Yelp's Monetization Strategy

February 19, 2009

Big fracas in the local social media space today with the publication of a long anti-[praized subtype="small" pid="ef0b9b94446693e82f569cf40375566a" type="badge" dynamic="true"] article, “Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0″, in the East Bay Express. Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp’s CEO, has many issue with the article and answers on the company blog. You can read Greg Sterling’s analysis on the whole situation here.

What I found interesting in the East Bay Express article is the description of the package Yelp is selling to small merchants.  According to an e-mail sales pitch that was forwarded to the journalist, advertisers receive the following:

  1. Advertisers “can highlight a favorite review to appear at the top of the page about their business.”
  2. “They also show up first in search results for similar businesses in their region (for example “coffee” near “Alameda, CA”).”
  3. “Ads for that business appear on the page of local competitors, while competitors’ ads do not appear on their page.”
  4. “Owners can post photo slideshows, add a “personal message” about their business, and have the ability to update info on special offers and events.”
  5. They also can find out how many users visit their web site, update their page, contact Yelpers who’ve reviewed their business, and have access to an account manager who will help “maximize” their experience with Yelp.”

You can see some of that info on the Business Owner section of Yelp.com.

What it means: people often ask me how you can monetize social media in a local search context.  Yelp seems to have found a combo of items that could be attractive to merchants in such a context. Ranking a review, appearing as a “related merchant”, the ability to upload additional content, and some tracking and reporting appears like an interesting social media ad bundle.  Does this package monetize as well as the traditional “advertiser ranking” model we find in many local search sites?  I don’t think so, but it’s the delicate balance between users and advertisers’ needs that Yelp is trying to maintain.  Not easy!

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2 Responses to “Yelp's Monetization Strategy”

  1. Sandlines Says:

    Good response to a complex situation. I’m on record as not liking the idea of ‘manipulating’ user reviews for commercial benefit – but this is in the interests of transparency and honesty. If the sponsored review is clearly signposted as such, then the clear analogy is goodle search results: which is clearly understood and so passes the test.
    What I continue to deplore (if true) is the idea that by spending money with a site, business owners can disrupt the review ecosystem.


  2. [...] Impressive usage numbers but an important challenge remains for these sites: monetization. For example, even though Yelp has been extremely successful from a user point of view, revenues are still low in proportion. Articles from 16 months ago mentioned Yelp’s revenues were “rumored to be sub $10 million/year” (I discussed Yelp’s monetization strategy here.) [...]


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