The (slight) difference between Zagat and Yelp informing search

Photo: Bing Cherries  Credit: Alice Carrier
Photo: Bing Cherries Credit: Alice Carrier

This week Microsoft announced a partnership with Yelp which will use reviews from Yelp to inform search results.  Both Yelp and the Google-owned (and informed) Zagat solicit user feedback in order to give a ranking of local businesses.  I’m biased in that I strongly dislike Yelp and Bing, so I was happy to see them morph into a super-villain.   From my experience on Yelp, I expected that the recommendations (which I perceived driven by people in their early-20s) to be more relevant to the Google audience than the (much) older Bing audience, and the converse for Zagat and Bing.

It seemed to me that both search engines were dancing with the wrong partners.

As it turns out –  Zagat and Yelp have much in common.  There is a lot of congruence between the two in online audience demographics.  (Note that I make the assumption that audience composition informs reviews at an equal rate, which is a gross oversimplification but gives a general framework to compare the two):

– Audience:  There is a reason why Google tried to acquire Yelp before settling on Zagat and this is probably it.   Alexa ranks Yelp as the 188th ranked site in the world (44th in the US), Zagat is 13,056th in the world (2,930 in the U.S.).  Obviously there is a lot more audience informing Yelp than Zagat.

– Age:  Both sites skew disproportionately higher in the 25-34 demographic.  Yelp skews slightly higher in the 45-54 demographic and Zagat skews slightly higher in the 55-64 demographic.  This seems to indicate that both sites are strongest in that young adult demographic with Zagat trending a little older in average age.

– Gender:  Both sites trend decidedly female.

– Work and babies:  Both sites trend high in people without kids (because those of us with kids never go out) and with professionals who search from work, though Zagat is relatively stronger in both demographics.  One would assume from this that the average Zagat user has slightly more income than the average Yelp user.

– Other:  Zagat shows strength in college graduates, where Yelp shows strength in college graduates and people who have completed some college, which probably offers the greatest insight into why the Yelp community appears to be dominated by young adults (assume this means that in the 25-34 demographic that Yelp skews much closer to 25.).

Given the demographics of each site, the biggest question then is which of these sites would best inform the average search user?  The audience of both Yelp and Zagat appear far more congruent with Google’s audience than with Bing.   Google skews strongest in the 18-24 and 25-34 demographics and  Bing is strongest in the 45-54, 55-64 and 65+ demographics.  So while it appears that Zagat might be slightly more appropriate to the Bing audience – it’s reviews are much less relevant to Bing users than Google.  If Google were interested to return the most relevant review-informed search results for their audience, they probably should use both Yelp and Zagat though (as much as I hate to say this) they probably should weigh Yelp higher proportional to their audience.

The big takeaway from all of this is that the Bing partnership with Yelp is probably going to make Bing search results even less relevant to its constituent audience, and have no effect on Google.  Bing and Google aren’t dancing with the wrong partners – there just isn’t an ideal partner for Bing because of their unique user demographics.


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Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.