Yelp Versus Foursquare? Who’s Winning In Mobile/Local For Marketers?

For business travelers, it’s easy to see why mobile access to discovery tools like Google Places, Yelp and Foursquare is so critical.

Determining where to go to get coffee, lunch, printing help, dinner, drinks, etc., often happens at the last minute.

What about non-business travelers?

Yes, we all have our favorite places to eat, preferred dry cleaners, dentists, doctors, and so on. But how do we know we are finding the best places? Or what if our dentist moves? Or our dry cleaner continually over starches our shirts? What about life changes that might mandate a new day care? Or a nursing home?

Most of us rely on word-of-mouth or some heavy Google searches.

Word-of-mouth still works, but it relies on our power of recall (most of us lose 80% of what we learned within 24 hours). It also means that unless you have a network of people that stay current on local businesses, the place that was good a year ago may not still be all it was.

That brings us back to discovery tools like Google Places, Yelp and Foursquare. For the sake of argument, let’s say that Google Places has won the battle for scale and adoption by the sheer fact that hundreds of millions of people use Google to search both via mobile and desktop. That is helped by the fact that Google has done such a good job at surfacing structured data (like phone numbers, directions, hours, etc.) up to the results page. But…

The strength of Yelp and Foursquare is that what they lack in breadth they more than make up for in depth.

So, if we can assume that most companies have some involvement with Google (SEM, SEO, Places), the question this begs of businesses with limited resources is whether to commit to Yelp or Foursquare. Below, I’ve spelled out some pros and cons for both.


  • Pros:
    • Over 53 million reviews
    • 120 million monthly unique visitors
    • Appears on first page search results for any searches — general or specific
    • Employs a time tested approach (reviews) from patrons who are passionate enough to take the time to write a paragraph or two about the business
    • Good mobile web and app experience
  • Cons:
    • Has been accused of pressuring businesses into using their service or risk being black balled
    • Relies on long form reviews, which limits the number of users that are willing to submit
    • Has limited the power of “strong ties” among users because they aren’t strongly encouraged to connect to one another


  • Pros:
    • 45 million users
    • One of the largest databases of user generated geolocation in the world
    • Encourages users to leave “tips” or single phrase/sentence reviews
    • Strong mobile web and app experience
    • Because users are encouraged to connect with one another, there are strong ties when users search for businesses, e.g., “Aaron has been here three times and left one tip”
    • Allows for smart advertising
    • Powerful discrete controls (distance, specials, highest rated, relevance by time of day, etc.) allow for discovery of the right local businesses
    • For those that connect with friends, a good way to accelerate serendipitous meetings — or discovery of new places to try
  • Cons:
    • Fighting off perception of “geek” tool based on its original focus on badges, mayorships and gamification
    • Does not come up regularly in organic search
    • Hard to filter “tips” in venues with more than 10-15
    • Lack of long form, well thought out review content

At first blush, it might appear that Foursquare is the winner due to the number of pros. Or, you could determine “game over” by Yelp’s sheer number of users and the fact that it comes up in organic search (and usually in the first page of results). However, it’s not that cut and dried. The real winner is determined by first figuring out what kind of customers you as a business owner are trying to attract.

For businesses that have younger, more social customers, Foursquare is an easy choice. Foursquare would also do itself a favor by pushing harder into the regular business traveler market (their tool is one of the best in the business for regular visitors to other cities). Foursquare is also a shoo-in for those businesses that seek to attract tastemakers or those that are looking for the trendiest places.

Yelp has been around longer and has a more established base of reviewers. Yelp has also won the war of selling small- and medium-sized businesses on the value of courting customer reviews. Yelp has also done a better job diversifying outside of the bar/restaurant/hotel industry. In fact, more than two-thirds of their reviews are for non food and beverage establishments. Last but not least, Yelp is still more of a household name — so, for businesses whose customers skew older and/or are more inclined to research their choices ahead of time, Yelp is the right choice.

In a perfect world, businesses support both Yelp and Foursquare; but resources aren’t infinite, and it makes sense to do one channel well versus two poorly. So, who you got?

 (Stock image via Used under license.)

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Mobile Marketing | Mobile Marketing Column


About The Author: is Managing Director at W2O Group, where he co-leads marketing and is the head of the newly formed Social Commerce practice. Aaron assists clients with mobile and location-based marketing campaigns and strategy. He is also the co-author of Location-Based Marketing for Dummies (wiley) and an avid blogger, podcaster and speaker. Earlier in his career Aaron spent time as head of marketing and social media at Mzinga and Powered/Dachis Group. Before heading off into the startup/agency world, Aaron worked at Fidelity Investments for 9 years in a variety of digital marketing roles.

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  • vasgk

    I really like the pros and cons you have laid out for Yelp and Foursquare. You might find this article on Yelp useful… When Yelp can’t help –

    You also state that “Most of us rely on word-of-mouth or some heavy Google searches.” well this is about to change! What is you could ask like-minded people for real-time recommendations on new places to eat, drink, and have fun? Locish is Coming soon!

  • Lawrence Phipps

    Hey Aaron, interesting article with good coverage of the pros & cons, but there are a couple critical items that should be included. First, Apple has deeply integrated Yelp into iOS such that Yelp delivers local business search results via any search initiated by Siri. So it’s really important that businesses manage their presence on Yelp in the context of local search. Yelp additionally feeds data into Yahoo search, which is not an insignificant search property according to ComScore. Next, FourSquare has achieved significant milestones in establishing big partnerships, most notable with American Express, Visa and MasterCard, that subsidize merchant offers for the end user, making FourSquare a relevant avenue for discounts to their subscribers.

  • aaronstrout

    Great points… although most recently I think the Yelp/deep iOS integration is more of a trump card than 4sq’s credit card partnerships.

  • aaronstrout


  • Erik Wennerstrom

    Interesting post. I would say Yelp should be the focus of businesses, this is based on how I use the two. I always use Yelp to find places when I travel for work or even when away from home at one of my kid’s sporting events and looking for some place to stop. I only use Foursquare to check into places I am already at, not to find places. This is probably due to the point you raised about it’s early focus on gamification. I wonder how many other folks use the two the way I do. However, based on this post, I will start using Foursquare to find places to see if it works as well for me in that regard as Yelp.

  • Kofi Scott

    You should also note that Yelp is the preferred source of reviews for online ordering sites like GrubHub, Seemless, and Ehungry. They are most likely attracted to the fact that they have lengthier reviews. An interesting trend consider a majority of these businesses tailor their services to the “Geek” consumer.


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