By: Michelle Rutan, owner of Prescription Pest and EGBI volunteer

Three years ago I bought an existing pest control company.  I had large dreams and not always realistic expectations, but despite some missteps, owning my own business is amazing and going great.

Our company’s differentiators are that we are family owned, good values and no contracts.  I have learned many times over that thinking big will not get us as far as focusing on doing the best job possible and those people will tell others.

Our Yelp profile started to bring in organic leads so I started to focus on it. I made sure to have compelling pictures and content to make things personable.  We do everything we can to keep customers happy so they leave more good reviews. After a couple months, I decided to do some paid advertising to try and build up our customer base and review count.

One of my first jobs out of college was buying online advertising for a large tech company, so I was familiar with the terminology of online advertising contracts. When reading the Yelp contract I came across this verbiage.

Cost-Per-Click (“CPC”) Auction-based Auto-bidding Program: Yelp delivers a variable and unguaranteed number of ad impressions to the Site to promote Client’s business, as determined at Yelp’s sole discretion based on available inventory and other factors, and Client pays Yelp for the number of clicks during a given period of time. A “click” is a single instance for which Yelp records that a user acts on an ad impression, such as clicking on it (including clicks that drive traffic to Client’s Yelp listing or that lead to phone calls and reservations) or sending Client a message in connection with it.

There are several alarming words and phrases in here: variable, unguaranteed and Yelp’s sole discretion. So they decide how many impressions (views of your ad) they give and only charge you for the clicks you get.  This is standard in the industry.   I asked the account representative what the CPC would be and she said it varied and gave me an estimated range.  It is not standard that they only list how much you are willing to pay per month rather than CPC in the contract. We discussed my goals and I assumed everything would work out. At $350 per month for 6 months, we would need 5 new sales a month (or 30 overall) to pay for this experiment which seemed reasonable. We created our ads and we were off.  I always put people on everything as it makes things more personable, especially when one of our main differentiators is family owned. You can see one of our ads below:

The first thing I learned is that Yelp “clicks” are just to your Yelp profile, not to your website. I was, in essence, paying Yelp to make even more money by having people click around on their site. After a week or so, I was not seeing conversions from clicks to leads or actions and I called Yelp support.  They looked over my profile and said that everything looked good and that it might help to add more pictures. We had 6 professional pictures and I couldn’t see how more would help.  I believe an issue with conversion was once visitors made it to your Yelp profile they could get distracted by ads by other pest control company ads (see Image 2).  There are no real guarantees on leads, since CPC is based on a “formula”.  For example, in July, I spent $335 for 31 clicks to see my Yelp profile, which resulted in 11 calls, emails or visits to my company website. This did not result in 5 new sales.

I contacted Yelp support weekly and it was painful. They had pleasant young women answering the phones that would only repeat pre-authorized phrases even if they didn’t answer or address my question, which was maddening.  Right away I could see this was going to be an issue.  I did everything I could to get credits and see what they could change to better fit my company’s needs.

The campaign did result in leads, but we had two main issues with the people that contacted us. The first was that people expect to hear back right away, and we have specific business hours.  If Yelp flooded our impressions over the weekend and people contact us, we didn’t respond until Monday, which was too late. Yelp support said they had no control over what days the ads were shown.  The other issue was people primarily shopping for bargain priced pest control.  Some companies will offer $25 pest control and they don’t do much.  We provide a quality service, guarantee it and treat our employees fairly, which is not cheap.  This meant that many of the leads Yelp generated for us were not good match. Over all the advertising campaign did not meet our goals of 5 new customers a month and resulted in a lot of work and frustration on my part. Below is a snapshot of three months .

On the bright side. The organic leads we get from Yelp are usually good so we switched went back to that model. The leads we received in 2017 were about steady with what we did in 2016.  In 2018 our leads shot up. I am not sure if it was how long we had our profile up or that our reviews increased, but we got better in their “formula” and got more leads .

While my experience was not great with Yelp paid advertising, their organic leads are great.  I believe if a company has a more expensive service, or product, it could be more beneficial. I don’t believe Yelp will be flexible with their pricing, duration of contract or other details to make businesses more successful, but you can always try. Yelp itself is a good platform for our business as we get more leads than through Google or other advertising methods.  I would suggest going into it knowing exactly what you need to get out of it. For us it was not enough to continue paying and the organic leads far outweigh the paid. Free and better is good enough for me, even if it won’t double our business.