Yelp Reviews Back in Google Maps as their .COM Growth Stops

Yelp’s relationship with Google Maps has been off and on again. Their reviews have disappeared and reappeared on Google Maps over the past 3 years as Google’s and Yelp’s relationship has waxed and waned. But the relationship now seems to be on once again. About 10 days ago Yelp’s reviews again started showing up on Places Pages. I would posit that this reinclusion reflects Yelp’s need to buttress and improve their traffic short haul while they implement the changes necessary to fend off the location based startups.

Yelp has been the hot local site from 2007 through last year and their Compete.com numbers reflected their meteoric growth on the desktop. But their .com growth in unique visitors and page views started to decline last August and has continued downward throughout this year. At the end of April, Compete shows their unique visitors to be in the 25 million range, down from the 30 million last August.

Some of the slowdown on the desktop has been taken up with growth in mobile and particularly the iPhone. Yelp notes that they had 1.4 million visitors over the past 30 days via their iPhone app. That amounts to ~3% of their total visitors and does not make up for the almost 20% decline in their .com usage.

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The numbers and their decision to allow Google to include their reviews suggest that Yelp’s transition to a general purpose review site has not taken off as they had planned. Long haul, Yelp does need to keep their eye on the many location based competitors. That being said, it seems even more important that they keep their eye, short term, on their main competitor in the review space, Google Maps. It appears to me that their need for growth and traffic has won out over their obvious points of contention with Google.

From a practical viewpoint, it demonstrates why any SMB needs to continue to gather reviews from a wide range of sources as the vagaries of these corporate relationships change, you don’t want to be caught in the crossfire.

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Yelp Reviews Back in Google Maps as their .COM Growth Stops by

13 thoughts on “Yelp Reviews Back in Google Maps as their .COM Growth Stops”

  1. Great post Mike!

    The data seems to point to a decline in users but with more interaction per user. That makes sense given their model.

    What is your view on how location-based sites impact reviews and reviews-hosting sites?

  2. Hi Ted

    The data seems to point to a decline in users but with more interaction per user. That makes sense given their model.

    This is very true and indicates strength in their core market but it also seems to indicate to me that they are not picking up new customers in their attempt to broaden their reach.

    It appears to me that the whole local ecosystem accessed on the desktop has hit a ceiling on uniques. Engagement will climb however it is not clear that they will “break” through to the bigger audience or maybe they have and have hit the limit…

    That does not portend well for reviews if this trend continues as reviews are not yet easily done via mobile.

    Some of that may be due to location based

  3. It appears to me that the whole local ecosystem accessed on the desktop has hit a ceiling on uniques. Engagement will climb however it is not clear that they will “break” through to the bigger audience or maybe they have and have hit the limit…

    Very interesting thought!!

  4. I suspect that within the larger universe of all web users, there is a distinctly smaller subset that reflects active reviewers. Of that subset though there are fascinating stories about the community that Yelp has created. So its a small, but highly active community. Meanwhile, sites such as 4square penetrate this market and may impact Yelp’s growth rate.

    Yelp faces a business challenge as do all businesses/websites. To date though its created a dynamic model

  5. “It appears to me that the whole local ecosystem accessed on the desktop has hit a ceiling on uniques.”

    Mike, this might be the first non-political thing you’ve said that I’ve disagreed with. :D

    1) Broadband is nowhere close to everywhere in this country yet…
    2) Only what, 10% of business owners have claimed a Place Page–at the very least there’s an upside of 16MM people–
    3) Facebook has not yet entered the Local game in earnest

    There are a whole number of reasons to still be bullish on desktop local search in my view.

  6. Also Yelp has indicated at a conference (Kelsey? Searchfest? SMX West?) that they do not want users leaving mobile reviews…that they are looking for high-quality, well thought out remarks, not 140 character burps…to paraphrase.

  7. @EarlPearl
    It is small, it is active and it is engaged. I agree that it has created a dynamic way for generating some great content.

    But it has been growing and now it doesn’t appear to be doing so anymore. This growth is critical for their future. They have not gone public nor sold out. Either, to be successful, require growth as an indicator of future success.

    Compared to the options open to Google to get more pages views for Places, their options seem more limited. The possibility of syndicating their review content is one option but they run the risk of dissipating their community.

    From where I sit, their long term success will be defined by if and how the restart their user growth.

    @David Mihm
    Ceiling is perhaps not the word that I was looking for…plateau was perhaps more to the point. But time will tell whether the current leaders of Google Maps and Yelp will continue to increase their presence.

    At the moment, FB, Twitter are hardly in local so I wasn’t counting them. And their growth might come at the expense of GMaps and Yelp not be in addition to it thus not not lead an increase in total market.

    I do think that local in some form has long growth ahead of it, I am just saying that on the desktop at least, after 24 months of steady growth, there has been a fairly long period (>6 months) of no growth in Yelp (and other major players) and that mobile has yet to step into the breach. What it will take to once again kick off a period of sustained growth is unclear.

    As to why this is, I am not sure. I am sure though that both Yelp and Gmaps are spending some time thinking about it. Yelp though will be under more pressure that Google in this regard.

    Do I think that local mobile will ultimately take the helm…absolutely. But for now its contribution to Yelp is minimal and their game is up for grabs in mobile and their traffic on the web is static or in slight decline. It is a time of high risk for them.

    Regardless, the flattening of traffic is worthy of note even if it does or doesn’t portend the future.

  8. I think yelp is too personality driven to reach full mainstream status – Their most active users are hipsters – and part of the appeal is the validation they get for being sarcastic and snarky.

    If you’re ever in South Lake Tahoe, I can strongly recommend the Lakeside Grill as a great place for a burger and microbrew. Directly on the sand with a fantastic view of the lake, the food’s good. But if you look them up on yelp, the sandwich was the “worst sandwiches I’ve ever had” That’s from someone who gives 1/3 of the places he reviews a 1 star. Because of the meanie vibe on yelp he’s received over 300 compliments from his fellow yelpees.

  9. @Juliemarg And that is my main problem with Yelp! and it is not just them. There are a lot of really negative and unfair reviews out there. It’s almost like you have to tell your “happy” clients to go to Yelp! just to try and rehabilitate you.

  10. panzermike, you are correct and this is a good plan for any company to guide their happy customers to sites that offer reviews. Sites like Yelp, MerchantCircle and ofcourse Google Maps promote the good and bad reviews so guiding your happy clients to where they can provide reviews is a good strategy.

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