Yelp announced some big news late on Tuesday. They've increased the call limit on their API to 25,000 per day, and made it easier for developers to use, in addition to opening it up to all developers for free. In other words, anyone who wants to use Yelp data in their apps or website can now do so easily, without cost, and pull enough data to make actual useful Yelp-related features.
For Yelp, this means that it's likely to see a big increase in the visibility of its content and its ads. For businesses, it means more people than ever are going to be exposed to reviews - positive and negative. Let the fun begin.
Is increased exposure of Yelp reviews good or bad for businesses? Tell us what you think.
Yelp has been pretty protective of its data, and today it has more competitors than ever. This, of course, includes Google, which has pretty much become its sworn enemy. Google used to use Yelp's (and other sources') reviews in its product in a way that essentially passed them off as Google's own. Things have changed on that front, but Yelp still doesn't think Google plays fair, and recently became an official complainant in a lengthy antitrust probe into the search giant's business practices.
"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," Yep CEO Jeremy Stoppelman told European Commission chief José Manuel Barroso in a 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."
Either way, opening up its API like it is should help Yelp better compete with everyone. It already has a significant brand, and when that and its content are plastered all over the place, that brand is bound to gain significance in consumers' eyes. Yelp has already been integrated into some key places, including iOS, Mac OS X, Yahoo's local search results, and the Pebble smartwatch.
"Thousands of companies have used Yelp’s API to build local information into their products and services, giving consumers even more access to great Yelp content, like Yelp review snippets, photos, ratings and business listing information," says Yelp VP Business & Corporate Development Mike Ghaffary. "Developers have turned to Yelp because of our trusted, high-quality local data, which, through an empirical study, is shown to be more reliable and consistent than other sources of local data."
Not everybody's convinced that Yelp's data is so reliable, but the study Ghaffary refers to is discussed in more detail by the company here. The study was done by Yelp itself, with findings presented back in November. It looked at how Yelp data "stacks up against the competition," but looked at photos, and not reviews. The company said the reason for this was that not all the sites it looked at have the same concept of reviews, and it needed a measure of content that is comparable across sites. It also looked at business names, addresses, phone numbers, websites, dupes, and locations. Here are the stats:
Yelp director of search Jason Fennell said at the time:
There are a few things of note. First, TripAdvisor and Yellowbook do not have listings in some categories/geographies so they have a smaller set of samples. Second, fewer listings had websites than other types of data. This is at least partly because not all businesses have websites, so the maximum is less than 100%. Finally, one downside of our approach to scoring is that a missing listing gives you credit for not having a duplicate. This flaw in scoring combined with a fairly large number of listings outside of TripAdvisor’s main area of focus—79 Shopping businesses in Dublin, Ireland for example—likely inflate TripAdvisor’s “No Dupes” score.
The high-level story is that in terms of listing data Yelp and Google are closely matched and ahead of the other competition. Google wins out on finding business websites, which isn’t surprising given that crawling the web is part of its core business. On the other hand, Yelp is well ahead of Google in terms of photo content.
Clearly Yelp has some helpful data to offer developers beyond the reviews themselves, which will give them all the more reason to utilize the API, but it's also going to mean greater access to those controversial reviews, and this is what businesses already critical of Yelp (and there are a lot of them) may be concerned with.
You probably know the story by now. Some businesses think Yelp is sabotaging their listings by burying positive reviews, sometimes accusing them of holding said reviews hostage if they don't spend advertising dollars. We've seen such accusations come up time and time again for years, though nobody's ever been able to offer any real evidence of this happening.
There is also always the concern about fake reviews. Yelp appears to do its best to weed these out, but just how successful they've been is anybody's guess. Every so often they provide updates about adding consumer alerts for businesses they catch "red-handed," but there's no real confirmation that they're catching all the fake stuff.
There is almost certainly a number of reviews that while not completely fake are misleading at best, or exaggerated by angry customers or people that frankly don't really know what they're talking about. That's why celebrity Andrew Zimmern called Yelp reviews "worthless".
Regardless, they're about to be much more prevalent throughout the web and mobile app ecosystems, which will probably also lead to more of them being written in the first place - especially now that people can leave reviews from the phones.
Oh, and just so you know, people are trusting the reviews they read online more than ever. A recent study from BrightLocal found not only that people are turing to online reviews for local businesses more and more, but 88% say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. That’s actually up from 79% last year. Only 13% said they don’t trust reviews as much.
Are you glad to see Yelp's API open and expanded to any app that wants to take advantage? Let us know in the comments.