There was once a belief in the tech industry that first-to-market entrants held a long-term advantage. Then companies such as Yahoo, Myspace, and AltaVista proved that being early only matters if a company adapts when new competitors enter the field. Yelp is trying to make the adjustments it needs to stay relevant and that benefits home service providers, including HVAC contractors.

The review site introduced Yelp for Business in 2020. The new suite of tools is designed to help business owners better communicate with customers. Yelp recently added new features with the goal of improving the experience for both businesses and consumers. For business owners, they can now better control their Yelp pages to get more out of them, said Alon Shiran, Yelp’s vice president of local product.

A key improvement for HVAC contractors is the ability to target specific areas. In the past, Yelp ads only reached consumers in a radius around the business’ main address. While this worked for restaurants and stores, it often failed to work for HVAC contractors. This new feature corrects that.

David Ghahramany, owner of Art’s Heating and Cooling in Pleasanton, California, participated in the pilot for this new feature. He said that it improved the effectiveness of his advertising program and improved the return on investment for his ad clicks.

“Within just a week of editing my targeted ad delivery, I’m seeing much more value from my ads on Yelp,” Ghahramany said. “The leads are more relevant, and my time is spent connecting with customers that will generate revenue for my business.”

Justin Jacobs, marketing coach for Hudson Ink, has watched Yelp evolve over the years. The site started as a way to crowdsource recommendations and reviews for local businesses. The business has had some ups and downs over the years. Jacobs said one of those was the need to change its algorithms to filter out fake reviews that were either too enthusiastic or too negative.

Yelp’s focus over the years moved more toward restaurants. This made it less useful for HVAC contractors, for reasons such as the lack of geographic targeting. Then came the pandemic, and people suddenly stopped looking for a new place to eat. The company quickly moved to attract other types of business.

Many sites today offer reviews and have eaten into Yelp’s business. Google and Facebook are two of the biggest competitors. But Yelp maintains a strong user base, Shiran said.

“As a trusted consumer platform, millions of users come to Yelp each day looking to find a business that meets their needs,” he said. “With a captive audience of high-intent consumers who are ready to make a transaction, Yelp offers local businesses a unique opportunity to reach potential customers at a pivotal moment.”

Another new feature to help HVAC contractors is an improved budgeting tool. Generated using machine-learning, the tool helps businesses set an ad budget based on their exact listing, market, and advertiser history.

Jacobs was most impressed by one of the new ways to connect with consumers: a customizable call to action. This feature debuted in February. It allows business owners to place a button with text of their choice on the Yelp page. Yelp reports that post engagement increased 40% on average in the month after the new feature was introduced, and that engagement levels have maintained since.

Yelp also updated its model so that it matches more consumers with posts from businesses based on the consumer’s search history on the site. According to Yelp, home services businesses like HVAC contractors have seen consumer engagement with Connect posts increase by three times on average since the initial pilot.

It remains to be seen if these enhancements will actually translate into more business for most HVAC contractors, Jacobs said. Still, he likes the direction Yelp is headed. Jacobs was especially impressed that Yelp admits that the one-size-fits-all approach wasn’t working for HVAC contractors. He said he’s glad another site is now paying more attention to the industry and hopes to see them invest more, such as attending events for HVAC contractors.

“They need more tools to use and anybody that will provide another service, another option, I’m happy with,” Jacobs said.