How Yelp Built Its Business On Bad Restaurant Websites

When a shared resource is used by an individual without regard for the negative impact on the whole it’s called The Tragedy of The Commons. The classic example in economics is public land that is allotted for cattle grazing. If everyone uses the land responsibly it’s great, but if a minority overgraze their livestock than the resource becomes degraded and eventually is not fit for its intended purpose. Anyone who has ever had roommates knows how this works. The greater the number of roommates, the greater the possibility you’ll come home from a long weekend to discover someone has used the soup pot to boil dirty sneakers.

The Tragedy of Yelp is that horrible roommates are as empowered as their respectful counterparts. On Yelp, influence has been normalized/democratized?. It’s an immensely popular resource for restaurant reviews. . In January of 2013 Yelp reported a hundred million unique visits to the site. That’s almost twice as much as this time last year. As of January 2013 there are well over a million reviews of businesses and 23 percent of them are restaurants. In the San Francisco Bay Area alone there are 6,461 restaurants represented on Yelp.

It sounds hopeless to tackle the problem, but it’s really not all that bad. People read reviews of your restaurant on Yelp, sure, but they still visit your website too. According to Angelsmith’s survey data 53% of people “always” or “frequently” visit a restaurant’s website to find information. Another 43% say they “sometimes” do. The reason that “sometimes” is not “always” is that they believe it is easier to find information elsewhere. That leaves only a tiny 4% who never bother to look at a restaurant’s site.

If you’re a restaurant owner your web presence is like the President, and Yelp (like it or not) is the House of Representatives. There is a shared influence on diners, but you as the business owner have veto power. If your website sucks you’re signing off on whatever legislation the House of Yelp pushes through. As a restaurant owner or marketing director you can provide information about your business on Yelp. You can even respond to criticism through the site, but why be on the defensive if you can be proactive instead?

In terms of The Commons, it’s great to have a public resource available, but it’s better to have enough grass on your own land to keep your cattle robust and healthy. The best way to transfer power away from Yelp is to have a website that meets the needs of a potential diner. Many diners will still check Yelp, but it doesn’t have to be the deciding factor. Simply put, you want to convert your website visitors into your diners. The only way to do that is make your site as tempting and consumable as your cuisine.