Yelp to Start Offering Mobile Display Ads in Bid for Revenue

New Revenue Stream in Addition to Promoted Listings

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Local business discovery and recommendation service Yelp will start hosting display ads in its mobile app. InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) and Taco Bell will be the inaugural advertisers in the new ad format, with IHG's ads likely starting to appear on Monday and Taco Bell's on Thursday.

IHG and Taco Bell will be exclusive advertisers within their given Yelp category, meaning all ads served while Yelpers make travel-related searches will be from IHG while Taco Bell will serve all ads in the restaurant category.

A third advertiser, Miller Lite, will start a campaign in mid-March, executives close to the two companies said.

The exclusive deals will last for all of March. On April 1, the app display inventory will become available to all buyers with features such as geo-targeting and cross-device tracking via activity on users' Yelp accounts.

Those features are not available to this initial group of advertisers, however. IHG, Taco Bell and the alcohol company to be named later see this month-long exclusive advertising partnership as a way to get in front of Yelp's large mobile audience.

Just less than half (45%) of Yelp searches come from mobile devices, the company said, with mobile searches peaking on weekends. The service was accessed on 9.2 million unique mobile devices last quarter. Yelp is the 24th largest mobile media property, according to digital analytics firm comScore.

"All those users are trying to find all kinds of businesses. Could be a mom and pop or a chain," Yelp's head of display sales Preston Junger said. "The value of our overall audience is the value that Taco Bell sees."

Developing the new ad impressions was precipitated by advertiser interest. Advertisers that had bought banner ads on the web site wanted to do the same on Yelp's mobile app, he said.

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