Yelp executives prepared this document to show how they believe Google is siphoning off up to 20% of clicks from search traffic that it believes should have gone to Yelp. Techcrunch got the story first, noting “these screenshots and study are what’s being passed around internally at Yelp to demonstrate that Google’s tactics are unfair.”
Search clicks are life and death for Yelp, as shoppers and restaurant diners often only visit Yelp when they’re in the mood to buy something imminently. Advertisers pay to get in front of those clicks on Yelp, so any clicks that Yelp loses to Google is basically lost revenue. Yelp has been making the case that Google is a monopoly that manipulates the click market for years.
Earlier this year, Yelp recently asked regulators in Europe to curb Google’s self-promoting links even further. Google has a 90% domination of search in Europe.
At first glance, the Yelp document appears to be damning. After tracking the behaviour of a bunch of web users who were overtly searching for restaurant reviews on Yelp, the survey produces a heatmap of what people actually click on once they get their search results. As Google inserts links to its own review products, like Google+ and Google Local, right under “natural” search results, many people who are searching for Yelp results actually end up on Google’s pages, the document suggests.
But there are two underlying issues that complicate the document’s apparent slam dunk against Google. The first is that Google does appear to have a conflict of interest between its search business and its newly prominent publishing business. The second is whether the fact that Google takes some clicks obscures the fact that Google is sending a majority of clicks to Yelp — clicks it would not have if Google didn’t exist.
Here are the key slides from the confidential Yelp survey.
This slide shows how a user overtly searching for a Yelp review of the Gary Danko restaurant in San Francisco gets Google results ahead of Yelp results. Google shows the restaurant’s official site first, as expected.
But under that it has attached “barnacle” links to Google content like Google Reviews and Google +:
The Yelp survey shows that nearly 20% of clicks then end up on Google results, not Yelp results, even though the original search contained the term “Yelp”:
But Yelp’s surveyors conclude that although 20% of clicks are siphoned by Google, Google “does NOT appear to have negatively impacted our overall traffic”:
Danny Sullivan on SearchEngineLand has a sophisticated breakdown of the study’s complications. The conflict here is that increasingly, when you search for something like a company, you get an info box featuring Google’s own results on the topic that competes with a link to the company’s official site.
Here’s an example. A search for Coca-Cola produces a giant display box for results featuring Google’s own material:
So although Google purports to offer the best search results, it also displays its own self-interested search results alongside and — as the Yelp survey makes clear — on top of natural search results.
But Sullivan notes that the clicks on Google results in the Yelp survey are mostly going to the restaurant’s official site — a not unreasonable result. And only about 1.4% of clicks are being syphoned into Google Reviews, etc., Sullivan says.
In sum, that’s one reason why Yelp’s document both complains about Google’s self-interested results while at the same time admitting that it has not hurt Yelp’s traffic. And at a more basic level, there is the question of what Yelp’s traffic would look like if Google didn’t exist — because having 80% of people being able to find you easily isn’t the worst thing in the world.