After stepping out of a heated battle over the restaurant reservation space, Urbanspoon is taking a new approach to its review services — editorial content. Yelp had acquired reservation management system SeatMe last month, which suggests it will replace industry default OpenTable with an in-house, mobile-focused competitor. When it bought Rezbook last Wednesday, OpenTable got some portion of the reservation usage it might lose if Yelp leaves.
By selling its reservation system, Urbanspoon owner IAC needs to refocus. Ask.com CEO Doug Leeds will take the lead on creating more editorial content, and tells us that he ultimately wants to become the established brand for restaurant information.
For reference, Urbanspoon was acquired by IAC in 2009 to become a part of CityGrid’s advertising network. Now the site will operate under the umbrella of Ask.com. While Urbanspoon users will still be able to book reservations using OpenTable, its main focus will be creating editorial content around restaurant information. Urbanspoon will provide this through community reviews like before, but will also add articles using an editorial staff and independent contractors.
Users can expect to see a revamped site by the end of the year, as well as more long-form content and features. For example, Leeds says the site could start giving individual reviews for each menu item at a restaurant. Leeds is also planning to integrate expert posts on specific cuisines and cities. “Call it the Kayak for restaurants if you will,” he explains. “You don’t get travel at Yelp, you don’t get plumbing at Kayak, they’re focused on a certain thing. And Urbanspoon has always been the place where people can get information from restaurants.”
While this might convince users to go with Urbanspoon for dining options over Yelp, the company still faces direct competitors from a variety of other popular restaurant review sites, like Google-owned Zagat, and of course Yelp. Leeds sees higher-grade content as the site’s best option. He tells me Ask.com metrics have shown 35 percent growth in 2012, after increasing its editorial content. Ask.com is applying a similar strategy to its other properties, including About.com and Consumersearch.com.
“This dynamic where people come to Ask to ask questions and we give them answers that are provided by other high-quality sites seems to be a model that we can extend to other properties with high-quality content. And Urbanspoon fits that mold perfectly,” Leeds tells me. With 26 million total users on Urbanspoon and over 100 million monthly users on Ask.com, he’ll have a good-sized audience to get the revision going.