• http://www.flemo.org Paul Fleming

    Very interesting insight. Another twist that one may point to is how well Yelp performs on Google searches indicating that someone did their homework there. After seeing first-hand the strange “algorithm” behavior for those who choose not to advertise on Yelp, I’ve developed a strong distain for them so I’m all for a big G takeover in this space. They definitely have their work cut out for them though.

  • http://parkgrades.com P.G.

    Very interesting metrics around the reviewers. No wonder Yelp’s reviews are better than CitySearch and its ilk. Yelp now has a huge head-start, but in my opinion, it’s still early in the game.

    I’m particularly encouraged to see that my own startup’s “reviews per reviewer” is in an even better place than Yelp.

  • http://www.canuckseo.com Jim Rudnick

    absolutely great piece here Matt…..love the side by side comparisons…..and the rationale behind the whole Yelp experience too!

    that said, the only issue I have is that (at least up here in canuckland) we can NOTmake a review on a mobile device…only write a draft that you’d then need to login off a desktop box to enable….

    that appears to be \counter\ to the thought that Yelp reviews ARE time-sensitive….and cuts all mobile reviewing ‘out’ — so we all Tweet instead….least up here….



  • Matt McGee

    Thx for the kind words, Jim. On mobile reviews — I mention that in the piece above. It’s not just Canada. Yelp doesn’t want anyone writing reviews on mobile devices.

  • http://www.intelligenx.com Zubair Talib

    Nice post – interesting insight indeed. Beyond the features and virtual recognition/environment that Yelp created, Yelp did an amazing job at starting / creating the local community of yelp reviewers in the real physical world – gatherings, parties, sponsoring outdoor events, Yelp Elite special events, etc. They created a culture of motivating reviewers rather than just a goal of getting reviews.

  • http://www.fluxresearch.com F.R.

    So the fact that Yelp actually paid people to write reviews and hired them via public job listings is missing from the academic study?

    That’s a huge part of how Yelp built their review numbers and in Raleigh, NC, where there was very little reviewing happening on its own, how Yelp built their numbers there.

    That also kept quality at a higher level than total volunteer sites.

    That’s a huge part of the story that’s missing here.

  • http://www.fluxresearch.com F.R.

    By the way, I’m not saying it’s bad that Yelp did that, just that it’s a key factor in their success:


  • http://www.dzoseo.com/blog D.S.

    It is amazing to me how many reviews both Yelp and Google are adding every quarter! That is impressive. Local SEO, and more importantly ORM (Online Reputation Management), are also becoming more vital for local companies. It’s exciting to see the pace these companies are growing and moving in the marketplace.

  • douglas ritter

    Gee, anyone remember Zagats?? They had a brilliant company going — before the web — and missed the whole online/social media aspect of reviewing. Another cautionary tale of a company that didn’t “get it”.

  • Ed Faber

    Yelp is still pretty much a west coast and urban phenom. In smaller communities like Cedar Rapids/Iowa City there is a small but very loyal base of active reviewers. Yelp would do well by employing part-time or even volunteer community managers. A little on the ground organization would go a long way towards spreading the gospel of Yelp. If they’re going to make the transition from cult following to a major mainstream presence (and keep Google at bay), Yelp needs to penetrate “middle” America in the B and C size markets. This is how Wal-Mart took over retail in this county.

  • MrKennedy

    Excellent article. Can’t wait to see where this Yelp brand goes. I see more “People love us on Yelp!” stickers on storefront than I do open signs. I find myself using Yelp for everything. 10 years ago I would have never had the urge to read reviews on the local grocery stores.

    Secondly; I’ve seen the argument that Yelp purposely manipulates the reviews of businesses that choose not to advertise. I find it a little conceited to think that a multi-million dollar business like Yelp would risk the integrity of their entire product over a mom and pop sandwich shop not buying their ad product.

  • Matt McGee

    Ed – you’d be surprised, I think, to see Yelp’s penetration in some smaller areas. I live in a small market, and Yelp has finally started catching on here in the last year or two. My favorite burger place just opened here within the last 6-8 months and it already has 25 reviews:


    I’m also seeing Yelp review activity locally outside the main categories (food, hotel, etc.). It’s growing, at least in this area (and surely in others).

    F.R. – thx for the comments. I was unaware of the Scout program, so thx for the link. That said, have you read the actual study? It does say that they removed thousands of reviews that they could identify as having been written by Yelp employees. They don’t specifically say it’s from the Scout program — I think Yelp “ambassador” is what they say — but still, they ditched the contributions from 15 employees, each of whom had written 500+ reviews on Yelp.

    (They also removed the contributions of 17 Citysearch employees, each of whom also wrote 500+ reviews.)

  • Matt McGee

    One more thing, F.R. — see the screenshot up in the article with my list of friends on Yelp and Google Hotpot? The guy on top of the Google friend list has close to 900 ratings and reviews. That’s a Google employee. He’s the guy in charge of Hotpot.

    Mike Blumenthal also mentioned in one of his blog posts that he found Google employees using Hotpot for months before it was launched publicly — increasing Google’s overall ratings/review count.

    Like you said, it’s not right or wrong. But let’s agree that Yelp isn’t the only place where employees write reviews.

  • http://fastcall411.com Rich Rosen

    Hi Matt – Where do you see Facebook in this race?

  • http://www.jippidy.com/jippidy Julian

    Great article, Matt! Very thorough analysis! Regardless of whether the winner is Hotpot/Places or Yelp or some other player, user reviews are not the be-all and end-all, in my opinion. The problem with user-generated reviews is they are inherently biased by the personality and profile of the reviewer. It’s very hard for me to know whether or not the reviewer and I relate – what the reviewer thinks of as “a dump” I may consider “quaint”; a “dive” bar for him/her may be “rundown” to me. They’re just way too subjective by definition. Obviously, some value can be extracted from reviews by reading what the masses agree or disagree on – if a majority of the reviews say a restaurant is “overpriced”, it’s a good bet I’ll feel the same way too. But that leads to another issue I have with user reviews – you need a critical mass of reviews in order for there to be any real value add. But once you have too many reviews, the message gets lost in the noise. So a restaurant with 3-5 views, you don’t really learn much from; but on the opposite end of the spectrum, the hottest restaurant in town will have hundreds or thousands of views, how do you decide what to listen to?!

    In my opinion, the local game is still being figured out. There’s a holy grail of local business advertising that I don’t think has been nailed just yet. The user-generated reviews, the online video, the third-party writeups (urbandaddy, thrillist, etc.), the star ratings – i think these are all important pieces of a larger puzzle that has not been completely framed just yet.

  • http://www.fluxresearch.com Clyde Smith

    Matt, that probably addresses my concerns and, based on the numbers, the Ambassadors might be that researcher’s way of referring to Scouts even though we’re still identified as Scouts on Yelp.

    But I can’t believe you guys went in and took Flux Research, that was generated automatically byTwitter, which you use for logins, and turned it into F.R. That’s just incredibly weak.

    I’ve had a lot of respect for Search Engine Land but this makes me want to stay away. I don’t like associating with folks who pull such tool-ish maneuvers.

    Why can’t I have an identity especially if you find my comments worth leaving up and responding to?

  • http://www.fluxresearch.com Clyde Smith

    Note: as per your comment guidelines, my real name is Clyde Smith which you also removed from my earlier comment.

    By the way, I’ve never hidden behind anonymity online and, yes, I’d say all this to your face though it would probably not be so polite. Again, referencing your comment guidelines.

  • Matt McGee

    Thx Clyde. Yes, our comment policy asks for people to use real names. We are slammed with people using keywords and company names when leaving comments, and that doesn’t stimulate discussion. (People generally aren’t inclined to reply to someone who comments as “Topeka PPC Company.”) At the same time, we also allow Twitter login to stimulate discussion and it uses the name of the Twitter handle … which is often a company name. So it’s not a perfect situation, but we do the best we can to discourage keyword/company names and encourage discussion – including editing names when needed.

  • http://www.fluxresearch.com Clyde Smith

    Matt, thanks for responding. I understand the situation and I’m sorry I let it get to me.

    I’m not even pushing the Flux Research blog, my commercial interests are with a site related to dance which is off-topic here so I didn’t mention it. Flux Research is more of a personal identity thing at this point.

    It’s so frustrating how spammers have undermined the ability to communicate honestly in blog comments. I complimented a guy recently who I’ve followed for years but never had tried contacting before. He ignored my comment among the handful of comments on his blog and I realized it probably looked like all the junk spam comments I get on some of my blogs that say nice things just to get a link up. Which made me sad because he’s an icon to me in the music industry and that’s the area of my current freelance blogging.

    It makes me want to give up on trying to communicate in this format and that kind of sucks cause I’ve been blogging for almost 10 years now. It’s been a huge part of my life and now so much of it has been undermined and is going downhill.

    Hope you don’t mind this final rant. I appreciate what you guys do here. Honestly I do or I wouldn’t be commenting.

  • Matt McGee

    It is frustrating, Clyde — very frustrating. So bad that some of my favorite bloggers have disabled commenting altogether on their blogs. Can’t imagine we’d ever do that here, thankfully. At least I hope not. Thx again for weighing in.

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