The end of Yelp?

Over the last few months, Google has been rolling out new consumer services and features at an ever increasing rate. One of their latest additions, “Favorite Places on Google“, poses a direct threat to local business directory and review sites like Yelp.

Yelp has grown exponentially since its launch in 2004 to become today’s titan of local review sites, supplanting many region-specific resources like local newspaper sites as well as current and former heavyweights like Citysearch, Sidewalk, InsiderPages, Superpages, Switchboard, Judy’s Book, etc. Yelp storefront stickers are practically ubiquitous, at least here in Seattle.

Yelp is entrenched in consumer’s minds, but Google’s size and expanding features will eventually help it gain ground. As they roll out more personal services like Gmail, personalized search, Google Voice, and so on; more and more users are relying upon Google resources as their hub of information gathering. Google is, in effect, becoming what used to be called a “web portal,” ala Yahoo. This also increases the chances that people will enter reviews of local establishments when doing so is tightly integrated with oft-used services like Google Maps.

Google’s latest Favorite Places announcement contains a two compelling new features that may push it over the tipping point: the storefront sticker (like Yelp’s) and the QR code. The stickers will increase consumer awareness of Google’s reviews, while the latter offers users of many mobile devices like iPhones the ability to instantly call up information and reviews simply by taking a picture. For opportunistic shoppers, this could be the “killer feature” that starts to put real pressure on Yelp.

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