Yelp Interview Part 3: Luther Lowe Discusses Free & Paid Tools for Businesses, Opting out of Reviews & New Webinar Series for Small Businesses
This is the third and final part of my interview with Luther Lowe, Business Outreach Manager at Yelp.
In the first part we discussed what it means to be Yelp’s Business Outreach Manger, the recent class action lawsuit brought against their company and how Yelp is a transactional social media website. While part two covered why Yelp frowns on review solicitation, how they protect businesses from fraudulent reviews and the do’s and don’ts on interacting with customers who have posted negative reviews about your business.
Today we will discuss the free and paid tools that are available to businesses, the possibility of opting out of Yelp reviews and a new webinar series designed exclusively for small businesses.
Following is the final piece of my three part interview with Luther:
CHRIS: We talked briefly about the advantages in claiming your business listing. This is completely free, and then there’s also some paid services you offer. You want to maybe talk a little bit more about those two, the different features for both?
LUTHER: Yes. Ninety percent of what we give our business community is free. The only thing that you don’t get, is the SEM product, search engine marketing product, with the ability to make yourself appear in a spot that we have reserved for advertisers, just above organic search.
CHRIS: Similar to Google.
LUTHER: Right, not unlike Google’s model. It’s the first place slot above organic search results. It’s clearly marked as such. Advertisers are also promoted in the middle of competitors’ pages.
LUTHER: Yelp is a transactional site and we can assume nobody is typing in “hot dog” near “Hoboken” for fun, we can assume that a certain percentage of the folks that see your ad are going to click on it, and that’s going to result in future eyeballs belonging to people who are hungry for hot dogs. So, you’ve got more people looking at your business page, that’s going to equate to more offline traffic. The only other thing that this business gets as an advertiser in most cases is an animated photo slide show, which just makes your page look prettier. So that’s the paid stuff. But the free stuff is really what I want to emphasize, because most of the stuff we offer at Yelp to business owners is free. So, you can upload as many photos as you like of your business including your menu, your store front; if you’re a service business, let’s say you’re an auto body shop, some of your best before and after work; your restaurant, your menu; you’re a hair stylist, you can show what you’re capable of; if you’re a tow-truck company, take pictures of your staff doing a thumbs up; a moving company, it’s good to have pictures of your staff, because these are people making a decision about whether or not to let you into their house and move all their possessions — they want to be able to trust to you, and visually messaging in your business and putting your best foot forward helps convert online traffic into offline traffic.
CHRIS: Even on line, people still want to buy from people. They don’t want to buy from faceless businesses and electronic entities. We see that a lot in our industry. That’s a big thing. You want to have a web site that incorporates your pictures. That’s your opportunity to make that first impression with that potential client.
LUTHER: Absolutely. So, number one, unlimited photos. Number two, the ability to post special offers and announcements. So, with coupons features, you can have a conspicuous discount, or maybe it’s an announcement for an event, an offer. This offers and announcements feature is great, and it lets folks know what you’ve got going on. You can set it and forget it, you can leave it up there forever, but I recommend going in there and changing it at least a couple times a month.
If you’ve got a happy hour, if you’ve got a band playing, if you’ve got a gallery opening, if you’ve got some kind of event, if you’ve got holiday hours, use that thing because it makes you enticing to customers through incentivising them, and makes you more discoverable by having you appear, not only in Yelp’s website search results more conspicuously, but also on our popular mobile platforms.
So, if I’m on an iPhone or Android phone and there’s a big button that says “near-by special offers and announcements,” and the ones that are featured are people that are business owners that have used that free tool. So, if I’m on my iPhone looking for a place to get a drink at 5:30 in the afternoon in a major metro area in the U.S. and you’ve got a happy hour up, that piece of mobile information is going to result in me walking through your door. That’s really important.
So, number one, photos. Number two, special offers and announcements. Number three, fill out a rich profile. Under the business information tab when you log in to biz.yelp.com, I would recommend maxing out the character limit by writing a lengthy blurb about your specialties, your history, your biography. You can even… there’s a B2B function that allows you to recommend other businesses. All this stuff is aggregated, not only by Yelp, but by major search engines, and this makes you more discoverable not only by Yelp, but by folks like Google and Bing. So that’s great stuff, and, again, Yelp is not all about reviews, it’s about this rich content that we offer to the business community.
And then finally, the thing that I would add is the ability to see how many folks are viewing your page every week and every month. And using that in conjunction with the other features. So, for example, I helped a salon owner the other day see how many were viewing his business page and this directly correlated with his real-world word of mouth. This salon noticed that they had a lot of foot traffic on Wednesdays and Thursdays, a lot of page traffic on Tuesdays, but not enough appointments on Tuesdays, and so what we did was put the special offer incentive to coming in on Tuesdays, like “Come in on Tuesday and get $5 off,” and what that does is help that business normalize… get their books a little bit more normalized using the tools in conjunction with one another to run an advertisement. And that’s somebody who’s not a paid advertiser, they’re using the stuff for free.
Again: Yelp’s analytics are a barometer for your actual real-world word of mouth. Time and time again I hear business owners say, “Gosh, I had a big month in April, but I notice my traffic dipped in May on my Yelp page, and that’s my worst month revenue-wise.” Literally hundreds of times I’ve had that conversation with business owners, and the reason that happens is because Yelp is a transactional site. It would make sense that a water park on Yelp gets three page-views in December, but 3000 in July.
CHRIS: Okay. You mentioned your iPhone, being able to get coupons, discounts, knowing where there is a happy hour, specials and such. You recently added the new check-in feature. Is there any way businesses can use that information to their benefit?
LUTHER: One of the important things to understand about Yelp is we’re a site with over ten million reviews. We introduced check-ins as a compliment to our existing value proposition. It’s certainly not the only thing we do, but it’s a lot of fun, and getting good traction among iPhone users. That data will be helpful for businesses, because that content lives within reviewer’s profiles. I’m checking into your bar frequently. That’s going to be viewable next to my reviews. This helps the business owner understand how frequently individuals are checking in at their business.
CHRIS: I came across an example recently. It was a business – it might have been in Arizona – that used that information to reward their most frequent check-in customers. I think they were either giving them a mug or some sort of recognition, you know, for having the most check-ins at their establishment. Not only did the individuals who were a huge fan of the place, not only did that recognition make them feel appreciated by the business owner, it also allowed the businesses to pick out who was driving business to them and giving them good reviews. It seemed like a win-win for everybody.
LUTHER: Yeah, definitely.
CHRIS: Are their any new features on the horizon that business owners have been keeping an eye out for?
LUTHER: I think business owners really look forward to, without being too specific, business owners can look forward to better metrics… the ability to see on the back end within the business owner dashboard how many people are checking in. Also CPC, we’ve traditionally been a CPM-based advertising model. We now are rolling out CPC in various markets and categories. That’s really exciting for businesses that are looking for ways to tweak the knobs on a daily basis and only pay when they receive a click. I think that there’s a lot of exciting things that business owners can look forward to.
CHRIS: Most people know about the fantastic events that are put on by Yelp for the Elite members. Do you also do anything like this for business owners?
LUTHER: We don’t have a business Elite community, but what we’ve done is actually hosted over ten lunches or breakfasts for business owners in various metros where we have a healthy presence. Places like Phoenix, Portland, a few spots in the Bay Area, New York, Chicago… the goal is to share updates about Yelp with business owners, and, more importantly, understand how we can better serve the business community and what we can learn from them. These events have been going really well. Right now are doing this about once a month. We just recently announced yesterday, we’re rolling out a weekly webinars series for business owners to learn more about how they can get engaged with Yelp. I think the business community can look forward to a lot more education and outreach from Yelp.
CHRIS: Where can they get information about those new webinars?
LUTHER: If you go to biz.Yelp.com there is a link that allows you to RSVP to the webinars.
CHRIS: Danny Sullivan, who is a well known SEO expert, recently suggested that Yelp should allow businesses to be able to have the ability to opt out of being reviewed on the Yelp website. Thoughts on this?
LUTHER: Our CEO actually was asked the same question by Business Week last week and had a funny response. He said, “Why doesn’t Business Week let me opt out of your [negative] story?”
Listen, the genie is out of the bottle. Were Yelp to disappear tomorrow, there would be ten upstarts that flood the market next week. User generated content and the idea of your business’s reputation being laid out on the Internet in a discoverable way for all to see is not going away, so burying your head in the sand is not really an option. So, while it’s an interesting idea, Yelp is a site that encourages free speech, and I don’t foresee that option being available.
CHRIS: As a frequent user of Yelp, I wouldn’t want to go to their and only be able to read the good reviews and learn nothing about those businesses that have a poor reputation, so it’s good to hear that that doesn’t have any merit or possibility. The Yelp motto is real people, real reviews. That’s what makes it popular. But it’s really the businesses that advertise with Yelp that bring in the revenue. How does Yelp balance keeping the user happy, but also making the advertisers and the businesses happy?
LUTHER: Sure, well, I think the most important thing to understand is that advertising and reviews are not linked, that we do not have a pay to play model. When a business owner starts paying money to Yelp, they’re not buying increased reviews, they’re not buying better reviews, they’re buying increased probability of page-view traffic. We would rather create an experience that’s great for consumers and accept the high cost of irritating some business owners than embrace these models that we saw in the late ‘90s in which you give business owners total control and have a few bad apples ruin the whole system. So our philosophy is that if you create a great experience for consumers, and you create a site that is trustworthy for consumers, and you really focus on building great content for consumers, the advertisers will follow. It may seem annoying, not get everything they want, but that’s not the point. There’s no point in having a site that gives businesses 100% control because we already know what happens. Consumers stop using it.
CHRIS: Any final thoughts? Anything else you’d like to add?
LUTHER: What’s deeply ironic about this lawsuit and those who say Yelp can’t be trusted: in the process of creating a system that is more trustworthy than anything out there and goes to unbelievable length to maximize integrity on the site, we ourselves get accused of being unethical, lacking in integrity. That’s deeply ironic.
CHRIS: Luther, thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. You have provided great insight into Yelp, your role with the company and how the company is looking to improve the overall experience for the business owner.
Don’t forget to check out the first 2 parts of Chris’ interview with Yelp’s Luther Lowe:
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