WhiteSpark.)

Lastly, Google has added a section of descriptive terms toward the top of your page.  These are terms that appear in reviews customers have left about your business.

Here’s an example from the Place page of a divorce attorney in New York…

This is all the more reason to encourage happy customers to leave reviews because the last thing you want is your descriptive terms to include words like “doesn’t care”, “bad experience” or “sucks.”

The bottom line for local business owners:

  1. Encourage customers to leave reviews for you on Google to get your review count up. Just don’t ignore the 3rd party review sites completely because having reviews from a variety of sources is still important.
  2. This is not going to be the last major change to Places. I see some more big ones coming later this year as Google integrates Google+ and Google Offers with Places.
  3. We’ll keep you posted on what you need to know so check back here frequently and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Why Local Business Owners Can’t Ignore Google+

Take a close look at this screenshot from a Google search for “google keyword tool” I did and you’ll know everything you need to know about why Google+ is a big deal…

Notice the #4 and #7 results (the ones with the little thumbnail picture with someone’s name next to it)…

#4 is a 2010 blog post by my friend (and Main Street Marketing Expert) Russ Henneberry. Russ and I are connected on Google+.

#7 is a blog post shared by Leslie Clark who I am connected to on Google+ as well (and, unlike with Russ, Google+ is the only social network Leslie and I are connected on).

If I am not logged into Google, the search results page for the exact same search for the keyword “Google Keyword Tool” looks like this…

Notice Russ and Leslie’s post are nowhere to be found.

This is the direction that search is headed.

For better or worse, your connections on Google+ and other social media sites are going to influence the results you see when doing searches. We knew this was coming, I’m just surprised at how quickly these changes seem to be happening.

What’s the bottom line for you as a local business owner?

Right now, you don’t have to worry much about Google+. It’s not adopted by enough people to make much difference. But that will change sooner, rather than later.

Think of a prospect of yours doing a search looking for a local (insert your industry here) and one of their friends has shared your website, blog post, reviewed your business, etc. That instantly makes your business rank higher on Google and be the most compelling result on the page to the person performing the search.

What I also see happening is that as more people come on board with Google+, the activity of Google+ users will become a bigger factor in where your business ranks in the search results for everyone…not just those we’re connected to through social media.

Google+ Action Steps for the Local Business Owner

1. Sign up for Google+ (it’s by invitation only right now and if you send me an email at adam [at] wordsthatclick [dot] com with the headline “Google+ invite” I’m happy to send one your way) so you have a front row seat as this evolves.

(Note: Only individuals can sign up for Google+ right now, business accounts are coming later this year.)

2. Get familiar with how it works – create some Circles, +1 some sites, make a few posts.

3.  Check back with us here at the Main Street Marketing Community and we’ll keep you informed of how to use Google+ to market your local business.

You can start (whether you have a Google+ account or not, by hitting the +1 button right below this post!