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If there's a sexy space on the consumer internet right now, group buying is it. Although there are arguments about whether or not market leader Groupon's first national deal with Gap was really as successful as it appears on the surface, one thing is for sure: companies large and small smell big money in group buying deals.
One of those companies is Yelp, and although it has plenty of competition, Yelp may be one of the few upstarts with the potential to put a dent, even if slight, in Groupon's rise.
Last week, popular reviews site Yelp announced that it had teamed up with OpenTable to offer Yelp users the ability to book restaurant reservations through OpenTable directly on the Yelp site.
A Yelp-OpenTable relationship is one that some have speculated about for some time now, and given that 29% of the businesses reviewed on Yelp are restaurants, the integration between the two services seems like a no-brainer.
If you're a local merchant with a bricks-and-mortar presence, it's time to kiss the yellow pages goodbye. There's no longer any excuse for not having a web presence or for ignoring digital marketing. Eighty-two percent of people use search engines to find information about local businesses - more than any other media. Even if you don't have a website (you should, but that's another story), there are six sites no local business can afford to ignore.
Not only is getting listed dead simple, it's a great leveler. If you own a pizza place, you can compete head-to-head with national chains like Dominos. Hardware? Go up against Home Depot and Lowes. You get the idea.
Claiming your business and getting listed and on all five of the Big Six should only take an hour or so (though most require you wait for a postcard or phone call o verify that you are who you say you are). Once you've enlisted, and taken advantage of some of the special features these sites offer (mostly for free), you'll reap many advantages. You'll have a presence in organic search results, not only on the web, but also on mobile platforms.
You can offer special deals and inducements to lure new business, you can encourage positive reviews and, to a degree, manage your online reputation. You can precisely map your location and help people to find it, and broadcast your hours of operation. And you'll have access to analytics that can inform you of the keywords used to find your business, the time of day people search for you and other data that can help improve your online presence, offers and advertising and promotional campaigns.
With a near-zero investment of time and money, there's absolutely no excuse to not get started with The Big Six.
Online reputation management is an increasingly important subject for businesses. And for good reason: consumers are on the internet, and they're talking about the businesses they interact with. From reviews posted on sites like Amazon to dedicated customer review hubs like Yelp, there is no shortage of online places for consumers to express their opinions about businesses (and their products and services).
But what about individuals? While some have tried to bring the reviews to an individual level, there's really no Yelp for people. A new startup that is receiving some attention and sparking some controversy hopes to change that.
2010 has not been a kind year so far to Yelp. The popular customer reviews website is now facing not one, not two, but three separate lawsuits which essentially allege that the company has built a business by extorting local businesses.
They claim that, in an effort to turn listed businesses into paying advertisers, Yelp salespeople have offered to remove bad reviews, and that they've also removed good reviews when businesses turn down advertising solicitations. Not surprisingly, Yelp has vigorously denied the charges leveled against it. And it's not waiting for a court date to make the case that it's innocent.
Google isn't going to let a little failed purchase of Yelp get in the way of its expansion into local mobile advertising. The search giant today added "Near Me Now" fuctionality to the iPhone.
And while results may not be thorough today, Google is providing plenty of incentive to small businesses to sign up with Google local and help the search engine achieve the kind of dominance in local that it has mastered online.
For many startups, a purchase bid from Google may seem like an offer they can't refuse. But Yelp has done just that. The search giant was in talks to purchase the local ratings site, but Yelp founder Jeremy Stoppleman walked away from talks this weekend.
TechCrunch reports that Yelp turned down an offer of half a billion dollars from the search giant and speculates that it got another bid or partnership that made selling less than necessary.
Hopefully the recommendation site has some good tricks up its sleeve, because Google's recent moves show that the company is serious about local. And while standing athwart Google yelling "Stop!" may seem a noble cause, many companies have crashed and burned with this strategy before Yelp came along.
Just finished filling out a survey from the redoubtable Zagat.com.
No, it wasn't rating restaurants (and making that uneasy call as to whether or not that undiscovered gem should be revealed to the masses). Rather it was a survey based on what features and price points I, as a subscriber, would most prefer to see in the future.
They've got this all wrong.
Yell.com has just released a free iPhone app allowing users to search for local businesses in the UK.
Yelp's has cunningly added augmented reality functionality as a hidden feature in its existing iPhone app, for iPhone 3Gs users.
The Easter egg can be unearthed by simply shaking the app a few times (actually, to the amusement of my colleagues, I shook my phone for about five minutes before it decided to work). It's only available for the newer version of the iPhone because it needs to use the compass.
Qype, which claims to be the UK's largest local search and recommendation website, has just released an updated version of its mobile app, Radar, for iPhone users.
Like rival Yelp, Qype Radar provides local listings and reviews for mobile users, very useful when you're out and looking for somewhere local to eat, or for other local services.
Local online reviews site Yelp has come a long way in the United States, where it now competes head-on with IAC/InterActiveCorp's Citysearch. Yelp launched in the UK earlier this year and recently rolled out functionality that gives business owners the opportunity to respond to reviewers.
I spoke with Laura Nestler, Yelp's London Community Manager, to find out more about Yelp's efforts in the UK, how Yelp can be used by businesses and where Yelp is headed.