Rachel from Yelp is on the phone, again. She sounds young—I’m guessing I have socks older than Rachel—and she wants to sell me something. I know because I’ve taken her calls before.
Yelp, which allows consumers to rate businesses on a five-point scale, is trying to get into the home improvement game on the East Coast. Yelp’s already big on the West Coast, but here in the Northeast, it’s far from the dominant player.
Rachel has all the statistics. She can tell me about why more people view Yelp than they do Angie’s List and about how you don’t have to be a member of Yelp to go to the site and read reviews—anybody can. She tells me about why being on Yelp is so different and better than Dumpster diving for leads via aggregate lead providers such as Home Advisor or QuinStreet.com.
It’s a Free Review Site, But …
Rachel tells me that for the low, low price of $200 I can claim a piece of the market, that is, a territory and a product category. Yes, Yelp is a free review site but, like Angie’s List, you pay for visibility and you pay to make competitors invisible.
Yelp is most popular for retail shopping and restaurants, and it can “make or break your company’s reputation,” says PCWorld.com. But Yelp is now looking for market share in home improvement.
Here’s the deal. You can open your account and start accumulating Yelp reviews at zero cost. But, as with Angie’s List, if you want to get pumped up into Yelp’s SEO (search engine optimization) ecosystem, you’re going to need to pay. What happens when you purchase a territory is that you immediately go higher up in the Yelp search rankings. You’d think that reviews alone would get you ranked higher. But Yelp wouldn’t make any money that way.
Where to Find Us
Yelp is far from the only game in town anymore. Soon enough, Houzz calls. The rep tells me that with a Houzz page I can include photos and video, and pricing starts at $600 per month for a territory. But … if I buy one territory I get a second territory for free, so I’m really getting these territories for $300 per month although I have to act today because “we have this incentive.”
I tell Houzz I don’t do anything on the first call; I don’t care what the incentive is. They call again a few days later and say they’ll give me both territories for $200.
Then there’s Porch. I still don’t fully understand how Porch works, but it wants money, too. So do I spend $600 a month to be on all three and see how that shakes out?
The more places you are, the more eyes people have on you. Right now, when a job is done, we send a linked email to make it as simple as possible for customers to post a review. To our way of thinking, the crown jewel of reviews is Google, which directly feeds into your SEO. None of these other sites—not Yelp, Houzz, or Angie—report back to Google with regard to reviews. They’re all their own autonomous systems that live on their own sites. So if the customer tells us (or we know) that he or she is an Angie’s List member, we send them a link to review us on Angie and a second link for a Google review.
Getting in front of people these days isn’t at all like it used to be. They’re online. Contractors looking to generate business need to be in the places where homeowners are looking. And in the age of review sites, your reputation is what sells your company.
So your choice is either to hire someone internally to manage your online marketing or to hire an outside firm to take charge of it. The online companies aren’t going away, and they’re constantly changing the rules, so you need to stay abreast of it.
All this can be daunting to the average contractor whose fallback position may be: Well, to hell with all of it. I’m going to just do things the way I always have. Buy a booth at the home show twice a year, send out direct-mail flyers, and get in Val-Pak.
Here’s the problem with that approach: You can’t just do that anymore. Yes, there may be demographic exceptions—pockets of people here and there who don’t go online to find a contractor. But for most homeowners, the Internet is their primary source of information.
You can refuse to acknowledge that, and take a bullet, or you can shift your marketing away from direct mail, home shows, radio, and TV and figure out how online marketing is done. When you make that shift, you have to have both eyes open. It’s not simply pay and play anymore.
The new marketing isn’t simple, and it constantly changes. Can you opt out of it? Not really, if you want to be in business for the long term.