Yelp: Google Told Us “Our Way Or The Highway”

If you wanted to see Yelp reviews for a particular restaurant you could either go to Yelp.com or you could go to Google’s Place Page for that same location — and that’s what Yelp is worried about. For the past year or so Yelp and Google have been a little like the two Koreas, not at war but not at peace either.

Google tried to buy Yelp last year unsuccessfully for roughly $500 million.

Google includes Yelp reviews on its Place Pages, often prominently at the top of the reviews section, and Yelp is very ambivalent about that, to put it mildly. Yelp considers Google Places to be directly competitive.

As Google has pushed more aggressively into local and greatly improved its offerings, online and in mobile, tensions with other local and review sites have become heightened. They may be starting to bubble over in Yelp’s case.

In an interview with UK newspaper The Telegraph Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman makes some very direct statements about the matter:

We are unhappy with the way Google uses our users’ review on its Places page. However, there is no solution to the problem… Google’s position is that we can take ourselves out of its search index if we don’t want them to use our reviews on Places…. But that is not an option for us, and other sites like us – such as TripAdvisor – as we get a large volume of our traffic via Google search…We just don’t get any value out of our reviews appearing on Google places and haven’t been given an option other than to remove ourselves from search, how to improve this situation.

Stoppelman is arguing that Google is giving Yelp a kind of ultimatum: allow use of Yelp reviews on Places or leave the index entirely. One might call that “seo-icide.” The Telegraph also published a statement from a Google spokesperson; however it doesn’t directly address the controversy:

We can’t comment on conversations with partners, but as we’ve said before, our goal with local search is to help Google users find the local information they’re looking for online. Each day we send millions of customer referrals to local businesses and third party websites, such as review sites, through local search. The overwhelming feedback we get from users, business owners and website owners is that they value the answers and traffic they receive from local search.

Yelp has been unhappy since last year with Google’s position, which was evident when Stoppelman and then head of Google Maps/Local John Hanke appeared on stage together during a conference interview in July:

Stoppelman took some of the bait and argued that Google needs to be “smart” about “preserving the ecosystem” and balancing between its own properties (i.e., Places) and sending people to the “best place on the web for users to go,” for local content (Stoppelman was referring to Yelp of course).

Then roughly a month later Yelp pulled its content from Places (though not the Google index):

Yelp considers Place Pages (and Google’s Local-Mobile apps such as Places) to be directly competitive. Links in SERP results on Google are not. Google Place Pages seek to help users do what Yelp is equally trying to do: enable consumers to make buying decisions about local businesses. Google.com results arguably don’t give people enough information to compare businesses or make a local buying decision. Yet that’s the direction they seem to be moving.

Subsequently the parties reached an agreement and Yelp’s reviews returned to Places. But, according to Stoppelman, now Google is telling Yelp it’s “all or nothing.” If true these tactics don’t help Google in its larger struggle to be regarded as a benevolent provider of traffic rather than as a bully that picks winners and losers on a self-interested basis.

I’ll reach out to Google for a response and post an update when/if I receive one.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: Analysis | Google: Maps & Local | Google: Mobile | Google: SEO | Top News | Yelp

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • http://www.localsplash.com David Rodecker

    Same story could be said with literally all IYP’s. Frankly, I’m surprised that Google negotiated an agreement. Clearly they’re in the commanding position and not afraid to leverage it.

    What might be ideal is to direct crawlers to only index your meta-content page for search, but not content page displays… fat chance on getting that accepted.

  • http://smbSEO.com Mike Stewart

    Awesome post Greg. Anxious to hear a Google response on this.

    Interesting discussions behind closed doors exposed.

    I remember a post last year from Andrew Shotland titled “Dead Fingers Walking” that represents Google’s perspective on this… from Andrew Shotland’s perspective of course.

    Check it out: http://www.localseoguide.com/dead-fingers-walking/

  • https://googlerecords.starttest.com/?code=I007D0363FE660878FD78FC68036708D07300E3 David Kyle

    I’ve never been a fan of Yelp, considering their shady past and the unethical things they were doing.

    I think Google’s “all or nothing” position is a perfectly legitimate stance, and don’t view it as them being a “bully.” No one else has the right to pick and choose what and where they appear in the various Google products. Why should Yelp?

    If you put it out on the web for Google to see, then it’s fair game. If you don’t want Google to see it, there are ways to make that happen.

    There is nothing wrong with Google being self-interested. They are not a charity.

  • http://twitter.com/veezy veezy

    If Yelp was able to pull its content from Place pages (and not the index) before, then why can’t they do this again? Probably unlikely, but Yelp, Tripadvisor, et al. should band together and boycott G Places. Google is slowly inching across the fence into anti-trust territory.

  • http://www.sefati.net Alireza Sefati

    i think yelp should have sold to Google and cashed out. I don’t blame Google they want to return the most relevant results and if yelp doesn’t want to cooperate, then google won’t cooperate either…fair game if you ask me!

  • http://smbSEO.com Mike Stewart

    How is this Anti-Trust? Why should Google rank Yelp content in search results if Yelp wants to opt out of providing that content to Google.

    I say Yelp has the option of taking the ball and going home. I don’t see how this is anti-trust, more like a Tax or entry fee.

    I would hate to see a algo change like the Farmer Update impact Yelp…..

    nevermind… actually that might help some of my local clients rank above Yelp.

  • http://twitter.com/veezy veezy

    Google is leveraging the strength of their search product to “bully” their way into the local market. Don’t get me wrong, it’s brilliant on their part and there are no doubt winners (SMBs) and losers (IYPs). However, I believe this continued behavior will eventually come back to bite Google in the butt.

  • dstiehr

    I don’t understand Stoppleman’s assertion that they get no value at all from reviews appearing on Place pages. I have to think some traffic is coming Yelp’s way via the link associated with the reviews, with people wanting to read more similar reviews from the site.

    @David Rodecke – the IYPs love to have their content in SERP results and Place pages. they use it as a selling point, saying it extends the reach of their product. I can’t see them ever complaining about being included.

  • http://screenwerk.com Greg Sterling

    RWW’s piece is sympathetic to Google vs. Yelp. And tells Yelp to stop “whining.” Since Google won’t tell its side of the story we don’t know everything here.

  • http://www.facesaerch.com/blog/ franz enzenhofer

    @dsthier I have to think some traffic is coming Yelp’s way via the link associated with the reviews, with people wanting to read more similar reviews from the site.

    no, the click through rate on google places pages to the review provider is abysmal.

    google is hardcoding it’s local search results into their SERP while using aggregated content from other proividers on their landingpage – landingpages that do not benifit the content providers in any way but are a direct competition to their core business.

    it would not be an issue if google would play fair – if google places would be treated like any other “local directory and review” (aggregator) site … but they don’t.

    but yeah, google is hurting themselve with this step, i did a lot of consulting work to businesses in the local business directory space and some time ago the discussion shifted … away from the open internet to mobile apps and facebook. (which in my opinion is a sad thing, the open internet is a cool place to be, but well, for companies only if the marketplace (a.k.a. google) if fair).

    this is my private opinion, not those of the companies i’m associated with.

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

    Umm…@Greg…this line “One might call that “seo-icide.” is absolutely spot-on!

    Like it, I do and it’s also currently looking like this will happen too, eh!

    :-)

    Jim

  • http://www.southbayevents.com James Dervish

    I agree it’s hypocritical of Yelp to scold Google for exerting their power. Yelp calls 3 times a week to get me to pay for an Enhanced Listing for my small business, with threats that if I don’t, they’ll make me suffer. They have a sordid past themselves, and in a dark alley, I’d trust Google over Yelp to not beat and rob me.

  • http://myunster.com Evgeny Myunster

    It sounds pretty fair, I second Google, moreover from user perspective Google does right thing

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