Yelp's VP of Marketing, North America by Robert Truglia June 24, 2011
We all use it, know it, and trust it, but how exactly is Yelp so good at what they do? Starting in 2004, Yelp took local reviews and word-of-mouth to the digital space. Now with over 18 million reviews, Yelp boasts an impressive “100% growth across the board,” according to CEO Jeremy Stoppelman. Preparing for an IPO in the near future, Yelp is as excited as we are about all the things they have to offer.
Andrea Rubin, Yelp’s Vice President of Marketing North America, took time to speak with brandchannel about their digital strategy. She attributes their success in part to mobile expansion, part to their commitment to local, and part to fun.
Here’s what she had to say about a company that is NOT just a restaurant site.
Describe Yelp in three words.
Passionate, Useful, Fun.
What is Yelp’s marketing strategy?
Our business model targets a community that is very passionate about finding and supporting local businesses. We get people to share their love for these businesses on our site. One thing we do to promote this is throwing events in 80 markets across the country once a month. You can check out these events at communityblog.yelp.com. Here’s an event we recently held in Paris:
What is your biggest brand challenge?
In my experience, people often just think of us as a restaurant site. Although 26% of our reviews are for restaurants, the rest focus on a much wider variety. While one may go to a restaurant a few times a week, and a doctor a few times a year, those reviews are just as important to our consumers.
What is your biggest branding opportunity?
People come to us to make spending decisions. While other social media sites are great for looking at pictures of your ex-boyfriend (not that there’s anything wrong with that), we advise people on where and what to buy. So when you really need a dentist or a plumber, you come to us. Our services are mutually beneficial for both consumers and businesses.
As a user-driven, community-based brand, how do you incentivize your users to be Yelp ambassadors?
Within our broader Yelp network, we have a program called the Elite Squad. These are a carefully selected few whose taste we trust to write amazing and accurate reviews.
The Yelp Elite Squad came about in 2005. We were seeing our most active and passionate yelpers come together offline to meet-up in-person. Jeremy and our Marketing Director at the time decided to host a formal Yelp event for yelpers in San Francisco. They are now considered to be the bread and butter of our community. Status of the Elite Squad acts as our personal stamp of approval among our many great reviewers.
To become part of the Elite one can either email their community manager for consideration or be nominated by a friend. After that, their case moves on to the Elite Squad Council to see whether they actually have what it takes.
How much Traffic does Yelp receive? How many of those people are active users?
Yelp has seen a lot of growth in traffic over the past year. As of March 2011, we measure over 50 million unique visitors each month and 18 million total reviews on our site. The biggest sector of growth has come from mobile searches. Over 35% of our searches come via mobile devices.
While active is hard to define, Yelp follows the 1/9/90 rule that many within the social media realm are familiar with. 1% of visitors actively create content, 9% comment, and 90% observe. Once again we rely on our elite squad for active, reliable content.
Where is Yelp internationally, and how do you market outside the US?
Yelp is now in over 80 cities and 9 countries worldwide: US, Canada, UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Austria, The Netherlands and Spain. We launched our first non-English speaking site May 2010 in France, a place with arguably some of the best places to eat and drink.
However, people often wonder why we are not everywhere already. This is because we like to take a very slow and steady approach, we would love to be everywhere. But in the 7 years since we started, it takes a long time to do local, and do local well. We started in San Francisco and our mindset was – if we do only do San Francisco well, we’ve succeeded. Of course, we all know it worked in SF and that then snowballed. We follow a mile deep, inch wide approach. Launching in new areas take a long time – especially on a massive scale.
Given that Yelp relies on user-generated content, how do you ensure users provide fair and accurate information and reviews?
We largely rely on our community to flag inaccurate/inappropriate reviews. But we rarely take down reviews unless they strictly violate our terms of service. We also have a review filter that operates on an algorithm that identifies suspicious posts.
What is Yelp doing on mobile? How did the augmented reality launch go?
We were the first to launch an Augmented Reality app feature in the US in 2009, it was developed by an intern. Say you’re visiting NYC and walking back to your hotel room when you decide you want something to eat. All you have to do is shake your device and a number of places will pop up on your screen overlaid on a live feed from your iPhone’s camera.
At the beginning, we were having a lot of fun with it, but were a bit overwhelmed. Now mobile is such a huge HUGE area, so we understand and are doing a lot with that. Our app is the #5 most downloaded on the iPad and #15 on iTunes.
What’s Yelp’s next big idea for digital?
I think it’s pretty obvious that mobile remains our main focus, but we continue to improve Yelp.com. While mobile is a very important feature, it is important to understand your audience. During a weekday, traffic on Yelp.com is at an all-time high. People are sitting at their desk, in front of their computers, and searching for a great lunch place or after-work drinks. On the weekends, Yelp mobile spikes through the roof and Yelp.com traffic falls.
We also launched our Yelp deals in 2010, providing local discounts in over 10 cities. It has been pretty successful.
What’s one thing you think people should know about yelp? A myth that people have?
People think Yelp.com is a place to bash business, it’s not. 83% of our reviews are positive (over 3 stars). We provide a ratings graph on the side to assist and guide users when ranking their experiences. So if you're a business owner, you absolutely should unlock your listing via yelp.biz.com to take advantage of the free tools!
Robert Truglia is a senior at Tufts University and intern at Interbrand NY. He has editorial experience managing an undergraduate research journal and from previous work at Harvard Business Publishing. Hailing from Stamford, CT, he is passionate about all things marketing, entertainment, and economics related.