Yelp Tries Custom Audiences Push in Bid For Facebook, Google Ad Dollars

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Credit: Chris Goodney/Bloomberg

Marketers can now reach Yelp users on apps and websites that aren't operated by Yelp.

The business-review site partnered with data management platform LiveRamp to make the location and search activity for its 100 million users available to advertisers. The move allows marketers to create custom audience segments in similar fashion to Facebook and its Audience Network.

With Yelp Local Audiences, advertisers will now be able to isolate data segments based on categories like brand interest or attributes as well as geographical data, said Drew Canniff, regional VP of agency sales at Yelp. People who search for car dealerships, or restaurants based on price, for example, can be carved out into segments.

"We have over a billion data points and we can create a thousand different segments," Canniff said. "We can create these very robust segments so when our users leave Yelp, marketers can still reach them even if they're off Yelp sites."

Canniff added that advertising agency SpotCo has already signed up for the offering, as well as brands that operate in the "insurance, gaming, entertainment and alcohol" space that he declined to identify.

Duopoly Threat Very Real

Although Yelp says 79% of its users make a purchase after performing a search on its website or app, the company faces an uphill battle against tech titans Google and Facebook. More than 85% of all new digital ad dollars are funneled through Google and Facebook, according to Mary Meeker's latest Internet Trends report.

Google, for example, controls nearly 78% of all searches made online. That number is expected to grow further by 2019 to 80%, or $36.6 billion in revenue, according to eMarketer.

Yelp spent $50 million on a national ad campaign last year to encourage people to use its service for more than just restaurant reviews. The spots, created by San Francisco-based Reid Sheehan Latimer & Crew, highlighted that Yelp can be used to find things such as a yoga instructor, dentist or hotel.

But convincing consumers and convincing advertisers accustomed to working with Google and Facebook are not the same thing. Caniff claims Yelp does better than the giants when it comes to local search.

"It's all about the bottom of the funnel, local search intent and being able to do that at scale," Canniff said. "We have a very unique value proposition in that you have the intent piece, but it's all local search focused. When people are using Yelp, and they're doing local searches, that translates to purchases at local businesses."

"We think that's pretty compelling compared to other platforms that aren't focused on that local search piece," he added.

Yelp has been on a surge since its stock price fell to $15 a year-and-a-half ago. The company has been able to overcome a number of obstacles that range from documentaries that compare it to the Mafia to ditching display ads from its website. Today, Yelp is trading at more than $42 a share, thanks in large part to strong ad sales and partnerships such as those with food delivery service GrubHub.

This month, the company said it expects to generate revenue of $855 million to $865 million for the full 2017 calendar year.

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