As a lover of road trips I’ve had the opportunity to use and appreciate Yelp reviews all over the US. From Boise to Palm Springs I’ve had the pleasure of sipping the best coffee Yelp reviewers have found. I’ve also used Yelp locally to search for more mundane businesses such as a body shop and a chimney sweep. Even though each had less reviews than a local bakery, the reviews were still helpful and allowed me to make an informed choice.
But it took a visit to a country where Yelp isn’t doing business yet for me to see how much I miss it and how much I appreciate it more now.
It’s easy to discount Yelp and say that everything it does existed and that, as a product, Yelp hasn’t innovated. It has only made it easy to access information we had before. Yelp also offered the “democratization” of reviews where anyone can be a critic, which is also a functionality that existed before them. It also allows access to all these reviews from anywhere, which, given the overwhelming use of smartphones today would have been inevitable.
So what does Yelp do so well, and uniquely, that makes it their product the go-to source for reviews?
I’d wager it has to do with the part of the product we as consumers never see but seems to be the most important part of Yelp’s success: The Algorithm. Yes, that impenetrable entity that can on occasion block good reviews and show false reviews and that can drive businesses crazy trying to figure it out. But the end result is that, as a whole, the reviews are trustworthy and tend to accurately reflect businesses’ reputation.
While trying to think about why Yelp wasn’t doing business in the country I was visiting I realized that it was probably due to how they analyze reviews. That after using millions of reviews to build their algorithms, it wasn’t easy to translate it to another language. I’m assuming that there are words and phrases that trigger their suspicions, making it difficult to transfer to another language.
Without Yelp, or one overwhelming review website in the country, reviews are scattered among many different sites making all somewhat relevant but none as efficient at garnering enough honest reviews. These smaller sites lack the access to big data and its analysis that Yelp has, making reviews posted on it dubious.
When there’s no one go-to place for reviews, there’s no way to reward good service and punish bad. There’s no way to warn fellow consumers about terrible service and no way to promote a place that deserves it.
Bottom line: life is better with Yelp.