Should Yelp Really Be Complaining About Google?

By: Chris Crum - July 31, 2014

Yelp has sure done a lot of complaining about Google as the latter faces regulation over allegedly anticompetitive business practices in Europe. When speaking with investors, however, Yelp doesn’t seem too concerned about competing with the search giant internationally. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., Yelp appears to be flourishing in Google results.

Do you think Google is anticompetitive? Is Yelp in particular being treated unfairly? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Yelp reported its earnings for the second quarter on Wednesday, beating Wall Street analysts’ estimates, and turning a profit for the first time since going public in 2012. Things seem to be going pretty well for Yelp. Revenue was up 61% compared to the same period last year, and the future is looking bright. The company raised its outlook for the year, expecting revenue to be up 60% from last year.

“We delivered great results this quarter,” said CEO Jeremy Stoppelman. “Our consistent focus and strong execution across all areas of our business have driven our growth quarter after quarter. We also became profitable for the first time as a public company. While this is an important milestone, we still have a large local opportunity ahead of us.”

The sky is the limit, apparently, though you wouldn’t get that impression from the letter Stoppelman recently sent European Commission chief José Manuel Barroso.

As you may know, Google has been embroiled in a nearly four-year antitrust investigation into its search business at the hands of the commission. Earlier this year, it looked like things were about to be resolved, until (naturally) Google’s competitors complained that the search giant’s proposed concessions didn’t go far enough in making it less anticompetitive. In fact, from competitors’ perspective, they did so little that Yelp decided it couldn’t just stand by as “a concerned observer,” and had to become an official complainant.

“I truly fear the landscape for innovation in Europe is infertile, and this is a direct result of the abuses Google has undertaken with its dominant position,” Stoppelman wrote in the letter. “While I laud the important work of your office and Vice-President Kroes in ensuring Europe is able to tap into the economic opportunity that the Internet industry is unleashing, it is my strong belief that such potential cannot be realized unless every possible step is taken to prevent abuse by dominant firms.”

Google, whether at fault of its own or by the fault of its victims, has indeed hurt some businesses (big and small) with its algorithm changes. The (in)famous Panda update directly impacted parts of Demand Media’s and Yahoo’s businesses, for example. So how have Google’s updates impacted Yelp? Well, again, this was their first profitable quarter as a public company, but Google did come up in the earnings call, highlighting a positive impact on the company in the U.S. and a mildly negative, but apparently quite manageable impact internationally.

CFO Rob Krolik told investors, “International traffic grew over 80% year-over-year to approximately 31 million unique visitors on a monthly average basis. In June, international traffic declined month-over-month due to Google’s algorithmic change in late May. The effect was seen primarily in markets with smaller communities. We believe that by continuing to focus on community growth and high-quality content, our international traffic will increase as we’ve seen in the U.S., where domestic traffic did increase with the algorithmic update.Emphasis ours.

Okay, so international traffic grew by a whopping 80% year-over-year, and declined by an unspecified amount month-over-month due to a Google algorithm change, but Yelp believes if it focuses on high quality content, it will increase again, like it has here at home.

Stoppelman later said in the Q&A session of the call, “I think obviously, we’ve been competing with Google over many, many years now quite successfully. And we think that by focusing on great content and building, fostering, growing communities continues to be the right strategy. And in fact, where we have the largest communities in the U.S., we’ve seen actually an uptick as a result of the recent Google algorithmic change. They’re constantly making changes and alterations, some of which has been in the media. And most of that really, on a day-to-day basis, doesn’t have a material effect. And so I think fundamentally, we feel that everything is still in good shape. Consumers are flocking to our content. You can see that in our overall traffic growth, and so we’re just going to continue to focus on community building and content quality.” Emphasis ours.

Wow, sounds like things are going pretty well, and that it’s having success competing with the biggest Internet giant there is, while also benefiting greatly from said Internet giant.

Asked about Yelp’s strategy in competing with Priceline, TripAdvisor, and Google internationally, Stoppelman said, “I think fundamentally, we remain focused on fostering growing communities and the content quality as the way to grow and penetrate into these markets, and we continue to see success in growing our communities. And we think ultimately, as we have more and more high-quality content that it’ll be recognized and we’ll become a stronger and stronger brand in the markets that we’re operating in.”

The anticompetitive complaints from Google’s competitors have been mostly related to its vertical search offerings, and this leaked siideshow apparently indicates Yelp’s real points of concerns when it comes to Google’s practices:

TechCrunch: Confidential Yelp User Behavior Study On Google Results by Josh Constine

Keep in mind, this looks at results in the U.S., where Yelp is flourishing in Google traffic. Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land does a great job of tearing down the legitimacy of such complaints here, but the point is, Google is pushing its own services (to a much milder extent than Yelp would have us believe) on they’re own site (How dare they!), and Yelp is still doing just fine, with U.S. traffic even growing. And the U.S. is where Google supposedly got off easy in the antitrust department.

And just to highlight how good Yelp actually does have it in Google, take a look at these search results pages, which Mike Blumenthal pointed out in a blog post earlier this week:

Yelp is completely dominating these pages for plumber and nail salon searches to the point where beyond ads from the businesses themselves and actual local results for those businesses, Yelp appears in nearly every page one organic result.

“Yelp is obviously very, very good with their SEO. They apparently have the ability to sculpt their internal link values to highlight what appear to be the most popular local businesses in the Google local results,” writes Blumenthal. “Apparently their ability to do that in their strongest markets is even greater than elsewhere.”

“They reflect on Yelp’s ability to manipulate the search results and reflect poorly on Google’s acceptance of those practices,” he adds. “Yelp, though, needs to be careful of soiling the bed in which they sleep. Although I suppose they could fall back on their all too successful (but BS) cry wolf strategy if Google were to clamp down.”

I don’t know about Yelp, but most businesses would kill for that type of search visibility. Considering that loyal Yelp users are likely to just go to Yelp to find what they want, it’s kind of insane how much Yelp is appearing in Google searches. Can Google’s own reviews compete with Yelp?

Google recently rolled out an algorithm update for local search results, which takes into account more factors like its web algorithm does. This is presumably the update Stoppelman was referring to, which had a positive impact on Yelp. As others have pointed out, it made Yelp show up for searches where it wasn’t before. It would seem that Yelp has never had it so good in Google, at least in the U.S.

So the question is, should Yelp really be complaining about Google? Let us know what you think.

Images via Google

Chris Crum

About the Author

Chris CrumChris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.

View all posts by Chris Crum
  • polesawguy

    google is anti small business

    • A Nonny Moose

      Google isn’t “anti” anyone or anything. I hardly think a private corporation has an agenda against every other business in the world that doesn’t meet their lofty aspirations. Total nonsense.

      If you aren’t showing up (at all) in results, maybe you should rethink your site design and the keywords you use to drive traffic to you. That’s not to mention that for all that whine that “Google this” or “Google that” probably contribute to things via their use of such. Google provides you a FREE service. You’re not charged to use it. Google does not “control” search or anything else. If you’re not showing up and/or ALL (100%, just to make sure we’re clear) your traffic comes EXCLUSIVELY from Google, then you should see my comment below. Your customers must be pretty stupid to not know your site name, or bookmark it that they have to use search 100% of the time (and only through Google).

      Do you people even consider things before posting? Do you think through things? Because this doesn’t even come close to making sense.

      Do people always cry and complain when they get things for free?

  • Anon

    Lets get this absolutely clear for anyone who doesn’t get it… Google is an unaccountable, unregulated, authoritarian PRIVATE corporation that currently controls more than 85% of the global search market. This alone makes it the most dangerous corporation on the planet, able to manipulate or even destroy the livelihoods of millions of people around the world, if not BILLIONS of people.

    Google doesn’t give a rats behind about the content author in Mumbai who will lose their only income when it makes a tweak. Nor does it care about the small business in London desperately trying to offer a competitive service against a corporation Google approves of, and ultimately faces laying off twenty full time staff because they just can’t compete under Google’s authoritarian dictatorship.

    This is a travesty, and it needs to be attacked fully, finally, once and for all. Google does not deserve the dominance it has, it does not have a mandate to dictate WWW policy and it should, at the very least, be broken up into national branches to then be monitored by a publicly accountable body.

    Google is a protection racket, a mafia, a mobster club blackmailing and abusing individuals and small businesses into paying it for positioning. This has to end.

    • Anon

      To add…

      Ironically, Yelp is just as devious, just as dangerous and just as unaccountable and manipulative as Google, if accusations of abuse and blackmail are to be believed – and there are now thousands of such accusations.

      • Daenyuil Archer

        Yelp is a complete scam.

      • Biz Owner

        oh it’s not accusations, I know businesses where they (yelp) have done exactly that….manpulate results to force the businesses to pay yelp money. It’s a racket.

    • A Nonny Moose

      You’re right about ONE thing. Google is a PRIVATE corporation. Google is NOT in the business of serving YOU. Your company doesn’t show up? Too bad!

      Google is about as anti-competitive as WWE. There is plenty of other professional wrestling groups there. Should WWE start scaling back their operations so some small group can flourish, so they don’t appear “anti-competitive”?

      It’s NOT Google’s problem that your company (or anyone else’s!) doesn’t show up in rankings. There’s only about 70 million search engines out there. I know this may come as a shock, but Google is NOT the be-all, end-all. People love nothing better than to whine about Google, but (here’s the other shock) they are NOT in the business of driving business to you. They are a PRIVATE corporation in the business of web search primarily, but also other things, such as cellular telephones. I consistently see people pay for ads, use Google +, use Google search, and then COMPLAIN about the manner Google delivers the content YOU PAID THEM FOR! It’s like any other ad, you have it there, and it’s the responsibility of the BUYER to come to YOU. It’s NOT the job of Google to make sure that your business gets rich. They are NOT required to notify you when they update their firmware, nor is it their job to check with you to make sure you’re happy with their results.

      By that same token, Google DOES not, and SHOULD not care about “the content author in Mumbai who will lose their only income when it makes a tweak.” It isn’t their job to poll every business in the world to make sure they are happy with their updates. No sane person would EVER make this demand of any other private corporation. Do you ask McDonald’s to change their entire way of doing business so you can be happy? Do you insist liquor stores close down or change their business because you’re straight edge? So why does Google have to change to make you, or anyone else, happy? Such a ridiculous notion.

      Google is dominant because they managed to innovate. If Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, Bing, or any other search engine managed to do something, they might be top dog. I don’t like what YOUR company does. Change it for me. As a matter of fact, I DEMAND you change every single thing you do, because I don’t like the way it is now. Also, since you make more money than I do, you should stop growing your business. Send me about half of your customers. Tell them all top shop with me. You don’t need them anyway. Your growth is anti-competitive, so you need to quit what you do and give me money. “Oh, no!” you would say. “I am NEVER going to do anything just to please YOU! It’s MY business, and not MY fault you can’t keep up with me!” So why is Google subject to different rules?

      I can’t run as fast as an Olympic sprinter, and it’s damn unfair he can be an Olympian and win gold medals, and I can’t. I think he should just slow down so I can win! Kobe Bryant plays better basketball than I. So, since we all have to be even in every way, I DEMAND that Kobe not play as well, so I can keep up. Otherwise, he’s just being anti-competitive.

      Think these examples sound ridiculous? Well, it’s what you and others like you insist. You want a double standard. You want to have someone else make sure you are treated a certain way. “Let’s regulate Google!” you cry. “There should be laws against Google” you say. Yes, because we need more laws. “Google made an update, and all my customers can’t find me anymore!” So…every customer of yours has no idea of your web address, and has to use Google each time? That sure sounds like a great site/business with a lot of customers that they all can’t come back to your site. So…let’s put the shoe on the other foot. How about we have Google demand laws against YOUR company because they don’t like the way YOUR private company does business? “NO!” you cry. “No new laws!” Gee…that tune changed fast.

      Google provides a FREE service: SEARCH. I don’t see anything in their Terms of Use that says, “Google is here for you. If your site doesn’t show up in the first position all the time, please let us know, and we will change it for you. Sure, we understand people are not finding your business because they are searching for hamburgers and you sell shoes, but Google guarantees that you, the customer, are always right, and so we want to make sure you are happy 100% of the time.” I wouldn’t expect that any more than I would expect you to allow me to walk in to your store, and pick your most expensive item, and say, “I’m the customer, and I am always right, so now I demand you sell me this $10K item for a dollar. So, here’s a dollar. Now this is mine. Why? Because the customer is always right.” You would say, “Oh, no! You don’t get to dictate terms to me!” Yet, you want to do that for another private business.

      Amazing the level of hypocrisy found in comments such as yours.

  • Jayde Mihan

    Why are they complaining? Yelp should be sending them chocolates and flowers. Google could turn yelp into a puff of smoke if they aren’t careful. I can’t believe yelp owns the serps for those search terms. What a joke. Why even bother with google is every result is yelp? Google needs to look at these high authority directories, they flood results in Australia too, although not as prolific as yelp in USA. They should add a note at the top of results like “We found yelp has multiple listings matching your search criteria, click here to visit them or continue browsing the websites below.”

  • Daenyuil Archer

    Yelp is a complete SCAM! If you do not PAY them they will NOT post good reviews, I had one bad review that was a fake.we never went to this persons city never mind their home. I’ve had numerous customers happily send us good reviews for our work but Yelp says they’r “not qualified” to be included. Yelp has a nerve suing anybody. They should be shutdown for good. I was told I can pay for their services and the good reviews will be posted.

    • Daniel J Fusco

      I have had the same experience. 28 blocked reviews. 3 unfiltered one of them a bad review. Yelp is horrible Do no advertise with this company.

  • JH

    Both companies are crap

  • Janice

    None of this matters! What matters most is how Yelp plays their bias card when it comes to reviews. Nobody will understand this unless their business has been directly impacted by this mal-practice. Great that both Google and Yelp are finding ways to traffic results and manipulate data, but, bottom line is, Yelp provides reviews, and should allow ALL reviews to be visible and show up in order of when they were submitted. For two years now, and after many many great reviews, Yelp is only allowing one bad review to be visible and show up at the top of every page providing a twisted review of my business. In addition, my response to the customer who submitted the bad review, is also hidden out of sight, yet Yelp suggests that a good business practice is to directly respond to the customers who have a bad experience to offer a resolution. But, my response is missing, all positive reviews are missing, except one bad review from two years ago. Do it legit or not at all!

    • Daniel J Fusco

      I agree same story here. Yelp is a bad company, sleazy sales people who do not care about small businesses.

  • Emily

    I can’t remember the last time yelp didn’t appear in my google search for a business. Honestly, I always thought that was strange since I find Google’s local business tool way better anyway.

  • Kev

    If I was google I would give yelp the right to be forgotten. Their name would never show up even if searched for. Search term Yelp result yell or help?

  • Biz Owner

    Yelp is awful on businesses. I personally know several businesses for which they used negative reviews of the business while surpressing good reviews as hostage just so the business would pay yelp money. Thereby giving the business a worse reputation which of course reduces the businesses revenue stream because the customer only sees the bad reviews and not the good ones until the business pays yelp’s ransom. They call us all the time and yelp’s reputation with screwing businesses by manipulating their own review results is exactly why I never take their call. I don’t even want to start that process of getting screwed over by them. There should be a class action lawsuit against Yelp.

  • Rank Watch

    It seems that Google is trying to dominate each section of the industry as and when it is possible. It says that its working on it so as to improve user experience but results show that Google is trying to increase its market share indirectly.