April 6, 2011, 10:49 AM

Yelp calls for mobile consumers—and they answer

Yelp is adapting its reviews service to make it more convenient for mobile members.

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A new study from Forrester Research Inc. explains how Yelp.com—which offers customer reviews of local businesses—is leveraging  mobile to make it easy for consumers to add information while out and about, thus strengthening its core web site.

For example, mobile users can upload photos that add details and visual elements to reviews on the web site, Forrester says. Mobile users can add a picture from the main menu screen of the Yelp app as well as from a mobile review page. Yelp receives an image from a mobile device   every 30 seconds, Forrester says.

“These photos—which include décor, menu items, actual menus, receipts, hard-to-explain physical features—contribute directly to the detail and relevancy of Yelp’s reviews,” Forrester says in its report, “Yelp’s Mobile Customers Help It Build A Better Core Product.”

Yelp also offers Quick Tips—a sentence or two about a specific aspect of a place or service. Such tips are well suited for mobile users because they are fast (like Twitter posts, Quick Tips are capped at 140 characters) and simple. A tip might be “BYOB night at Café Cubana is every Tuesday.” 

Additionally, Quick Tips can be cross-posted to a mobile user’s Facebook or Twitter accounts, generating more buzz for Yelp and providing an easy way for mobile users to go social.

Much like Foursquare or Gowalla, mobile Yelp users can check in at a specific location. The Yelp app uses GPS to display to mobile users a list of nearby establishments or a user can check in directly from a review page. This check–in feature adds a personality to the “Yelper” by creating a reviewer history on Yelp.com. Yelp also shows a ranking of who has checked in at an establishment the most and shows users their friends who have checked in nearby. The feature also allows businesses to offer special deals to customers who have checked in.

Yelp lets mobile app users draft a review while at a location but requires them to save it for posting until later, a decision Forrester says is smart.

Yelp has drawn a line in the sand about which content submissions are best suited for mobile—and which aren’t,” Forrester says. “The long-form content and detail that makes up its core product—user reviews —suffers when done on a mobile device. The application lets users draft reviews and take notes, but saves the more difficult, time-heavy tasks for the desktop. This means that sloppy mobile compositions won’t adulterate the quality of core written reviews.”

The app also features Yelp mobile talk. Much like a forum, it lets users ask questions and look for tips such as where to find the best local brew in a North Side Chicago neighborhood. This shorter, more conversational form works better in the mobile realm than writing a review, Forrester says.

According to Forrester, Yelp has about three million monthly app users—a much smaller number than the 45 million who visit Yelp.com. But Forrester says mobile users are typically more engaged and active, thus it is worth it for Yelp to attract a strong base of mobile fans.

For others looking to build a base among mobile consumers in a similar fashion, Forrester recommends offering a mobile service that gives something in return. “If you want to build a mobile army of creators, you have to build a product in which they can both consume and create,” Forrester says. “So, mobile creators need to first be mobile consumers—highly engaged ones.”

For example Yelp’s app offers a robust mobile search function that can leverage the user’s location. In fact, mobile searches now make up 35% of all searches for Yelp, the firm says. The app also offers a click-to-call feature with every review so a user can immediately book reservations or get more information from a place she is reading about. The mobile click-to-call feature is used once every other second, Forrester says.

With more than one-third of searches stemming from mobile, Yelp figured another important mobile feature to add would be help with how to get to an establishment. To address that need, Yelp offers maps and directions.

Yelp mobile offers a mobile social feed that shows the content a user’s Yelp friends are providing through photos, check-ins or Quick Tips. Mobile Yelpers also can see content from users near them at any given moment.

Other tips from Forrester include:

Invest accordingly: Users who create mobile content for a business are typically tech-savvy, Forrester says. Mobile users will expect interesting and innovative offerings. Skimping on functionality will turn off mobile users who deem product quality more important than brand loyalty, Forrester says.

Make adding mobile content easy: Adding a Yelp Quick Tip, for example, requires few clicks and can be done from several places in the app. “The more work it takes to create, the less creation will happen,” Forrester says.

Make the payoff worth the effort: Some of Yelp’s mobile features, like check-ins, are more complex to use. Yelp rewards consumers for checking in by qualifying them for coupons or discounts.

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