Yelp is the biggest and most successful local business review site, and yet it got started long after CitySearch and Yahoo! Local, which were once dominant.
According to a research paper quoted by Search Engine Land, as trite as it sounds, it’s all about social.
Local business review sites are powered by a community that creates the content. And while CitySearch “waited for anonymous reviewers to fall from cyberspace”, Yelp built strong community features into the site, with things like online profiles, friending, online forums and offline meetups, which encouraged people to stick around and write more reviews.
In fact, it’s striking how many reviews people write on Yelp. 71.2% of CitySearch reviewers write just one review, versus 9.2% for Yelp. 27.1% of Yelp reviewers have written 5 or more reviews; 0.6% for CitySearch. It’s not surprising then that it took only 30 months for Yelp to overtake CitySearch.
Given all that, what’s even more interesting is how Google, with its Yelp-killer Google Places, is trying to use Yelp’s tactics against it.
At first Google Places was boring, algorithmic and non-social like all of Google, but with its update called Hotpot, Google is now full-on aping Yelp’s mojo. (The name “Hotpot” is gone but the features are still there.) Like Yelp users, Hotpot users have profiles. Like Yelp, Hotpot comes with your friends. Like Yelp, Hotpot shocases your friends’ recommendations.
Will that be enough to beat Yelp?
As Search Engine Land notes, Yelp is still bigger than Google Places in terms of reviews, but Google says it’s growing faster. We’ll see.
But this story is a developing study in two important things:
- How a startup can use “social” to crush an incumbent and gain a decisive advantage;
- Whether Google can build a successful social product.
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