Yelp Updated Its App, but It Didn’t Need To

Yelp updated its iPhone app yesterday with a reinvented Nearby tab that offers suggestions based on previous check-ins. Have you checked-in to 20 different Thai restaurants? Allow Yelp to point you to the 21st. Now, rather than using Yelp to shower praise on your favorite chef or rant about a terrible experience, you can see personalized suggestions based on a variety of different factors.

Our updated Nearby tab now offers suggestions based on your location, previous Yelp check-ins and reviews, and Yelp friends as well as other data like the time of day and even the weather.

With the right algorithm, this could be a fantastic update. For example, if it’s freezing cold in the morning, Yelp should omit the beach as a suggestion but suggest top-rated coffee shops and breakfast places. When searching for sports venues, the app could prioritize football fields in November and baseball fields in April. With the right formula, Yelp could prevent us from thinking entirely and direct users to places that would be reasonable for that date and time.

imageFoursquare and Yelp have been stuck in a tango of user experience updates for years. Foursquare started as a geolocation check-in app, then updated to provide recommendations for nearby places, and then further reinvented itself to make checking-in a priority – but also with reviews of places. It’s currently floundering between a check-in app and a review app, but wants marketers to know that it’s definitely an ad-friendly app.

Yelp, on the other hand, set out to become the best site to read reviews and has been pulled more and more into the check-in spectrum. With this app update, it’s trying to balance between asking users where they currently are versus offering advice for where they should go.

Facebook has taken a different path to integrate ratings and reviews into their pages. Last month they rolled out a five star recommendation system for users to rate places, restaurants and businesses and write out what they like and don’t like about them. The one leg that Facebook has to stand on is that most of the general public is already on Facebook and might be inclined to check out a business’s Facebook page instead of leaving to a different app like Yelp and Foursquare.

facebook1Word of mouth is the holy grail of marketing, which is why these apps are in a fight to the death over who gets to be top dog. The app with the most reviews and the best reviews wins. Word of mouth was the most reliable form of marketing before the internet, and before the concept of marketing even came to be. Yelp, Foursquare and Facebook have just found ways to monetize it.

The success of any of these apps depends on regular use and organic reviews. No amount of updates or investments will make an app successful if people aren’t going there for recommendations. Along with Reddit, Tumblr, Craigslist, the Yelp community is why people keep coming back, not the design.

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Amanda Dodge