Yelp as Data Amplifier
It became clear to me, during Yelp’s presentation at the recent Brandify Summit, that the company has become a data amplifier. Here I’m making use of Gib Olander’s helpful term for companies whose data finds its way into a multitude of consumer-facing channels.
A while back, I said the same thing about Foursquare, who saw its user base start to diminish a few years back and successfully transformed itself into a valuable crowd-verified location data source that is now relied upon by companies like Apple and Uber. With Yelp, the situation is a little different. Yelp remains a strong contender in the local space, well indexed in Google search and with a dedicated user base of reviewers who offer rich, detailed feedback on their experiences with local businesses. Yelp reviews are significantly longer than reviews written on other sites, which is just one indicator of their relative value. Although Google has eclipsed Yelp in overall review volume in the past four years, Yelp remains one of the most trusted brands among consumers looking for local business recommendations.
Image courtesy Yelp.
Yelp and Voice Search
Yelp’s trusted role as a source of consumer sentiment makes it a natural fit for voice search, a topic I covered in more detail a few weeks back. In brief, my argument was that if a local business wants to be found on voice assistants, the publishers to focus on are Google, Apple, and Yelp.
Note that Yelp is the only one of these three companies that doesn’t manufacture the voice assistant itself. Instead, Yelp specifically plays the role of answering, through reviews and listing data, the question of which local businesses a voice assistant should recommend.
The key use case, I think, is that of Amazon’s Alexa. Lacking a core competency in local search, the Alexa team turned to Yelp as a straightforward plug-and-play solution for providing targeted answers to subjective local queries like “What’s the best Mexican restaurant near me?”
That Yelp would have been the top of mind solution for the Alexa development team speaks not only to Yelp’s reputation but also to a relatively new orientation towards data syndication for the company, encapsulated by the launch of the Yelp Fusion developer program in 2016.
Yelp and In-Car Search
Yelp’s ubiquity in cars may be familiar to auto buyers at the higher end of the spectrum, but for me – cheapskate that I am, I’ve never once opted for the navigation package – it came as something of a surprise to discover that Yelp content is embedded today in the navigation systems of a broad range of auto makers, including Honda, Audi, Kia, Mercedes, Cadillac, Volvo, BMW, and Toyota.
Some auto makers work directly with Yelp content, and others integrate Yelp as part of navigation packages provided by companies like Harman. Not only is Yelp available to help drivers discover and navigate to local businesses, but Yelp in-car integrations also offer features like booking a table ahead of time.
Yelp content in the Kia Sorento. Image courtesy Yelp.
Yelp and Local Search
Aside from companies who are known for sourcing their own reviews, like Trip Advisor, and a small number of bigger companies who have managed to incorporate reviews into a broader offering, like Google and Facebook, just about every other local search entity of any prominence has some kind of content relationship with Yelp.
This includes Bing, Yahoo, Mapquest, and Apple Maps. Apple, the most prominent example, has relied on Yelp photos and reviews since the inception of Apple Maps to augment its somewhat spare NAP-centric business profiles.
For Apple, the reasons for reaching out to Yelp are similar to those of Amazon. Lacking a competency in local, Apple tapped Yelp early on when it first released its Maps product, and has since expanded its reliance on Yelp content to Siri and iMessage integrations.
For Bing and Yahoo, it’s more a matter of shoring up products that don’t garner enough first party traffic anymore to sustain their own review services. As we can see, Yelp is cleaning up on both the declining and emerging sides of the market.
It’s also worth noting Yelp’s strong presence in the real estate vertical, with content surfacing on Trulia, RE/MAX, and Realtor.com.
New Apps and Services Using Yelp
The Yelp Fusion API has brought startups into the fold as well, as companies looking to incorporate local business content into their apps and services see Yelp as a convenient and trusted addition to their offerings. I’ll just highlight one example from the logos shown in the diagram above: Mogl, a startup that offers cash-back rewards when you visit select restaurants and makes it easy to pool those rewards for fundraising campaigns. It’s notable that Mogl’s interface uses Yelp ratings as a kind of shorthand method for showcasing recommended restaurants.
Image courtesy Mogl.
Some of these content integrations have been well established for quite a while; others are new and help to mark Yelp’s role in emerging technology. What’s notable to me is the breadth of these relationships. Yelp’s distribution network helps to illustrate that the importance of certain key players in the local ecosystem extends far beyond the boundaries of their app or website.