Yandex’s New Local Search App, Yandex.City, Goes Where No Yelp Has Gone Before

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Yandex, Russia’s answer to Google, continues apace with its strategy to launch more products that stretch it beyond basic search. Today, it is tackling the business of local search with Yandex.City, an iOS, Android and web app that aggregates user reviews on restaurants, bars, shops, auto mechanics and more and then plots the results on a map based on what you’re looking for — it’s like Yelp, if Yelp existed in Russia.

Indeed, what Yandex is hoping for here is to tap into a gap in the market with a rapidly growing middle class based around cities, equipped with smartphones and money to spend. Yelp does not have a service in Russia. Foursquare’s presence in the country is limited compared to what it offers in the U.S. Google simply has a smaller volume of responses. And local competitors like Tulp.ru are still small. Yandex says it will be bringing together some 70 different reviews sites to power the content on Yandex.City, which is starting out covering 17 urban areas.

The app for now is in Russian only, and the next markets where Yandex is likely to take it are those where it is already active: Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Turkey.

Yandex.City will link up with Yandex’s extensive mapping operation, which includes not just maps but navigation features to get you there, to provide results based on a user’s specified location. Just as it is with Google, advertising is very much the bread and butter of Yandex’s business, and from what we understand it will use Yandex.City to push geo-targeted and search-related ads to users.

That’s not actually a feature available today at Yandex, so it’s likely that it will draw upon the technology and expertise it picked up earlier this year when it acquired a geolocation startup called KitLocate in Israel.

It’s part of Yandex’s larger bid to add more distinct lines of business into its larger search operation. On the defensive side, this is a way for Yandex to differentiate at a time when it seems to be hovering around a 60 percent market share for search in the country, as companies like Google and others persistently compete against it.

On the more proactive side, Yandex.City is a way for the company to keep scaling its advertising business, offering businesses, brands and others more targeted audiences for their marketing. Ultimately, more targeting equals better margins for Yandex. In that same vein, and laterally another sign of Russia’s interest in travel and general exploration, Yandex acquired Auto.ru, a site for auto enthusiasts with listings of cars for sale, for $175 million.