Famous brands and leading companies are always good examples to learn from for budding startups. Moreover, analyzing leaders and competitors in both the global and local markets is the right strategy. Thus, if you are thinking about creating a local business reviews website, utilizing some of Yelp's Business Model Canvas features is a good strategy. We’ve created this guide to Yelp-like mobile and web application development to help you with overcoming all possible challenges.
What Is Yelp and What’s the Secret to Its Relevance?
As one of the most famous crowd-sourced local business review websites, Yelp hardly needs an introduction. In a nutshell, this website allows for sharing users’ testimonials about the establishments they’ve visited or the services they’ve received. Let’s dwell on the specifics of its business model and the unique values it delivers to its customers.
10 years of Yelp, visualized
Yelp’s Types of Users
Yelp has developed quite a unique business model and created a space for interaction between three different user groups, each of which is equally important.
Local customers. Everything is clear with this type of user - they are ordinary people looking for a particular service within their location. However, before starting to interact with a local business, they want to get social assurance, that is, read real reviews from previous customers of the establishment.
Local businesses. These are local companies that want to develop their Yelp presence, stay in touch with their previous customers, get first-hand insights into their real reputation, and increase their profits. Yelp is a great place to do it.
Review writers. Review writers are the active customers who are satisfied/disappointed with their experience with a particular business, or just people who are fond of sharing their impressions with an online community. However, some businesses bet on dishonest review writing practices and hire freelancers to create profiles on Yelp to write artificially good reviews for them, or vice versa, bad reviews for their competitors. Yelp considers this a violation of its Terms and Conditions and blocks the profiles of such scammers; however, there is still good reason to be cautious.
Shopping statistics after visiting Yelp
Yelp’s Essential Benefits for Its Target Groups
Companies improve their chances of being discovered and develop their online reputation while staying honest and transparent. They also get unique promotion opportunities (for example, the paid possibility to be listed at the top of the search results). Thus, the companies utilizing Yelp increase their profits significantly, plus build strong brand recognition and loyalty.
Ordinary people gain access to a wide choice of desired services nearby. Thus, they may get the best service in terms of price and quality within their location, guided by the honest opinions of previous customers.
Review writers perceive this process as an engaging game that can be played with friends. Because of the built-in social networking features, there are a lot of community-building opportunities. For example, the most active writers may get Elite status, and the best reviews are shown to other visitors by Yelps’ recommendation engine.
However, what specifically do you think makes Yelp so special? Yes, this is a free platform to use, but its profits continue to grow. There are no secret ways free apps make money, but there are some potentially profitable business models to follow if you want to develop an app like Yelp.
Possibly Suitable Business Models to Build An App Like Yelp
If you want to create a local business review website, you should make it high-quality and useful for each of the platform’s participants and still leave some room for your earnings. Before finding out how to create an app like Yelp, discover the main ways to monetize this type of app. Make your choice based on your project’s specifics, popularity, your users’ expectations, and the market’s realities.
Transaction fee. According to this model, you get a commission from each transaction made with your platform’s help. For example, if the customer orders a taxi from the service found on your website, you get a fixed interest from the deal.
Listing fee. It’s impossible to build a business directory website without creating a listing per each category, for example, restaurants, law consulting firms, etc. However, the companies’ order in the list is important, because as a rule, users choose by browsing several businesses starting from the top of the search. A fee can be charged for the opportunity to be at the top, regardless of the company's rating.
Advertisement. This is the most obvious way to earn money through your free website - place relevant ads but don’t make them too annoying.
Subscription with advanced features. This is an option for businesses that provide many layers of services, some more valuable to users than others. For example, a premium subscription for local businesses may include a top listing in the search results, frequent showcasing by the recommendation engine, additional features for dealing with positive and negative reviews, targeted ads, social media presence development, and any other services you feel comfortable providing.
By the way, here is one more interesting fact! Yelp uses all of the above monetization strategies at once. It uses local advertising (listing fee), brand advertising (in-app ads), Yelp deals (transaction fee), and offers a full-service program (on a subscription basis). So, you could also combine the best features of these strategies into a holistic one and follow them for your mobile app development.
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Why Is Designing an App Like Yelp a Good Idea for a Startup?
According to research from the Online Word of Mouth, “Consumers will trust friends, relatives, and even a stranger’s recommendation before they trust anything that the glitzy marketing and advertising agencies shove at them. Word of mouth communication has always been relied upon by many generations of consumers and business owners. Marketing and advertising agencies have continuously lost trust with consumers. On the other hand, fellow consumers’ voices have continued to steadily increase in credibility.”
The issue of trust often comes first, which is lacking in the modern digital environment. According to different studies, 40% of all online reviews are fake. More specifically, 63% of Amazon’s electronics reviews are fake, and alas, 20% of Yelp’s testimonials also cause suspicions.
Thus, your future Yelp app clone has the potential of solving the above problem by coming up with an outstanding idea, following a unique but profitable business model and pursuing the authenticity of the reviews placed there.
Essential and Specific Features to Focus on
You can create your app like Yelp on Python or any other technology. However, the choice (and subsequently, the cost to develop your solution) will largely depend on the set of features you want to implement.
Below are basic and specific features for a review website/mobile application.
Registration/sign-up. This is a basic feature necessary for all apps. However, with the type of app we are discussing, there should be two ways to get registered - one for businesses and one for potential customers.
Personal profile. This is an essential section that will contain basic information about the users. It will serve as a kind of user bio, indicating some personal information and activity on the website.
Write a review. The next core feature is the review creation. Users should be able to edit it, add photos and videos, preview, publish, and delete their reviews as they wish.
Location/Automatic location suggesting. Since the essence of the like-Yelp app is local business reviews, embedded GPS features are essential. So, you will need to build a GPS app as a part of your reviewing solution. At this point, make sure to ask users permission before using their location and allow them to set it manually.
Search nearby. This feature will be useful for customers looking for a local business that have their GPS location tracking function turned on.
Categories. To make the search more convenient, it makes sense to categorize the companies that will get registered on your website and make their ratings immediately visible from the catalogs.
Menus/pricings/catalogs. With these detailed features, the customer will discover the range of services and price per each.
User-business interaction. This is a great feature to allow online reputation building companies to work with their customers directly by responding to good reviews and improving situations from bad reviews.
Newsfeed. Your users will definitely be glad to know what’s new on the platform.
Rating system. Each company should have a rating that is formed according to the users’ reviews. Typically, a 5-star system is used.
Payment system. You need it to accept payments from the companies who want to be promoted or receive deals on your review platform.
Social media integration and built-in features. One of the reasons for Yelp's popularity is its social media features. The platform allows for making friends with other people, chatting with them, and even holding joint events. Also, Yelp is easily integrated with Facebook to add even more friends to your feed.
Real-time check-in. This is another engaging feature that will allow your users to stream live videos from the places they are visiting, thereby making the reviews 100% authentic.
Personalization opportunities. You may offer your customers to hide the companies that they aren’t interested in. For example, avid healthy lifestyle supporters will never be looking for fast food delivery.
Recommendation engine for customers. This is a must-have eCommerce feature. It also works well in partially social projects like Yelp.
Reviews’ authenticity check. This is perhaps the most essential feature. The ultimate goal of any review platform is to provide the users with truthful information and inspire trust in a company under review. However, fake review statistics prove that there are reasons not to blindly believe testimonials, even if they seem truthful. So, there is a need to check the credibility of the review rigorously. For instance, TopHotels (a platform for reading, writing, and comparing hotel reviews) asks the reviewers to provide documents and confirm that they actually stayed in the hotel they want to review.
Gamification features. These are the features for making your users’ stay on your website even more engaging and effective. For example, the customers who leave a review may receive points with the highest ratings, which the customers may spend at the establishments they reviewed.
Making a Web App Like Yelp Step by Step
Next, we’ll review how to make an app like Yelp. Here is a simple yet effective strategy to follow.
7 steps to build an app like Yelp
1. Come up with a specific idea
There is no sense in competing with Yelp since it is already a leading platform with excellent coverage. However, it is available in only 32 countries. So you have a lot of room for entering open markets. Also, there is no sense in trying to embrace the immensity. Instead, it is better to develop a highly specific idea relevant to the market you want to enter. For example, it can be a website or app for reviewing lawyer or vet clinics.
2. Research your market
The next step is market research using practice-proven methodologies like PEST, SWOT, Five Forces, and focus group surveys. This preliminary research will help you develop your unique value proposition and allow your product to fit the customers’ expectations perfectly.
3. Come up with a prototype
Your prototype can even be drawn by hand on paper since the essence of this step is to create a skeleton for further discussion and improvement with your developers.
4. Decide on the set of features for your MVP
A Minimum Viable Product is a pilot solution to test with your target users to make crucial decisions for your final product. For an application like Yelp, you will need registration for users and businesses, review writing, and search features in your MVP.
5. Create an MVP, launch it and analyze the feedback from your users
After your MVP is ready, it’s time to test it with your customers using focus group surveys, heat mapping, and user experience evaluation methodologies. You should consider all the insights and ideas suggested by your target users to improve your product and make it demanded and competitive.
6. Upgrade your app to make it launch-ready
This is one of the final stages of your application development when your product will be prepared for the market launch.
7. Launch, scale, and maintain
Scaling and maintenance are as important as the development process itself. So, get ready for regular maintenance services, plus keep your eyes open for new possibilities for scaling and upgrading.
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How Much Does It Cost to Make an App Like Yelp
As always, the price of the final project is individual. What’s more, you shouldn’t be lured by offers to estimate the time and money for your development process accurately to the minute or dollar. Projects developed according to the Agile methodology always have room for flexibility, which means that the price and time cannot be estimated too explicitly, especially at the first communication stage between you and your vendor.
Below we suggest the cost breakdown of developing an app like Yelp. However, the number of total development hours may be higher, depending on the complexity of your future solution.
Average rate per hour in Eastern Europe
Also, keep in mind that many factors influence the final price, so the estimation above is quite approximate.
Your project’s specifics are the most essential factor since your developers will probably need to find ways to solve entirely new challenges.
Undoubtedly, the choice of platform is one more decisive factor since the cost of two native apps and a website will be 2.5 - 3 times higher than we’ve estimated above. However, you may start with the highest priority solution (for example, an Android app if most of your users use this OS) and then proceed to a full-fledged web-based solution or iOS (iPhone) development.
The location of your custom web development vendor also matters. The hourly rate for design and development services may vary significantly because of the country your development company operates in. For example, Eastern countries may offer the lowest prices (but the quality tends to be lower, and the time zone can make communicating inconvenient). At the same time, cooperation with the top-rated companies from the USA offers high-quality but will cost you several times more. So, stick to the middle ground when looking for the best price-quality ratio.
Additional features (for example, an AI-powered review checker) may also increase the final price up to 30-50%.
Creating a mobile or web application for reviewing local businesses is a good idea. Most users aren’t ready to believe marketing campaigns only, especially when it comes to important decisions like booking a hotel abroad or hiring a nanny for your kids. What’s more, there is still a lot of room to improve the current situation with online reviews and offer your users an exclusive place with a 100% honest approach.
The success of your application will largely depend on the choice of your development partner. We kindly recommend hiring a company with experience in listing website development since this is one more way to save costs while avoiding risking the quality of your solution.
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