Yelp is Being Shoved Down my Throat

A study in “push” vs “pull”

Recently, we’ve all had a bit of a Yelp overload; Talia Jane wrote a Medium article that sparked an internet feud (don’t worry; this article doesn’t focus on the piece). But, there’s more to this ‘Yelp overload’ story for me. Two weeks prior, I interviewed on-site with Yelp for a Product Manager position. To prepare, I did a ton of research on the firm and asked 2 business owner friends of mine for access to their Yelp business page (that is, what Yelp looks like if you own a business) to learn more about its product offering.

I wish I could say that this Talia Jane article and the interview/interview prep are all that constituted my Yelp overload, but I’d be terribly wrong. You see, due to my research and accessing a Yelp business page, I have been targeted with Yelp advertisements. They’re everywhere.

Here’s a Yelp ad:

Here’s another one:

And another one. Another one. And another one. And another one.

I’ve been getting these same advertisements now for over 6 weeks. I never get upset about ads I receive online, but then again I’ve never seen any campaign so brutally pushed onto me — so heavily shoved down my throat. I haven’t gone a single day since without seeing less than 4 of these ads. In the beginning, I would get these advertisements on at least 1 out of every 5 web pages I’d visit. It was unreal.

Retention, Talia Jane, and Ads — It’s All Connected

There’s a reason to this madness, and Talia Jane’s article along with these insufferable Yelp ads are more connected than might meet the eye.

It’s no secret that Yelp hasn’t been performing well. It’s had challenges turning a profit. There are several reasons why, but here are some big ones:

  • Yelp has trouble attracting new business customers to pay for advertisements and promoted pages on its site. Less than 1% of business owners are currently paying for these services, which isn’t enough for the service to be profitable. Furthermore, Yelp has trouble persuading business owners to continue paying subscriptions for these services.
  • Yelp is trying to grow to many international markets and grow revenue there, but has ‘little to show for its efforts’ as these markets affected ~2% of its revenue last quarter.
  • The firm has fast-rising sales and advertising costs in hiring and maintaining a large sales force, which Yelp attributes its lower-than-expected revenue from the past few quarters to.

Yelp is “Pushing” it.

All I was trying to do was watch Messi highlights :(

All this is to say: Yelp is in the “push” mindset.

Yelp’s answer for a better business has been to massively scale up sales, advertising, and marketing efforts. Look no further than Talia Jane’s article; if we are to believe her accounts, Yelp is working the sales team hard to reach more and more business owners (Talia claims her team often worked overtime and weekends to do so). From my online experience, I see that Yelp is bombarding business owners (remember, I accessed my friends’ Yelp business portal from my laptop, leading the firm to believe I’m a business owner) with opportunities to subscribe/renew Yelp advertising services. I can see how this is annoying to many end users — these ads, quite frankly, suck, and I cannot imagine many calls from sales associates to business owners being much better.

Talia Jane, these annoying ads, entering new international markets, high turnover in talented sales associates at Yelp…Yelp is pushing their product to new and existing business clients, and it isn’t working.

Pull Me In!

“Pull” before you can “Push”

Yelp has it backwards. Instead of beefing up their sales, marketing, and advertising budget, I’d love the company to focus on what I deem it to be its core mission: building a product to minimize information asymmetry between consumers and businesses, and consequently, provide businesses with information to better serve consumers.

Yelp needs to focus on making people want to use their service and want to pay for their ads/promoted pages. Only then — when people are naturally being “pulled” into a service — does a “push” methodology (like the one Yelp currently is in the midst of) work.

The core Yelp product really hasn’t changed in the last 10 years. In a world where ‘change is the only constant’, Yelp is dying as its value to consumers and business owners just naturally faded, and it isn’t clear how they provide value — and continue to provide value — to consumers and business owners. In short, Yelp is “pushing” their product without mastering its “pull”.

Providing Value to Business Owners

So, what would constitute “pull” from business owners like the one Yelp is trying to target with the above advertisements? Frankly, that’s a question for Yelp to answer, but we can take a quick stab at it here. Take a look at the current “Yelp for Business Owners” page:

Yelp for Business Owners

If I’m a business owner, this dashboard tells me….very little, and it’s rather confusing.

  • I see an activity feed of actions taken by users (great!), but these events are not actionable and don’t provide any more information to me.
  • I see a graph of monthly activity (awesome!), but all it tells me are the number of views over time.
  • The “customer leads” tab on top gives a breakdown of the action items people took on your Yelp Business page (awesome!), but I’ve no idea what action items I can take to spur more activity on my page. Additionally, the “Revenue Estimate” tab doesn’t tell me much as that value there ($51) is largely driven by numbers I entered to the system About my business (and can easily fudge to make myself feel good)
  • There are 5 entry points in the menu on the left that offer paid products and services for business owners, but I have no idea which ones are best for my business, what my competitors are doing, and where to start.

The information provided doesn’t really help me make decisions about my business! The data shared so far to business owners does not prompt for any action on business owners’ part. It’s lacking insight and action items. What if Yelp provided business owners with:

  • Search terms people looked for when they clicked on your business page, and how you can better classify your business for more exposure.
  • A map detailing some location radius where mobile users accessed your business page. This would help determine places you could advertise in the physical world.
  • Breakdown of comparable businesses in your area and what a business can do to rank higher in views/sales.
  • Tips on how to improve your business profile page.
  • Insight on the clientele that tends to visit your Yelp page.
  • Top sought-after services from consumers in my industry (shared through reviews), and different offerings I may want to introduce for better business.
  • More specific information on how Yelp advertisements and promoted Yelp pages tend to impact your business based on industry data.
  • Clear metrics as to how Yelp advertising services and promoted pages are helping a current business (this isn’t apparent from the screen shot above, but again it’s difficult for a business owner to really parse out the effect of their paid efforts on Yelp).

My point is, there are so many things missing that would be of true value to business owners. Some of the items above would be tools for businesses in attracting more clientele, would give them insight into their industry, and importantly provide them with tangible action items to improve their business. This value, along with advertisements and promoted pages, is something business owners would find invaluable, more likely to be something they would pay for, and data Yelp surely has.

It’s all about pull, not push

It’s imperative for product developers and entrepreneurs to realize that we are in the business of providing value to consumers. Only when there is a consumer “pull” will users in turn find value, pay for services, and potentially yield a true profit.

Yelp needs to take a step back from “pushing” to manufacturing “pull” — figuring out where the true value is and amplifying it — towards consumers and business users and make it apparent in the product. Otherwise, I fear that a service I love will have it’s hardest days ahead of it.