Plumber: 95% of My Leads Come from Yelp

Yelp logoI had to have a plumber out before getting a new dishwasher installed (to change a valve). Unlike some of my other recent experiences with SMBs, the guy was prompt in responding to my email and came out this morning.

I thanked him for being so prompt in getting back to me whereupon he said that he “loves technology.” That opened the door and I asked him a little bit about what he meant and where he was getting most of his business these days.

He was probably in his 30s and Hispanic. He told me that a couple of years ago he was advertising in print yellow pages: three different local books. He had a very small display ad for which he was paying roughly $1,500 per year (all three books). He said it didn’t bring him business and so he quit.

A friend did some optimization work for his one-page website and he says that he shows up in organic (my word) searches for plumber. I didn’t find him on the first page of Google in any of several plumbing related lookups I did however. He said he paid the guy “a few hundred dollars.”

The plumber is, by contrast, highly visible and well reviewed on Yelp. He’s got 62 reviews, most of which are five stars (well deserved). He said that one of his customers created an account for him a couple of years ago while he did a job at her house. He’s since claimed his profile and made changes to it.

He said that about 95% of his leads now come from that Yelp profile (he’s not an advertiser). I said that if he were a Yelp advertiser that he wouldn’t see a competitor on his profile page (not trying to sell him). He responded that his ratings were better than the advertiser-competitors that show up on his page so he wasn’t worried.

He also spoke about his reliance on his smartphone as a tool in the field and how he uses it to take payments (Square) and quickly respond to emails and make call backs.

This guy was smart and very good at what he does. He wasn’t very sophisticated about online advertising or marketing but he knew that Google mattered and Yelp really mattered and that a smartphone was now an essential tool.

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23 Responses to “Plumber: 95% of My Leads Come from Yelp”

  1. Bob Misita says at

    This contractor’s results are definitely an outlier (less than 1%) in our experience; drawing from hundreds of similar examples.

    First, the idea of having that many unfiltered positive reviews on Yelp is very unusual for a business of his size. Virtually all of our clients that are non-advertisers on Yelp have the majority of their positive reviews filtered while a similar majority of negative reviews show.

    Second, almost all contractors with a presence on Yelp also have one on several other profile sites, including Google plus, etc.   

    Finally, I’d offer a piece of advice.  Relying on one medium for leads (other than your own branded site) is a terrible long-term idea.  Yelp is entirely in control of his business success at this point.

    If this plumber leveraged a system that made use of his smartphone to capture geocoded work activity summaries and request reviews from clients – and then automatically integrate that content into his company branded site – he’d quickly transform his reliance on Yelp and become independent.  And while this may sound too good to be true, we have hundreds of thrilled clients doing just that.  

  2. Rocky says at

    So given Yelp’s standard rates, this guy would actually be paying Yelp MORE than he did for three Yellow Pages if he were an advertiser. That’s nuts!

  3. Greg Sterling says at

    But he doesn’t advertise. That’s the point here.

  4. Stephen J Dow says at

    1. Bob: Your idea of placing reviews directly on a clients’ website violates Google’s more recent guidelines. Good idea in theory though.
    2. Greg: I get what the point of your article is. However, I think the title is a bit misleading.

  5. Greg says at

    What part is misleading to you? This was a verbatim quote from him. I don’t say and am not trying to represent that this is true for all plumbers for all small businesses in any way.

  6. Bob Misita says at

    Without getting into specific details – which I’d be happy to describe separately, rest assured we’re 100% aware of all of Google and all other guidelines – and we’re in 100% compliance.

    We don’t “place” reviews anywhere – they are fully verified, 3rd party served just like they were on Google, Angieslist or any other legitimate review site.

  7. Greg Sterling says at

    Perhaps if he were an advertiser.

  8. Andrew says at

    Ew, Bob. You’re skeezy. You’ve been plugging your own business by pitting yelp as the bad guy, while Greg legitimizes yelp as a successful lead generator for one small business. It might not be transferrable to everyone, but it highlights the potential of the platform through a great example. Perhaps your clients come to you because they’re not seeing enough business from other sources, including yelp, because they’re trying to cheat review sites with spam (fake or 1-review accounts). 

    Greg – I think your last point is the most important: this guy’s phone is an essential tool for his business. Advertisers who want his money will have to create products that are easy for him to use, manage his spending, and show value while he’s on the go. 

  9. Greg says at

    Andrew: The thing that was striking to me about him was that, while he wasn’t super sophisticated about tech (though competent, smart), he “got it.” He knows that he needs to do a few things “right” and that he doesn’t need to advertise if he’s got online visibility and strong reviews (+ his smartphone to respond quickly to leads and inquiries). 

    After the guy had already finished the job at my house I started getting calls from other plumbers — 24 hours or more later. 

  10. rich rosen says at

    Greg. Your last comment nailed this. He got your business because he was fast w his response. He does a great job adding to his reviews.

  11. Greg Sterling says at

    Hey Rich: hope things are good. 

  12. Dave says at

    If an smb has good reviews via yelp there is no need to advertise…….

    other than if Yelp’s notorious evil ways documented by so many over the years…decides to screw that smb.

    but as referenced elsewhere I would look to get wider/greater visibility from other sources.  If the yelp visibility goes bad…those leads dry up.

    As much as having lots of visibility responding on the phone is critical.  More than critical.  Its astounding so many businesses don’t get that…and among others I’d like to thank some of our competitors for not getting “it”.

    so Greg, are you going to give this guy a good yelp review?  Are you an authentic “yelper” whose reviews stick rather than get filtered “hidden” and are you willing to help this excellent plumber by giving him reviews elsewhere?

  13. Greg Sterling says at

    Dave: prompted by you and your remark I just wrote him a positive review on Yelp. 

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  16. chris schweppe says at

    greg: great post here. love the market research to help us understand the smb better. yeah, our company has been noticing that slowly but surely smb’s are starting to understand the value of online reviews, the same way they started to get the value of google around 2007. 

    for the longest time, i slammed yelp’s filter system on my blog because a lot of my smb clients have had problems with it and tell me they get calls from yelp sales reps saying they could help with it if they advertised. but after awhile, i realized yelp wasnt going to change their ways and there’s value in having good yelp reviews so we’ve been helping clients get their filtered reviews to become unfiltered.

    i’m just really curious how the plumber got that many positive reviews on his yelp page. like whether he actually made an effort to keep the reviews from being unfiltered.

  17. Helena says at

    Yelp is fantastic for businesses like this. Personally, I find almost every new business or contractor I patronize through Yelp. I don’t know that it’s measurable; some businesses are just Yelp “magic”–a few good reviews draw more customers, and more positive reviews, and so on. The last time I looked, it was for a plumber. The first Yelp ‘superstar’ I called was booked solid for days. But, he referred me to another plumber, who is phenomenal and ethical beyond compare!

    Considering that 92% of consumers trust “earned advertising” above any other form of advertising (Nielsen), it’s not surprising that this SMB feels the benefits of their trustworthy Yelp reviews.

    As an online marketing professional, I see how this might panic people like Bob, or advertisers that are unsuccessfully trying to game Yelp presence. Unfortunately, this presence can only be achieved through simply doing good work–that’s why the advertising is “earned”.  

    And as a consumer, this thrills me.

  18. Greg says at

    Chris: I didn’t get into that stuff with the guy but I doubt it he’s fully aware of the “review filter.” I think he generally just tries to do good work and gets good reviews. He didn’t ask me to review him on yelp or anywhere else. 

  19. Erma says at

    Could it be that 95% of his leads come from Yelp because he’s NOT doing “any” advertising? Where else would they find him if he doesn’t advertise? So, is it fair to say only 5% are from referrals? If reviews are all positive, wouldn’t he be receiving more referral leads?

  20. helena says at

    That’s an interesting point, Erma. However, earned advertising is a referral.

    When consumers go to sites like Yelp (or Angie’s List, etc), they are asking the people there (whose opinions they trust, and whom they likely consider peers) to share their experiences so that they can benefit from them–good or bad.

    They can even look directly at the reviews belonging to friends, or people in their network, for a more old-fashioned, direct ‘referral’. My Yelp is basically a catalog of all the businesses I would and wouldn’t refer friends to.

    Verbal referrals are in the minority these days. Like everything else, we look increasingly toward technology to fulfill that need.

    When you consider this–and if you assume his other 5% of business to be referral-based–the journeyman discussed here is actually running a successful business that is 100% referral-based. A feat that very few can achieve. It’s more effective than any form of paid advertising, and benefits the consumer. Anyone can buy well-placed, well-written, and well-conceived advertising. But not everyone can do a good job.

    What happens when Yelp is overrun by sleazy businesses trying to game the system and ruining its credibility, and businesses that rely on it solely are left in the cold? That’s another question.

  21. Rocky says at

    The best businesses can build their entire book of business by delivering great service and benefiting free reviews on Yelp.

    They don’t have to advertise; they don’t have infinite capacity and buying a YP ad or doing SEO or all the other things they’re advised to do becomes unnecessary.

    If you provide a great service, Yelp (the free part) may be all you need. 

    I often find that advertisers on Yelp have lower ratings than that of the business page they’re advertising on. Fortunately for them, Yelp let’s them hide the rating in that instance.

  22. chris schweppe says at

    my biggest gripe about yelp is that it’s review filter blocks just as many authentic reviews from actual customers as it does spam and fake reviews. and frustration really sets in when theres a couple bad reviews left on yelp and the smb is desperate to talk to clients and get them to leave reviews on yelp, but because there’s a whole bunch of reviews being left at once (even legit reviews) they get filtered because it’s a “higher volume than normal” for a short time. on the other hand, i understand why yelp has the filter because it differentiates itself from other review sites and tries to combat spam, but i think there’s a better way of doing this that should work for the review site, consumers, and smbs alike. and whoever figures it out is going to make a lot of money.

  23. Greg Sterling says at

    Yes, it’s very frustrating to business owners to this day . .. 

  24. Rocky says at

    Things like the review filter help add mystique and FUD to Yelp, which can be a sales tool.

    Because not everything is shown, there’s room for people to imply that certain things might happen. I hear it all the time from SMBs. 

  25. Greg Sterling says at

    Yes. This is a bad practice if it’s still going on.

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