3 things your salon MUST know before using Yelp
Yelp is such a polarizing topic for so many beauty business owners.
On one hand, it’s a huge brand name, and it has the potential to recommend your salon to dozens of new clients every month, simply because it has millions of visitors looking for new local businesses.
On the other hand, we’ve all heard major horror stories and “buyer beware” posts from all sorts of business owners.
Yelp is the world’s largest recommendation engine for local businesses. Although the world knows it mostly when they’re looking for a good restaurant to eat at, there are also hundreds of thousands of salons and spas on there.
From hair salons to laser clinics to lash extension studios, especially in north America, it seems like almost every business is listed.
But even though they’re listed, it doesn’t mean they love what’s happening to their online presence because of Yelp.
There are a few major scandals and a huge documentary coming out about Yelp called “Billion Dollar Bully”.
But why is Yelp considered a bully for small businesses?
Most of the complaints focus around these things:
Advertising your business on Yelp can be expensive (average 300-500$ per month) and many businesses claim that it doesn’t bring them any clients
Once you create a listing on Yelp, business owners say the Yelp spams you with sales calls from aggressive salespeople who won’t take no for an answer
Salon owners see their hard-earned 5 star reviews disappearing for no apparent reason and being hidden in the “not recommended” section
Some people suspect that the reason Yelp hides their reviews is because they refuse to pay for advertising.
There are rumours that Yelp rewards advertisers by showing their 5 star reviews, and punishes business who won’t pay by hiding good reviews and surfacing the bad ones.
So is any of this actually true?
If Yelp is so bad for businesses, is it worth using it to promote your salon?
I believe that every single beauty business needs to pay attention to Yelp. It can’t be ignored. But before you decide how (and if) to use it, you absolutely need to know a few things about how it works.
Paying for Yelp ads is probably a bad idea
Many small businesses do not like Yelp. It’s a fact. Just search “Yelp sucks” on Google and you’ll see hundreds of pages of complaints.
Many of the complaints centre around Yelp advertising. People who’ve used it say that it's expensive, ineffective and the salespeople are considered to be aggressive and won’t take “no” for an answer.
But those who do venture to spend money on Yelp advertising? How does it work for them?
Yelp ads usually cost between $200-$500 per month, and are available in Canada and the USA. When you advertise for a certain category, your business listing will appear at the top of the list when people search “Nail salons Chicago” for example.
It’s very similar to Google ads, actually.
The problem is that many business owners report that Yelp ads don’t work for them. For a small business, $500 is a lot of money to spend in a month unless you’re sure you’re getting a good return on investment.
I am of the strong belief that there’s something fundamentally flawed about Yelp advertising.
People go on Yelp because they want to see a list of business who EARNED 5 star reviews from happy customers. They go there because they want to read reviews and choose from one of the top 5 or 10 ranked businesses.
They actually don’t care to look at the business who PAID to be in the top spot. They actively ignore the ads because that’s just not what they’re looking for.
So my advice is this: definitely use Yelp (I’ll go into the “why” and how later on) — but do NOT spend money advertising on Yelp.
Your advertising dollars will be much better spent on Facebook ads for example - I show you how to run effective Facebook ad campaigns here.
There is actually a “free” version of Yelp that many business don’t know about. And it is so much more powerful than any ad you can run.
The reason it’s powerful is because you have people who are vouching for you through your reviews. It’s called social proof, and it’s the most powerful type of advertisement you can get. And, it’s FREE!
My advice is that you focus only on the free version of Yelp in order to grow your business, and ignore the advertising. Create or claim your profile, fill it out 100% with all your information and photos, and then build a process to get more reviews (I’ll go through that in a minute).
Don’t worry about the rumours that say that your reviews will get removed if you don’t advertise on Yelp. Despite what business owners say, it’s been proven in court that it’s just that - a rumour. (link)
There are several reasons why your 5 star reviews might not show up or even disappear, and I’ll go through those reasons in a bit.
But Yelp scamming you is very likely not the problem.
And how about all of those aggressive salespeople who keep calling you, saying that your competitors are going to get more exposure than you because they’re advertising on Yelp and you’re not?
Be firm but polite, and tell them to put you on the “do not call” list. Yelp says that they have a do not call list like every other business. If you do happen to get another call from them, don’t let them pressure you. Again, tell them that you’re not interested and to put you on that list.
But wait… if the advertising doesn’t work, the salespeople are annoying and my reviews keep getting hidden, why even bother using Yelp for promoting my salon?
That’s where my second point comes in...
Yelp dominates search engines and is a fantastic place to get found
Before I go any further telling you how crucial it is for your business to be on Yelp, you need to ask yourself if Yelp is one of the places that people look for reviews in your city.
Depending on which country you’re in, or even which city you’re in, Yelp might not be extremely relevant. It could be that potential clients just aren’t using Yelp.
So first, take a good look at Yelp in your city. See how many business are on there, how many reviews, and how many of your competitors are showing up.
If you find out that it is in fact relevant to your city, I strongly suggest you pay some attention to it.
Because there’s a really good chance that if someone searches “Best spray tans in Los Angeles”, below Google maps, the first several results will be from Yelp:
Love them or hate them, there’s no denying that Yelp has a HUGE amount of influence over which businesses people pick.
If you’re not on Yelp, there’s a good chance that your competitors are, and they have dozens of clients finding them instead of you every month.
Again, I want to make it clear that I’m not talking about advertising on Yelp. Simply having a free business page and working to get more reviews is enough to appear on Yelp’s “Top 10” list like the one above.
In addition to a quick Google search, did you know that there’s one more MAJOR way that clients can find you through Yelp?
Apple Maps on iPhones!
45% of phones in the USA are iPhones, and Apple actively pushes their Apple Maps instead of Google Maps on iPhone.
And you know what’s the huge difference between the two? While Google Maps relies on Google reviews, Apple Maps uses… you guessed it: Yelp reviews!
Lots and lots of iPhone users are searching for local beauty businesses every single day. And if you want to have them find you, you’ll need an Apple Maps profile (link) and you’ll also need to work on your Yelp profile - getting reviews.
Speaking of reviews… what’s all this about reviews disappearing, or not showing up on your Yelp profile?
It’s so important to understand how this works, so you can get more reviews and visibility to your profile.
Many of your reviews won’t show up on Yelp, and that’s normal
Probably the biggest scandal of all is the idea that Yelp will hide your 5-star reviews unless you advertise with them.
Turns out, this isn’t true. It’s been proven to be untrue in court.
However, it is true that not all of the reviews you worked so hard to get will show up on Yelp. And there’s actually a really good reason for this.
Yelp will only ever be relevant as a search engine for local businesses if it’s a true reflection of how people ACTUALLY feel about businesses, and if the reviews on it are real and genuine.
If the worst restaurant in town pays $10,000 to get 100 5-star reviews, and people find out - either because they’re disgusted by the food or because the story comes out - Yelp will no longer be a trusted place for people to turn to for recommendations.
So despite what many business owners have accused, Yelp really does want to keep its review system fair and balanced.
So what they do is filter through all the reviews for a business, and remove the reviews that they believe are not “genuine”. Yelp does this through an automatic algorithm, and unfortunately it’s nowhere near perfect.
Only about 72% of the reviews on made on Yelp actually show up (link). The rest get added to a pretty much invisible section called “Not recommended” which virtually no one will see.
So many salon owners agonize over this fact. “I’m new and I work so hard to give my clients the best service ever, and they spent all this time writing me a review… and it doesn’t even show up! It’s so unfair!”
Why do these reviews get filtered out? No one knows exactly how the algorithm works, but it mostly has to do with the reviewer’s profile. Is it a new profile with no friends, only 1 other review, and it’s been inactive for a year?
The review will probably get filtered out and not shown, like these ones I found for a beauty salon:
Notice that they have very few reviews or friends?
Instead, take a look at some of the reviews that are recommended:
Also, 5 star reviews and 1 star reviews seem to be more likely to be removed, as well as very short reviews.
So please, do not accuse Yelp of hiding all your good reviews on purpose, because in all likelihood it’s just the algorithm trying to keep reviews balanced and fair.
So, what CAN you do to get more 5-star reviews and appear higher up on Yelp?
First comes a question that Yelp has never really answered straight out: Can you ask your clients for reviews?
Although Yelp doesn’t recommend it (they say that they can detect when a review has been solicited, and will filter them out), technically it’s not against their terms of service to ask for a review. You just can’t compensate clients for reviews with freebies, discounts, etc.
So definitely put it in your marketing strategy to regularly encourage your clients to leave you a review on Yelp, Google, or Facebook (whichever they prefer) both in person and through email/text message/messaging etc.
And, if some of your reviews seem caught in “not recommended”, all hope isn’t gone! You might be able to add them as a friend with your personal profile and vote for their review from your personal profile as “useful”.
Plus, Yelp regularly updates their algorithm, so they might get moved into “recommended” later on (just like, unfortunately, sometimes an algorithm update might mean that some of your reviews might get moved into the invisible folder… ugh!)
Keep on working to get client reviews on Yelp, even though not all of them will show up. Your hard work WILL pay off eventually because Yelp is an incredible place to get exposure for your business.
It’s important that you decide for yourself whether Yelp is something you want to devote your time and energy into. If you know that it’s not an important review site for your city or area, then you can safely leave it alone.
If you do go ahead with Yelp, I do not recommend that you use the advertising feature. I recommend you use the free version to take advantage of the “juice” that Yelp has with Apple Maps and Google search.
People search for “best hair salon Dallas” on Google all the time, and Yelp will usually be in the top 10 listings, often multiple times.
If you want to appear in that top 10 list, you’ll need to come up with a strategy to get regular 5-star reviews on Yelp, and beware that not all of those reviews will show up your profile, unfortunately.
Also, do not rely on Yelp for reviews. It’s important to have a variety of different reviews from Facebook, Google, etc.
However, Yelp is still an incredibly relevant and important to get found for many beauty businesses. And if you play it right, it can become a powerful client recommendation tool.
One last thing! If you want to learn some more ways of attracting salon clients beyond just Yelp, grab my free eBook below, “7 Smart Ways to Get 7 New Salon Clients This Week”!