Many contractors, remodelers, vendors, and other small businesses have benefited from using online review sites such as Yelp, Yahoo Local, Angie’s List, etc., claiming the sites have increased consumers' awareness of their company while improving the company's reputation.

But one business’ goldmine is another’s waste of time … and money. 

Matt Gaudette, director of operations at Metropolitan Cabinets & Countertops, in Norwood, Mass., registered his company on the ratings site Yelp. He thought that a presence on this site would easily boost the company’s online impact while gathering a plethora of positive customer reviews — and if it pushed more potential clients to his company’s website, then it seemed like a golden opportunity.

Unfortunately, Metropolitan Cabinets’ experience was more like fool’s gold. And the company is not renewing its contract with Yelp when it expires next January. Gaudette encouraged customers to check the company out on Yelp and to write a review, but the site did not take kindly to that. “We soon found out that Yelp discourages that and filters out reviews,” he says. “About one of every five customer reviews was actually posted to the site.”

Spreading the Word — or Not

Asking satisfied customers to spread the good word about your company seems like a marketing no-brainer to any business owner, but Yelp doesn’t see it that way. According to Corey Perlman, president of eBootCamp, an online consultancy, Yelp frowns upon companies asking their customers to leave positive reviews on the site. “They think the reviews are not authentic because they were requested by the owner,” Gaudette says. “I don't agree with their stance, but that's their stance.” 

In an incident that caused Gaudette further head scratching, he discovered that a free listing that Metropolitan Cabinet had on Google+ and CitySearch generated just as much traffic to the company’s site as the paid listing on Yelp and also allowed all three of the company’s locations, not just the single location that Yelp allows. “And we determined that our paid SuperPages ad was bringing in about five times as much traffic to our site [as the Yelp listing],” he says. The SuperPages ad cost roughly 15% less than the monthly $300 Yelp listing and included all of the company’s locations.

Gaudette finally decided to pull the plug on his company’s Yelp listing because it simply did not live up to expectations. “Ultimately, we found it to be a waste of money,” he explains, adding that he personally uses Yelp quite often when looking for everything from a restaurant to an electrician. However, “in regards to large-ticket items like a kitchen or bath, I just wasn’t convinced that there was enough value to Yelp.” —Mark A. Newman, Senior Editor, REMODELING.