With a single restaurant listing on Yelp, I’ve 35x my investment over seven years.
Now I should probably add some disclaimers here:
- I don’t own a restaurant.
- I was a casual customer of the restaurant in question.
- The entire thing happened because I was trying to help.
- We aren’t talking about a lot of money but 35x sounds fun.
For the purposes of this discussion, the restaurant, the geographic location and the website URL will changed/redacted to protect the innocent. If you know me, you’ve probably heard this story before in the past.
This is a restaurant I had been to a few times before this incident took place. They serve good food with generous portions and a decent price point. Over the last few years, they’ve even managed to expand to multiple locations. Google Map and Apple Maps weren’t as common as they are now and Yelp tended to dominate search engine results for restaurants.
We were going to meet some friends for dinner in a few days and they didn’t know where to go, so a quick Google search pulled up their Yelp profile so I could send them the address. Before this happened I never even knew they had a website, but I included the URL with the address I sent over in email. Except there was one small problem my friend pointed out to me, the URL in question didn’t resolve anywhere.
A Problem Needs to be Solved
Well, tinkering, analyzing and researching is what I do best so I donned my finest black hacker hoodie and got to work. A quick Whois search showed me there was no registration of the URL. Doing a search for references to the domain indicated it had expired several weeks ago. Me being a good citizen decided to register the domain quick with the intent to let the manager know that their domain had expired and I managed to snag it before one of the infamous domain name resellers had a chance to snatch it up.
We were still a couple days out from dinner when I found out that the restaurant probably knew about the expired domain and in the meantime had set up a new website with a slight variation of the URL. Okay, all good, I’ll go back to Yelp and suggest an edit. Except that suggestion has never been approved – even to this day.
Analytics For The Win
Now me being a competitive webmaster in my day job wondered “what is the value of a Yelp listing?” Since we still had some time, I figured I could play around with this, helping them out and getting some stats in the meantime. So took the photos of their menus from their Yelp page, set up some hosting space on one of my servers and posted the menus. Anyone coming from Yelp would get the menus, they wouldn’t lose any exposure visitors and for convenience I embedded a Google Map to their single location on the same page. A very simple one page restaurant website. I hooked up Google Analytics so I could get a couple days of data.
What happened next surprised me, traffic from Yelp to this restaurant’s website was over 400 visitors a day. So two days of data and it is Saturday and we head out to meet our friends for dinner. On the front door of the restaurant was a hand written sign on 8.5×11 white paper: “real-restaurant.com not realrestuarant.com.” Oh boy.
During dinner, the manager comes around asking how everything was and I asked about the sign. “Some $*#&# stole our website and the owner is out for blood.” Not wanting to face any anger, I changed my plans and figured I would fill out the contact form on their new site when I got home, which I did and said:
“Hi. I noticed your Yelp profile was linking to realrestaurant.com and discovered it was expired. I registered it for you and you can transfer it to any registrar with the following auth code.”
I used one of my alt email addresses and included a phone number from a backup pay-as-you go cell phone I used to keep in my truck.
Days went by. Which turned in to weeks and then months. I filled out the contact form half a dozen times over 10 months and heard nothing back and it was time to renew the domain name. “Well, if I let it expired they are going to be in the same boat.” So I renewed it.
Now I didn’t want get in to renewing a domain name every year for perpetuity and I was publishing content on a few other websites that monetized by several ad networks. So I contacted one of my ad reps and told them the story of this website and if they had any ad units I could run on this one-page website to monetize it a bit. After the laughs, they gave me a couple script location. Since that day, this little one-page site continues to make me about $30/month.
I’m the Captain Now
Now this isn’t completely passive income, like I stated earlier, this restaurant has expanded to multiple locations. Which means I’ve had to keep the website up to date, improving the layout and design to accommodate multiple embedded Google maps, location addresses and phone numbers, new menu photos. I’ve basically become their webmaster by proxy.
When responsive websites became a thing, I made their menu photos responsive. Even here in 2019, their other website isn’t mobile friendly, but my version is.
In search results, my site comes up first, their site comes up second. Their Yelp profile still lists my site even though the Yelp profile is now claimed. Their Google My Business profile is claimed, yet still links to my site.
All about the Benjamins
It’s now been over 7 years and the ad revenue for this site has brought in almost $3000.