Case Study: Using Yelp to Grow Your Massage Therapy Business

Riya Suising is a massage therapist in the San Fransisco Bay area who has received a great deal of benefit by actively using Yelp (although only through reviews, not with advertising). Riya also has a computer science degree and an MBA, in addition to working as a marketing head for Intel for 10+ years.  

We met Riya in LA at a conference and she was gracious enough to agree to an interview! We’re excited about this opportunity to learn from someone who is experienced with Yelp and to help educate other MTs about Yelp as a marketing tool.

Massamio: Tell us a little about your background and your practice.

Riya Suising: I have a mobile massage business, Silicon Valley Body Renewal, listed on Yelp in Sunnyvale, CA. It’s actually a mobile massage service serving the southern half of the San Francisco Bay Area (Silicon Valley), but I list the city as Sunnyvale as Yelp requires a specific city for the listing, and Sunnyvale is near the center of my service area.

As a mobile business I travel to my client’s homes or hotels where they are staying to give them the massage service. Traveling around and meeting clients in different environments is half the enjoyment in this business, so I enjoy going to my clients to save them time. Recently my business is expanding so now I have a few partners to help me with additional appointments so I am setting up some new systems to schedule sessions for my partners too.

The basic principle behind my business is to provide the highest quality, professional massage service possible, and delivering to exceed that expectation consistently. I take pride in not only the quality of the massage service I provide (and from my partners), but in the overall service as well, to be at least as good as what one would find in a luxury day spa. I prepare my service and customer attention in great detail to deliver on that high expectation every time, and work hard to earn good reviews on Yelp, which in turn brings more new clients to my business.

(image below: example of how Riya’s Yelp listing appears in a Google search for her business)



Massamio: Describe some of your beginning experiences with Yelp. Did you set up your own listing, or did someone else? When did you start using or noticing Yelp?

Suising: I originally learned about Yelp several years ago by hearing about a popular restaurant from a friend, and learned about the restaurant from a linked Yelp review. After reading the Yelp review and researching what other types of reviews and businesses were on Yelp, I quickly understand that Yelp works as a massive online word-of-mouth engine.

In having my own business, I figured Yelp would be a great tool, especially when my focus is on high-quality (5-star quality), and Yelp delivers the results of broadcasting my reviews to bring in new customers when I can deliver on the 5-star service to my customers.

Not only do I use Yelp in listing and promoting my own business, but I also write objective reviews on many other businesses, to contribute to the Yelp community. Yelp content is only as helpful and valuable as the reviews the contributors behind them.

In setting up my listing, the Yelp process requires that one of your customers do that. So I asked one of my regular clients to create a Yelp review for me, which she did (my 1st reviewer). Once that listing was created with her 5-star review, the calls started coming in, gradually.


Massamio: Have you ever considered paying for ads on Yelp, why or why not?

Suising: As a business owner, I’ve also been getting calls from Yelp once or twice a year, as their account executives have been trying to sell their Ad services. I do take time now and then to talk to marketing companies (I quickly learned that many of my daytime calls are from internet companies marketing to me), as I like to learn about how they work.

The Yelp Ads sound interesting and possibly effective for most businesses, but they won’t work for me specifically for a few reasons:

– I’m a mobile business, and Yelp still lists my business like a traditional retail business with a physical address, limiting incoming calls. So the types of customers calling me (people looking for massage clinics or spas to go to) doesn’t quite fit my primary target audience (people looking for a mobile massage service to go to them). So the Ads would charge me for impressions and clicks based on the older retail model, which is not good for me (overcharging me).

– I also find the Yelp Ads much more costly than Google Ads, which I have used extensively, where I pay for clicks. I find that Google Ads have been effective sometimes, with reasonable costs, but recently I’ve put Google Ads on hold as my free Yelp listing has been working quite well bringing in many new calls from just my reviews.

Massamio: What other online listings/directories/advertising do you do?

Suising: I have also tried a few other big brand online listings, directories, discount membership services, advertising services as well, but they just don’t work. At best one of these services gave me just 1-2 calls for the entire year. Other services did not bring in any calls or inquiries at all. Traditional advertising and directory services just don’t seem to work, unless you are ready to give customers a 50% discount to catch their attention.

Big discount services like Groupon use the big discount (50-75% off), with a huge impact on the business, but that model doesn’t work well for massage businesses, as the labor is the primary cost of our service, which really can’t be discounted, or it will severely impact the quality of the massage or to the business’ profits.

Massamio: Have you had any negative feedback on Yelp, or negative experiences with Yelp? If so, how did you work through that?

Suising: Fortunately I have not had any negative feedback yet on Yelp, although I am prepared to respond to customers when that does happen.

I do have some fellow colleagues who are also business owners on Yelp, and they have dealt with difficult customers and poor customer reviews. It seems to drain a lot of energy away from everyone unfortunately.

My strategy is to stay focused on extremely high quality service (with commensurate pricing) so that my customer base is the clients who appreciate and value that type of service. They are the ones more likely to research reviews carefully first and are more likely to write fair and praising reviews themselves, after receiving exceptional service from myself or my partners.

80% of the calls I get are from customers who found me on Yelp, and they say they called me because they read through all my reviews and were impressed by them, and decided to give me a try.

Massamio: Do you respond personally to Yelp feedback and reviews?

Suising: I do respond back to all customers who write a Yelp review for me, but directly through email to briefly thank them, as send every customer a Thank You email after every session.

I will post public feedback after a Yelp review only to clarify a detail for the Yelp community. I have done that only once. Yelp recommends not posting replies too often unless it’s needed.

I do know of other businesses where the owner publicly replies back to almost every review to thank the customer. I think that may work for some businesses and owners/customers, but I try to spend my time in other ways to keep improving my service and to take care of my customers.

Massamio: How has Yelped affected your practice? Do you measure/track the effectiveness of Yelp and other online marketing tools, and if so can you describe your process?

Suising: Yelp has been great in growing my business because the tool as an online word-of-mouth engine works perfectly for a business like mine that delivers 5-star service consistently to its customers. For a business that delivers mediocre service (less than 3-stars), it would quickly tear down the business with a barrage of poor reviews.

For other tools tried, see my reply above on other online services, directories, etc.

Massamio: Thank you so much for sharing your insight with us. Is there anything else you would like add?

Suising: A couple more things I could expand on:

1. Yelp could do a better job in representing mobile businesses like mine. Other mobile businesses are well understood like plumbers, tow truck companies, etc. where they serve across many cities, and are easily findable on Yelp. But mobile massage is a different sub-category which Yelp groups with all other massage services. I am a nice service, and my target segment is people looking specifically for mobile massages, and they are out there. If Yelp can clarify my listing to be more visible to them (I have suggested many times and am willing to pay for that too), mobile businesses like mine could really take off even more.

2. Yelp isn’t perfect. The reviews and screening process is done by software and has imperfections. Some of my friends have been burned through their Yelp reviews, so Yelp is always trying to improve on their review engine.

3. It will be interesting to see how other review sites compare with Yelp – Google+ Local, Angie’s List, etc. I’ve taken a quick look at those, but each has its own barriers to entry – not enough traffic yet on Google+ Local, and Angie’s List is a paid service for both businesses and consumers, so Yelp is still the ubiquitous free review site for now.

Readers, have you had any experience using Yelp as a consumer or as a business owner that you’d like to share? Leave a comment below!


Comments from original Massamio post:

This article was very helpful. I have a small studio office, but I also provide mobile services. I didn’t know much about Yelp so the article has provided me with a starting point to elp grow my business. — Posted @ Friday, June 13, 2014 9:19 AM by Rose Murray

This was a very pleasant post to read and very informative. I would like to thank you for sharing this post.It’s really helped.Local directory is one of the best ways to make your business standout and Companies all the time want to get new ways to promote their brands and products. Set up online records on local company directory sites, such as Yelp and My Business Central.   — Posted @ Monday, June 30, 2014 2:42 AM by justin