Online review network Yelp goes live in Australia

The co-founder and chief executive of online review service Yelp has said on the day of its Australian launch that bricks and mortar stores should do more to ensure their businesses can be found by online researchers, especially in a subdued retail environment.


The announcement comes as Yelp prepares for its IPO. The business filed an S1 document with the SEC in earlier this month, becoming the latest to go public after LinkedIn, Pandora and Groupon.


Chief executive and co-founder Jeremy Stoppelman told SmartCompany that businesses – both online and offline – need to start thinking about how users can find them through search engines in the lead up to the Christmas season.


“I think users are already searching for something online, this does create a rising tide for local businesses and it makes them more visible than they used to be.”


“Because I think Yelp has this community that starts to write about these businesses have to offer, it creates an online discovery component to the business.”


Yelp was founded in 2004 as part of a start-up incubator called MRL Ventures. David Galbraith, Stoppelman and Russel Simmons worked on the business and soon after received millions in start-up funding.


The basic foundation of the site is that businesses – in a range of categories including hotels, restaurants, and retail stores – are listed, and users write reviews. It soon exploded in popularity with millions of unique visitors every month.


Each listing will contain information on the business itself, with information such as location, accessibility and other details, such as opening hours or whether a restaurant can have food taken away.


The business has since launched a mobile app for iOS and Android, further emphasising accessibility and its social networking capabilities. This is further enhanced by the use the “elite” contributors, who must use their real name when writing reviews and are given badges, similar to how eBay members are given higher status when receiving more feedback.


But while businesses already have an opportunity to fill out information and attract customers through Google Places, Stoppelman says there is a lack a community – which is what he believes Yelp brings to the local market.


“The difference between Yelp and Google Place is that consumers tend not to trust the reviews on Google – it tends to be more anonymous and there isn’t much context there. There isn’t much of a community behind it.”


“The depth of what they’re sharing you don’t tend to find on other review sites.”


Yelp will partner with Sensis to fill out basic listings, but there are tools businesses can use to expand on that.


However, it remains to be seen how popular Yelp will become. Foursquare hasn’t become very popular here, and Yelp doesn’t have as much mainstream recognition outside of the tech community.


And Stoppelman doesn’t plan a significant marketing campaign. Instead, he says he believes the news will spread virally.


“The way the site usually grows is really organic. There’s a little bit of content already there when we start, and then from there it all starts to trickle in. Then people stick around, do their own reviews, and that results in more traffic.”


“The more people show up, the more reviews come on the site. So there isn’t going to be a big marketing push beyond just opening the site, and alerting folks we’re now in the market for anyone that’s interested.”


Despite this, Stoppelman hopes businesses that aren’t so tech savvy will be able to pick up on the site.


“Over time, it becomes more important for businesses to take note. Hopefully the more people who come and say they found the business via Yelp will encourage them to take a look.”


“Even in America, there are plenty of businesses that aren’t as tech savvy, and as long as they offer a great service people start discovering them and that builds their brand recognition. They start to pay attention.”


And although Stoppelman says the businesses doesn’t have a specific goal for the Australian market, he’s interested in seeing how the entry affects the market.


“There’s no specific hurdle we’re trying to cross here, but it does feel like the country is particularly ready for this.”


“We’ve seen differences city to city as to how fast Yelp could get adopted. So I’m quite curious to see if Australia becomes a significantly fast growing market.”


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