The growing online business information resource is loved by consumers and while it sends customers to businesses, those firms are sometimes wary of the consumer reviews.
Online review site Yelp is both loved and feared.
Consumers love the site and the ability to freely discuss businesses in their area. Businesses themselves fear how they’re being perceived on Yelp.
These same businesses, though, pay for advertising on Yelp, which is one problem Yelp chief operating officer Geoff Donaker has been wrestling with since he joined the company in 2005.
Speaking at BIA/Kelsey’s ILM: 09 conference Thursday, Donaker said Yelp was originally conceived as a consumer knowledge base first, and a business owner/monetization source second. That knowledge now accounts for nearly 8 million reviews of local businesses, but it still leaves the businesses themselves skittish about dealing with the site.
Donaker said the site received a large amount of negative press last year regarding its review practices and preferential treatment of certain businesses. In response, Yelp installed small business owner tools to respond to reviews and coordinate a business’ profile on Yelp.
The company also hired community managers to act as the public face of Yelp in each of the cities featured on the site.
Even with all of that, Donaker said it’s still not enough. “We need to get proactive with the business community,” he said.
Of the 300 Yelp employees, Donaker said about 200 of them are involved in sales, but wouldn’t offer up any profit information, just hinting that the company has essentially broken even over the past few years.
Donaker also wouldn’t give specifics on business users, but said “tens and tens of thousands” of businesses have signed up to manage their Yelp profiles.
The site continues to grow, as it uniquely rolls out into new areas, city-by-city. Donaker estimated that it takes between 18 and 36 months after appearing in a new city to really obtain enough review density to make it an effective resource of consumer knowledge.
Other companies are also sniffing around the local review area, as AOL pushes its new hyper-local Patch platform into 30 cities by the end of the year. Donaker said the review space is fairly large and capable of supporting multiple players, but didn’t appear concerned about anyone unseating Yelp any time soon.
“Do I think one company is going to come out and kill Yelp? No, I don’t,” he said.
The site offers multiple mobile applications, including Monocle, which uses a mobile device’s GPS to determine its location and overlays Yelp reviews on local businesses being looked at on the device’s viewfinder.