Contractors have always relied on word of mouth to gain new customers. But as WOM rapidly shifts to a new group of online home service offerings, many contractors find themselves struggling to capitalize on their good reputations. But there’s one site that seems to vex contractors more than any other: Yelp.
“Most people have a love/hate relationship with Yelp,” said Bill McGowan, marketing consultant for Save Energy Company. “But where people need to focus is with review services. And really managing Yelp is probably one of the best things they can do.”
The first step is understanding it, said Darnell Holloway, Yelp’s local business outreach director, who points to the site’s massive number of monthly visitors — 86 million on mobile and 75 million on desktops.
Firms like Save Energy Company have harnessed those visits into a reliable lead generation service. “Third party verification organization service costs a bloody fortune and we get more traffic from Yelp,” McGowan said. “Managing Yelp is probably one of the best things you can do.”
Trouble is, persisting misconceptions about Yelp are holding some contractors back from doing so. Here are five of the most common, according to Holloway:
1. People only go on Yelp to write negative reviews. The majority of reviews are actually three stars or better, and there are more five star reviews than one, two or three combined, Holloway said. Additionally, negative reviews aren’t all bad. Business with a good overall rating with a few negative reviews performed better than those with all five star reviews, according to a Northwestern University study. “If you see a business with all five star reviews people are inclined to think that’s too good to be true,” Holloway said.
2. Contractors can’t respond or control negative or unfair reviews. Yelp offers free tools to help contractors respond to reviews publicly or privately, Holloway said. They can also flag reviews for hate speech, conflicts of interest or those that aren’t first-hand customer experiences. Once flagged, the site reviews the comment and removes violators. McGowan said that process worked for him when a non-customer wrote a negative review.
3. Yelp is only a pay per play site. The Federal Trade Commission investigated complaints against Yelp, but that investigation was closed in 2015 without incident. But because the investigation was widely reported, many assumed that Yelp had in fact been charged with violations. That said, contractors can advertise on Yelp, which will get their listing posted above organic listings. “I doubled my money with Yelp and I’ve gotten 3 times the response,” McGowan said. That correlates with a Nielson study showing every $1 in Yelp advertising yields $3 in revenue.
4. Getting positive reviews displayed requires paying money. This is probably the most persistent misconception — and also the most difficult to explain. Yelp uses a filter to find fake or fraudulent reviews. That filter determines whether reviews get recommended. Reviews that don’t get recommended — about 30 percent of all reviews, Holloway said — don’t get displayed in search results. These are typically written by friends family or even contractors themselves. Reviews written by non-Yelp members may also not be recommended, he said.
5. It’s okay to incentivize reviews from customers. This practice is not only against Yelp’s terms of service, but providing special offers and the like for reviews is also against the law. New York recently fined nearly 20 companies $350,000 for writing fake reviews. But it’s not just faked or incentivized reviews that get contractors in trouble. Large marketing blitzes trying to “cherry pick” positive reviews can also lead to problems. Holloway said such tactics often trigger Yelp’s filter to not recommend those reviews. Instead, he said, contractors should use “organic” methods for encouraging reviews such as providing links on websites and logos on trucks.