Yelp doesn't need Google, but Google could use Yelp

Online directory service turns down massive acquisition bid

Let's just assume for a minute that Yelp doesn't need the US$550 million that Google reportedly offered it in a failed acquisition attempt.

That eye-popping amount (from where I'm sitting) aside, what would Yelp have gained from the Google deal that TechCrunch is reporting? Not much.

Let's first consider search, which according to Alexa accounts for roughly two out of every five Yelp visitors. Yelp has great Google mojo — that is, its results are already way up in Google's page rankings. Case in point: Yelp's page for the coffee shop from which I'm working is the first result in a Google search for its name plus "Los Angeles." When I search for the competing coffee shop down the street, its result is second, behind the shop's official Web site. Even in cases where Google has its own directory page for the business, Yelp is right behind it.

I'm a regular Yelp user now, but I got that way because its search ranking is so phenomenal, and its information is so valuable, so now I just go straight to the source (or I use the iPhone app). If Google somehow integrated Yelp into its own business searches, the improvement would be minimal.

Then there's the overall social nature of Yelp to consider. All those people that power the site's business and restaurant reviews? They're regular visitors who for one reason or another are motivated to contribute to the discussion. Just as you don't visit Facebook via search, the people who make Yelp what it is are headed there directly. Once again, there's little Google could do to improve that.

That's not to say Google wouldn't want Yelp. The potential is there for Google to integrate Yelp results into its Maps searches, or build those results right into Android. It'd be an easy way for Google to improve its own business directory, whose reviews come from a mish-mash of other sites including CitySearch and OpenTable, and at times is more sparse than Yelp's pages. I wouldn't mind seeing some integration with Google Maps, but it's not essential. After all, the map-searching process usually comes after you've consulted lots of Yelp reviews, and the maps on Yelp's Web site come from Google anyway.

We don't yet know why Yelp reportedly walked away from a Google deal. It could've been other suitors, or there might've been something in the deal that Yelp didn't like, and of course there's a chance the report itself is inaccurate. But if Yelp wants to stay independent, that'd be fine by me.

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Jared Newman

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