Yelp

For purpose of this answer, I am considering  (a) Websites with user-generated reviews (Think Yelp, IMDb) (b) Websites  expert/critic reviews (Think Zagat, Consumer reports) (c) Independent review blogs (d) Websites for which reviews are not the primary business (Think Facebook, Google). However, I have excluded businesses like Amazon and Expedia, which include reviews for products and businesses that they are selling.

Here are some popular monetization models for these sites.

  1. Advertising: This is the most popular form of monetization for review and rating websites. Usually, the “reviewed” side advertises to review-readers/writers, like restaurants advertising on Yelp, lawyers advertising on Avvo or movie studios advertising on IMdB. However, in some cases, businesses other than the ones from reviewed side of the platform may also target review-readers. For example: MTV shows their own ads on ratemyprofessors.com (You don’t expect professors to advertise to their students, do you? :)). Independent review bloggers also use advertising, usually through content ads through Google AdSense or similar means.
  2. Subscription services to customers: Some websites may charge a subscription fee for access to their content. Examples include: consumerreports.org and Angie’s List. With so much free content available on the internet, this model usually works only if the content is either premium (written by experts) or scarce.
  3. Affiliate marketing: Some  review websites get paid by reviewed business on a CPA (cost per action  basis). Examples of these include websites like nerdwallet and  creditkarma, which get paid by the credit card companies. Many  independent review bloggers also use this model.  There seems to be some  conflict of interest here, but most reputed websites manage to draw a  good line between the advertising side and review side of their  business.
  4. Licensing review data: User-reviews are very important criteria for consumers to make purchase decisions, and hence many businesses may be willing to pay for using review data from these platforms. Potential customers for this model include reviewed businesses (Example: Hospitals paying healthgrades.com to use ratings in their ads) and other advertising platforms (Example: Google licensing product rating data from TrustPilot, Bizrate and StellaService among others.)
  5. Selling premium account services to businesses: Another  possible source of monetization is selling premium account services to  businesses. The services may include enhanced listings, ability to  include curated content (instead of just user-generated content), and  opportunity to connect to reviewers among others. IMdB Pro and Yelp  Business account come to mind as some examples of these.

    (Last two are relatively less common monetization methods)

  6. Sale of review guides: With the decline of print media in general, this is not a very popular monetization method. Similar to (2), for this review model to succeed, the content needs to be premium. Zagat used to be a premium player in this field, but lately, they have gone primarily digital. Zomato in India also publishes print guides.
  7. Indirect monetization by keeping user on your properties: For businesses like Google+ and Facebook, the purpose of reviews is not really to monetize the reviews page directly. However, these review pages keep the users on their properties longer, and eventually, this may result in few additional ad-clicks.

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Continue reading about How do rating and review sites such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, Angie’s List or smaller sites make money?

Answers by Amit Bhatnagar on Quora on May 14, 2015

Yelp is often categorized as just another website for restaurant reviews. Most of the existing answers reflect the same line of thought (To be fair,  the question was originally asked in 2012, and Yelp is definitely a bigger player in Local than what it was three years ago.) I see Yelp playing in at least the following categories, and in each category, it has different competitors:

  • Local Search engine: People do not think of Yelp as a search engine, but a good number of times they are using Yelp exactly for what they would have used a search engine a few years ago: “Indian restaurants in San Jose, CA”, “cheap hotels near me” etc. This is true for other “vertical search engines” like Amazon for retail.  Eric Schmidt recently identified Amazon as its biggest search competitor (See: Google’s Chairman Says Amazon — Not Bing — Is Its Biggest Search Competitor) Same logic applies to Yelp for local searches.
    Key competitors in this space: Mostly Google, and to a smaller extent, Bing and Yahoo.
  • Providing free digital presence to local businesses/ Local Advertising: Now these are two apparently different categories, but for online advertising players like Yelp, these are actually two steps in the same strategy: Make it easy for local businesses to own a basic presence on the Internet and then, provide enhanced presence through advertising.
    Yelp with its 2.2 MM claimed businesses is a sizable player here. However, Facebook with 30MM+ SMBs online (And this number is from June 2014) is a much larger player. In fact, majority of Facebook’s 2MM active advertisers are local/SMB advertisers. Finally, while Google does not disclose its SMB advertiser count and number of claimed Google+ pages, it is safe to assume that is is the largest player in this field.
  • Restaurant/hotel reviews: This is the obvious category that most people put Yelp into. Key competitors in this space: Zagat (Acquired by Google),  Google+, Urbanspoon (acquired by Zomato), TripAdvisor, etc. Out of these, Google+ is the most underrated player because of its perceived failure as a social network. However, with G+ reviews  integrated in Google search as well as Google maps, its content still gets a good number of eyeballs.
  • Other local reviews: While it’s true that restaurants account for the largest share of Yelp reviews, as high as 59% of reviews are from other verticals. In terms of share of reviewed businesses, non-restaurant businesses represent 79% of Yelp. (Source: Yelp’s last 10K filing : SEC Filings )

    Key competitors in non-restaurant reviews space: Google+ (again!), Angie’s list and HomeAdvisor (Home & Local services), healthgrades.com (Health), Groupon (Local Retail), Rent.com and apartmentrating.com (Apartments), etc.

  • “Closing the loop“: This refers to Yelp’s focus on being the transaction platform in addition to being the discovery platform for local businesses. Yelp identifies this as one of its three strategic priorities (other two being Mobile and International). With the launch of Yelp platform and acquisitions of SeatMe and eat24, Yelp now plays in field of online food delivery, table-reservation, booking appointments, etc.
    Key competitors in this space: OpenTable (acquired by Priceline), GrubHub, MyTime, etc. Not surprising, now Google is experimenting with this too. (News from last week: Whether you’re craving deep dish pizza or pad thai, starting today you can… ) Facebook is a relatively smaller player in this with its Partnership with OpenTable, but because of its penetration of the local market, it has the potential to go big in closing the loop.
  • Social: Yelp is not your traditional social network, but it does compete in the specific case of social check-ins. However, unlike other categories above, where Yelp is a leading or at least a significant player, in this category, it is at best a challenger. Foursquare is the original category defining leader for social check-ins, but I believe now Facebook is the more popular option especially with photo check-ins and group check-ins getting very popular.

Overall, considering its strong presence across almost all the categories noted above, Google is Yelp’s biggest competitor. Facebook with its significant penetration in local advertisers can be considered the second most significant competitor.

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Continue reading about Who are Yelp’s competitors?

Amit Bhatnagar on Quora.com on October 21, 2012

I answered a similar question earlier: How do the mechanics of Yelp’s review filter work?

As Matt Solar mentioned, Yelp and TripAdvisor employees won’t ever disclose how they detect fake reviews. So, any answers here (including mine) would be mostly guesswork based on some common sense and an analysis of patterns of which reviews get filtered.

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Good question! While I agree that traditional metrics (bounce rate, time on site, etc.) may not be directly useful, the same metrics may be more meaningful when seen at a more micro level.
A 56% bounce-rate or average time of 142 seconds per visit at website level may not tell you much about the content/user-engagement, but add some additional layers like traffic-source and landing page, and this will become very useful.
    
This should be clearer with three distinct cases below:

  1. Restaurant-hotel specific page: If the user lands on a hotel/restaurant specific page through a Google search (Very often, you’ll find Yelp pages of restaurant listed higher than that of the restaurant itself) and leaves without clicking on any other page, you may not have much to worry about. You may actually congratulate yourself for good SEO: User was perhaps looking for just the hotel address or phone number for a specific hotel and yours was the first page in search results.
  2. Internal search results page: If the user lands on your search results page through a Google search (Example: A Google search for “indian restaurants in Berkeley” may lead to a Yelp search page for “indian restaurants in Berkeley”), you may be more worried than in previous case, but still things are not that bad. Perhaps, your search algorithm is not producing relevant results, or may be the layout of the search page needs restructuring.
  3. Paid search/external campaign landing page: Finally, if the user lands on your page through a paid search and leaves without converting (no matter how you define conversion), you are losing money on each such user. For this case, a high bounce rate may be a very bad news!

    Some additional ones that websites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc may use to measure user-engagement:

    • Conversion: For any website, this is one of the biggest engagement metric. The definition of conversion would vary from website to website and industry to industry. In the case of the mentioned websites, some possible conversion metrics would include: Booking hotels, reserving a table at a restaurant and claiming daily-deals (like Yelp offers).
    • Number of Reviews/Number of unique reviewers: Since these websites are almost wholly about user-generated content, these are two very important metrics. While the former metric is a measure of content-generation, the latter is a good measure of website’s most highly engaged users, i,e, the writers.
    • Frequency of visits: If the frequency of visits for a user (Tracked via login or cookies) is fairly high, there may be no cause of concern, even if the average time per visit is low. This is especially true for websites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. Taking a personal example: Even as a Yelp addict, my visits to the website/iPhone app are fairly short: very often less than a minute! But the number of these visits more than make up for the short duration.
    • Internal search usage: More often than not, visitors on these websites are not looking for a specific hotel/restaurant. They are looking for a type of restaurant/hotel in a specific location. (4* hotel in New Orleans or Ethiopian food in San Francisco, CA). If I am Yelp, I would be more concerned about the frequency of usage of the search functionality and the rate of click-through of the search results, and relatively less about the time that they spent on individual pages. Of course, I would like to see some conversion, but at least, I know the users are sufficiently engaged.
    • “Upvotes”, “Follows” and other interactions between users: Most of these websites  have a built-in up-voting mechanism (“Mark as helpful”, “Like”, Vote as “Cool”/”Funny”) that allow users to Vote up quality content. Similarly, many of these websites allow users to follow each other or add them as a “friend” or leave other users a compliment. While at the individual level, this is useful to identify quality content and power-users, at the website level number of such interactions can also be considered a great metric for user-engagement!
    • Check-ins: Most of these websites (at least I know about urban spoon and Yelp) allow users to “check-in” at hotels/restaurants. If your users remember to check-in on your website at a restaurant in the middle of a party/date, it’s good news for you: they are highly engaged!
    • Social media sharing: Finally, a good measure of quality content and user-engagement these days for any website is the content shared on popular social networks. This indicates that the content is not only good enough to be read, but also interesting enough to be shared with friends.

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    Continue reading about User Engagement : What are the best metrics for measuring user engagement on service review/content sites such as Yelp, Urbanspoon, TripAdvisor?

    Amit Bhatnagar on Quora.com on June 12, 2012

    There is no option to un-filter. Since it’s not clear from your question, whether you are asking from the perspective of a business-owner, review-writer or review-reader, I will cover all three:

    However, as a review-writer whose review for a particular business has been filtered (I think you will have to log out to see whether your review has been filtered; your review is not filtered from you), you can do something about it. Build some credibility by writing more reviews, get more friends, do not copy-paste any reviews (not even your own!). You may want to read my answer here: How do the mechanics of Yelp’s review filter work?

    If you are an business-owner and your negative reviews are filtered, thank your stars, but go through each of those. There may be no legitimate reason for them getting filtered, except that the reviewer doesn’t have much credibility yet.(see previous para) Unless you are sure that these reviews are from your jealous competitors, take all negative reviews (filtered or unfiltered) as a useful feedback, and try to incorporate that into your operations. However,if it’s your 4* and 5* reviews that are filtered, you can’t do much, except continuing to deliver good service, so that you get more such reviews!

    As a review-reader, always pay attention to filtered reviews, especially for businesses with very few unfiltered reviews. (They will ask you to verify your human identity by filling in a re-CAPTCHA) Read them and use your judgement to see which ones feel right, but take them with a pinch of salt. Sometimes, there is a lot of useful information hidden in the filtered ones.

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    As I wrote here What efforts has Yelp made to educate the public on its review ranking algorithm? and On Yelp, why aren’t reviews that receive the most votes near the top? Does Yelp have a competitor that does do this? Could Quora eventually compete?, Yelp sort does take into account number of votes in their default sorting algorithm.

    Precise sentence from Yelp confirming this:

    The order is determined by recency, user voting, and other review quality factors.

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    Continue reading about Do average Yelp rankings incorporate the fact that some reviews get a lot of votes and some don’t?

    Not sure what would qualify as enough, but if you are like me, chances are that you would at least hover over “Yelp Sort”, when you see that it is the default sort, as compared other more easily understandable things, like Votes, date, Rating etc. And if you do hover over it, here’s what you will see:

        Yelp Sort attempts to show reviews that help consumers make informed decisions. The order is determined by recency, user voting, and other review quality factors. This method is applied to all businesses, sponsors or not.

    If you go to their FAQ, you will find another question that clearly addresses it:

    • Are reviews displayed in any particular order?
      Users can decide for themselves how best to order reviews by  clicking one of the links just above the reviews (e.g., date, rating,  voting, etc.). Yelp’s default sort order takes a number of factors into  account and reflects our own attempt to present reviews in a meaningful  order.  For example, we’ll favor reviews from your friends and the users  you follow. The sort algorithm does not take into account whether the business is an advertiser or not.

    In my opinion, this is just enough information and at just the right places. Most users won’t even bother about the sorting algorithm, and will make their decision based on top 3-4 reviews + overall rating. Those of us, who do care about how exactly are the reviews ordered, would perhaps look for it (in FAQs or in the hover-over tool tip). And even these guys would not perhaps want to see this information every time they make a search.

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    Continue reading about What efforts has Yelp made to educate the public on its review ranking algorithm?

    Amit Bhatnagar on Quora.com on May 30, 2012

    First, why we need review-filters? So that people like the PHB from Dilbert can’t execute their evil strategies

    About the mechanics of the Yelp review filter: You won’t get a formal answer here, as Yelp keeps this review filter mechanism a secret. Yelp says (and I agree) that it is easier to game the system once you know the mechanics. So any answer here would be simply a guess based on a combination of common sense and an analysis of the patterns of what reviews usually get filtered.

    Here is my guess at what goes into the review-filter. (Everything is centered around Yelp’s tagline: “Real people, real reviews”):

    • Number of reviews: You don’t even have a Yelp account. Then, suddenly, you create a Yelp account, write a 1* review for a local business and then, you never log in back. In eyes of the review-filter, you may be a scared competitor! (or if this is a 5* review, you maybe the owner’s nephew!) From whatever I have observed, perhaps more than 80% of filtered reviews are from reviewers with less than 5 reviews.
    • Number of friends: Most real people like to make friends on different social media channels, Yelp included. If you don’t want your Facebook friends to see what you are writing, Yelp-filter may put you in category of review-factories, who churn out one review after another for money. This may even override the number of reviews. At least twice, I have seen a filtered review by people with 50+ Yelp reviews. In both cases, the reviewer had no Yelp friends.
    • Uniqueness of content: Real people write reviews reflecting their real experiences. If your review for a Vietnamese restaurant in Atlanta matches another reviewer’s review of Thai restaurant in NYC word for word (or even 70-80%, allowing for changing some proper nouns), chances are high that at least the review published later chronologically would be filtered (if not both).
    • Other trustworthiness factors: Do you have a profile pic? Do you check-in using Yelp mobile or leave tips for other Yelpers at restaurants? Is your profile complete with all the details about your hometown, Things you love, etc? Paid reviewers may not be interested in “wasting” their time in these.
    • Location tracking: You are consistently reviewing businesses all over the US, but your IP shows that you always log in from a different country. In a different case, you, as a reviewer, log in from the same IP that is used by the business owner to log in to his business-owner account, or same IP has 25+ users registered, and all of them have just 1-2 reviews. In all these cases, your review may be flagged.

    Remember that none of the above factors can be taken as a standalone factor to decide whether a review should be flagged. Your review may be totally genuine, even if one or more factors above indicate otherwise. My guess is that the filter may be working using a filter-score (similar to spam score used by Anti-spam filters) assigning scores to the factors above (and many more). Once your review crosses a certain threshold, it gets filtered!

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    Continue reading about How do the mechanics of Yelp’s review filter work?