To Square Up To Foursquare, Yelp Now Lets Users Post Reviews Directly From Its Mobile App

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It’s been a long time coming, but user-generated local reviews site Yelp is finally getting with the program: today it is rolling out the ability for users to write reviews directly in its mobile app, starting first with iOS and coming soon to Android (no word on when the feature will be added to its BlackBerry or Windows apps). Although reviews were turned on briefly for “Elite” power-users to help with final testing, Yelp tells me that today it is rolling out the feature to everyone, in all 22 countries where it is currently active.

The new button for reviews will appear where currently users can click to leave a “tip” — tips are basically notes that they would have had to complete when at a desktop or laptop computer. Now, users will still be able to make drafts, but they will also be able to post or edit right from their mobile devices.

Yelp isn’t giving over all control to users right away, though. “In order to ensure that these reviews are high-quality and useful, we may post any reviews that are too short as a ‘tip’ as we experiment with rolling out this feature. Users can always go back and add in more detail later and it can be turned into a review,” the company notes.

yelp review postedThe move to offer mobile reviews is a sign of how Yelp is trying to get users to spend more time in its mobile apps, where it’s growing new revenue streams around advertising, for example. In its last quarterly earnings, reported at the end of January, the company noted that around 40% of its local ads were served on mobile devices, and 59% of its search traffic came from mobile (both app and web). In the quarter, Yelp was accessed through nearly 10 million unique mobile devices per month, “and Yelp has been dedicated in driving its business towards offering a streamlined service to mobile users,” the company noted today. Something like reviews creates not just more user engagement on the app, but also extra real-estate for advertisements and opens possibilities for creating more marketing products to sell to the businesses in question.

Perhaps equally importantly, it also underscores how the company may be feeling increasing competition from the likes of Foursquare, Square, Groupon and most recently Facebook, as other platforms where users who may want to share details of how they feel about a local place they have just patronized.

Still, why the delay? Yelp users have been asking for this feature for years. Up to now, the only way to post reviews has been to log in on the desktop website; on mobile you could either draft notes or tips that would follow you to the main site for completion. In fact, the company in the past has not given its users much credit when it comes to mobile, worried that either people would post insubstantial text or something negative in the heat of the moment that they would later regret. Back in 2009, here’s how Eric Singley, VP of consumer and mobile products, responded to the request:

“We occasionally hear from other passionate Yelpers on why we haven’t enabled review publishing from our mobile applications. There are several reasons why we do this…Well imagine what it would be like if reviews were done in SMS shorthand: ‘OK so, IANAE, but AFAIC this place has THE best Cfood. It was gr8! ADBB’

Um, yeah.

We love the witty quality of the reviews and the insight that Yelpers share in their detailed accounts of their experiences. We’ve found that Quick Tips and Draft Reviews [two pre-existing short features] are mobile features that provide eager Yelpers with an outlet to catalog their immediate experiences or jot notes that they can then add to or edit when they get back to a computer. While we’re not saying that writing Yelp reviews on your mobile device is out of the question, we feel very strongly about maintaining the high level of content you all provide.”

At the time, Singley didn’t totally rule out the idea, and four years later, his team is finally implementing it.

“Our ultimate goal at Yelp is to make the content as helpful as possible for people looking to make a spending decision,” a company spokesperson says. “Having to wait until you get home to say what you think is a thing of the past – if you’ve had a wonderful experience, you want to shout about it there and then.”

Yelp has been gradually building out its functionality not just in the mobile app but across the whole of its site, all part of how it intends to grow its revenue streams and finally make its way into the black on its balance sheet.

In June, Yelp re-launched its “Nearby” feature so that users received suggestions of restaurants and other businesses in their immediate vicinity. In July, it bought an online reservations service and OpenTable competitor SeatMe for up to $12.7 million, following on with the launch of Yelp Platform as a unified search and booking experience.