Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog

How Yelp Became The Superstar Of Review Sites

In the old days, before you purchase something, one would have to rely on the words of your own friends or family and probably your own instincts.

And then, reviews were invented, but that was limited to things like movies, video games and food, all of which were left to the professionals which spoke for an entire field.

But today, peace of mind is in the air for a ton of things, from restaurants, nightspots, hotels to home services thanks to Yelp.

Users are able to get the opinions and thoughts of other users of something before doing something.

It sounds simple enough, but definitely, a sense of community is there as the voice of the people is heard, so much so it even inspired an episode of South Park where people started thinking they were connoisseurs of menial things.

As satirical and funny that is, you can’t Yelp’s presence today.

Since its inception in 2004, it has grown to become the superstar of crowd-sourced reviews with over 135 million monthly visitors and over 100 million reviews.

Let’s check out how it grew!

1. The search for a an absent doctor

Co-founder Jeremy Stoppleman, back in 2004 caught the flu and was literally hunting for a doctor in San Franciso. The internet failed him. He could not find anything useful enough for him to want to trust a doctor.

As such, he and his partner, Russel Simmons were inspired to create a network where trust can be planted, grown and shared by the common folk.

Interestingly, Yelp was initially created as a email-based referral network.

The idea however, was too “convoluted.” Early users were not bothering with requests for referrals, but were using the “Real Reviews” feature, where people were allowed to write and submit their own unsolicited reviews.

Taking over the world one city at a time

Well not really, but when Yelp was created, they started off simple to make sure they weren’t spread too thin. They focused on one city only (San Francisco) and did so for almost a year and a half. This was to ensure an optimal user experience and high quality reviews that breed familiarity in all aspects.

Add to that, Yelp installed a review filter that searched for suspicious patterns in reviews for phony, bot-like activity. Easily enough, Yelp stood out with legit reviews and not a flood of spam, something most communities, forums and networks today suffer from.

Furthermore, Yelp stood out among its competition this way as the rest were trying to be national or global overnight.

3. Rewards through authenticity and humans, not machines

As mentioned, reviews today are crowd-sourced and not merely empowered in professionals.

Yelp laid out the blueprint early in making sure people from all over are given equal opportunity for authenticity and also to give back to the community:

  • Real reviews by real people. Being anonymous, while not impossible is a tough process.
  • Members can evaluate each others’ reviews for reputation scores. You can rate them Useful, Funny or Cool. Effectively, haters and trolls are weeded out. Only genuine reviews prevail!
  • Members can “friend” each other online and chat with one another.
  • Members can “compliment” each other.
  • Freedom of speech, so to speak in your reviews. Just read any given review and you can sense the personal tone in each of them.
  • The pedestal that is the Elite Squad, where active users are recognized as role models for their well-written reviews, tips, detailed personal profile and basically participating in the community.
  • Business owners can respond to unfair reviews, but they cannot continue the conversation if the reviewers doesn’t write back.
  • Also, this gives them the opportunity to apologize and try in the most human way possible to rectify the situation.

Cleary, it’s people first, businesses and machines second. With such a well-thought out process, users are never left in the dark of what they can expect in Yelp and from each other.

No one is a professional or anything. They are all just Yelpers.

4. The Yelp Community Managers getting people out there in the world

Yelp hires community managers to manage niche communities. They act as local representative for Yelp in their designated, geographical locations.

As such, reviews, content and people are carefully managed to ensure the best quality with the help of a staff on the ground.

Add to that, community-building is emphasized yet again as a manager manages a newsletter, arrange local meet-ups and report back to Yelp, even for a yearly managers’ meeting.

5. The works in growth

With a strong sense of community and authenticity imbued right from the get-go, Yelp could then expand easily.

  • Yelp created an app so users could move over to mobile. People could easily snap and leave pictures then.
  • Expanding to other cities.
  • Integrating with Facebook where people can see if you’ve left a review on Yelp over there.
  • Encouraging businesses to market themselves and leaving their footprint on Yelp.
  • SEO practitioners using Yelp to rank instead of just Google.

Clearly, Yelp became the superstar by focusing on people and relying solely on them.

Alden Tan

Alden Tan is a writer and blogger from Singapore. He writes about self-improvement in an honest and real way as he doesn't have time for cliches and bullshit.

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