Google Maps Puts Yelp On Notice With New Review Features

The move makes Google's navigation app more functional and more like Yelp.

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Highlighting a city's latest hot spots and serving up brutally honest restaurant reviews are Yelp's bread and butter, but it seems Google is keen to eat the app's lunch. The search giant has recently been adding more features that make the navigation app work more like Yelp, which could soon help Google realize its goal to dominate the user-generated review space.

Google Maps has breadth, but Yelp offers depth for reviews

Yelp is considered by many as the go-to online database of restaurant, retail, and service provider reviews, and it's been slowly expanding beyond its role as a safe space for snarky opinions. Recently, Yelp has been adding features, such as a food delivery platform, reservations booking system, and lead generation for home service professionals. In terms of points of interests, it doesn't have near the breadth of Google search, but that's one of its benefits—users go there when they need to find information about a business, be it restaurants, stores, or lawn care services. Elite Yelpers are the arbiters of local culture, and their reviews can make or break a business, which helps users weed through the noise and make decisions about dinner plans or shopping preferences. 

On the other hand, Google has had to work hard to increase its local reviews, resorting to gamification to boost entries rather than organic growth. The company originally scraped Yelp's site to get content, but ultimately turned to acquisitions such as Zagat and Urbanspoon to gain a discerning and opinionated user base. 

While Yelp has no trouble getting users to share their two cents, consumers may be less inclined to dish on the local hot dog stand or rant about receiving less-than-white-glove-service for a Groupon purchase using their Gmail account. 

Small changes are making Google Maps more like Yelp

Last week, the company added shortcut menu buttons to business categories with personalized content based on the user's location and other factors. This week, it added Yelp-like bookmarks and sharable custom lists that may encourage users to peruse Google Maps for discovery rather than just directions, and return more frequently to make dining and purchasing decisions...which could, in turn, generate more ad-based revenue.

The company announced on its blog, "Starting today, you can create lists of places, share your lists with others, and follow the lists your friends and family share with you—without ever leaving the Google Maps app." 

If it succeeds, Google Maps could become the go-to application for figuring out what to do or where to go for pretty much everything. And that's before you consider that Yelp—or any review site for that matter—isn't available on Android Auto

However, Google Maps still lacks the depth that Yelp achieves when it comes to reviews, and banking on Yelpers becoming Google "Local Guides" is far from a sure bet. Dangling free Drive storage and all-expenses-paid trips to the Silicon Valley behemoth's headquarters may help boost content, but the company probably would have more luck if they figure out how to make its reviews more anonymous.