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Yelp: Google Told Us "Our Way Or The Highway"

If you wanted to see Yelp reviews for a particular restaurant you could either go to Yelp.com or you could go to Google’s Place Page for that same location — and that’s what Yelp is worried about. For the past year or so Yelp and Google have been a little like the two Koreas, not at war but not at peace either.

Google tried to buy Yelp last year unsuccessfully for roughly $500 million.

Google includes Yelp reviews on its Place Pages, often prominently at the top of the reviews section, and Yelp is very ambivalent about that, to put it mildly. Yelp considers Google Places to be directly competitive.

As Google has pushed more aggressively into local and greatly improved its offerings, online and in mobile, tensions with other local and review sites have become heightened. They may be starting to bubble over in Yelp’s case.

In an interview with UK newspaper The Telegraph Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman makes some very direct statements about the matter:

We are unhappy with the way Google uses our users’ review on its Places page. However, there is no solution to the problem… Google’s position is that we can take ourselves out of its search index if we don’t want them to use our reviews on Places…. But that is not an option for us, and other sites like us – such as TripAdvisor – as we get a large volume of our traffic via Google search…We just don’t get any value out of our reviews appearing on Google places and haven’t been given an option other than to remove ourselves from search, how to improve this situation.

Stoppelman is arguing that Google is giving Yelp a kind of ultimatum: allow use of Yelp reviews on Places or leave the index entirely. One might call that “seo-icide.” The Telegraph also published a statement from a Google spokesperson; however it doesn’t directly address the controversy:

We can’t comment on conversations with partners, but as we’ve said before, our goal with local search is to help Google users find the local information they’re looking for online. Each day we send millions of customer referrals to local businesses and third party websites, such as review sites, through local search. The overwhelming feedback we get from users, business owners and website owners is that they value the answers and traffic they receive from local search.

Yelp has been unhappy since last year with Google’s position, which was evident when Stoppelman and then head of Google Maps/Local John Hanke appeared on stage together during a conference interview in July:

Stoppelman took some of the bait and argued that Google needs to be “smart” about “preserving the ecosystem” and balancing between its own properties (i.e., Places) and sending people to the “best place on the web for users to go,” for local content (Stoppelman was referring to Yelp of course).

Then roughly a month later Yelp pulled its content from Places (though not the Google index):

Yelp considers Place Pages (and Google’s Local-Mobile apps such as Places) to be directly competitive. Links in SERP results on Google are not. Google Place Pages seek to help users do what Yelp is equally trying to do: enable consumers to make buying decisions about local businesses. Google.com results arguably don’t give people enough information to compare businesses or make a local buying decision. Yet that’s the direction they seem to be moving.

Subsequently the parties reached an agreement and Yelp’s reviews returned to Places. But, according to Stoppelman, now Google is telling Yelp it’s “all or nothing.” If true these tactics don’t help Google in its larger struggle to be regarded as a benevolent provider of traffic rather than as a bully that picks winners and losers on a self-interested basis.

I’ll reach out to Google for a response and post an update when/if I receive one.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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