On the Go: User Insights on the Yelp App

| March 10, 2015
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Every Tuesday, UserTesting’s Research Team studies a different product to share here on the blog. We hope you’ll learn some nifty research techniques and get inspired to run some insightful tests of your own. Enjoy, and check back in next Tuesday!

With tens of millions of downloads in the App Store and the Play Store, the Yelp app is beloved by many. Yet, with thousands of 1-star reviews, it seems that this love is enveloped in a soft haze of frustration.

We’ve been curious about what makes Yelp so many folks’ go-to review app and wondered if we could bubble up some findings about how it could be even better.

I chuckled for a minute when I popped over to the App Store to take a look at the app’s reviews. After reading the first four or five, I realized there are a ton of reviews that probably shouldn’t even be there. They’re included on the App Store and the Play Store as reviews about Yelp, when they’re actually just reviews for businesses that users must have accidentally submitted via Yelp’s very own in-app “Leave a review about this app” messaging. Oops!

yelp review

This review in the Play Store clearly isn’t a review of the Yelp app itself.

It became clear that the reviews of the Yelp app in the App Store weren’t telling the full story about the user experience on the app itself. So the UserTesting team decided to conduct a study to explore how people use the app out in the real world.

Setting up the study to see how people use Yelp

Rather than doing a traditional usability test, we decided to launch a destination test using UserTesting’s mobile recorder to get some folks out on the street in search of a restaurant to grab a bite to eat.

With their smartphone in hand, we asked our participants to tell us a bit about how they typically use Yelp, and then we had them use the app to find a lunch spot nearby.

Here’s the full set of tasks we asked participants to perform:

  1. Please describe your past experience with the Yelp App. How often do you use it? Do you ever use the website?
  2. What businesses do you typically look for on Yelp? What types of business do you not look for on Yelp?
  3. What do you like or dislike about Yelp?
  4. Today you’re interested in finding a great place to eat lunch. Please proceed as you normally would to find a restaurant within walking distance. Please speak out loud about what you typically look for in a restaurant, and lead us through your search process. Once you have settled on a restaurant that looks good, please move on to the next task!
  5. If you have not done so already, please tap on the restaurant you’ve chosen to view its detail page, and move on to the next task.
  6. What struck you as appealing about this restaurant? Please explain your answer.
  7. How unimportant (1) or important (5) are photos to your selection process when considering a place to eat? Please explain your answer.
  8. Now, please open your camera and pan around the area to show us where you are right now. Do you live in this area? Do you work around here? Is there another reason why you’re here? Please explain your answer.
  9. Please walk to the restaurant you found. Once you have reached your destination, please move on to the next task.
  10. What is your impression of the exterior of this restaurant? Does it meet your expectations? Open your camera and show us the restaurant.
  11. Please describe your overall impression of the Yelp app you used today. What did you like or dislike about your experience?

Ever wonder how people look for a bite to eat?

Here are a few clips of how the restaurant search went for some of our users:

What the Yelp app does really well

Participants liked Yelp because it offered all the important information they would need to choose a restaurant or other local business: hours, ratings, phone numbers, a map feature, etc.

Users liked having the option to filter search criteria, despite admitting that filtering wasn’t always easy or intuitive.

The users felt like the pictures and reviews in Yelp helped to set realistic expectations of what they would actually encounter when they arrived at the restaurant in person.


Another big bonus for Yelp users is the fact that it’s available on every device. The folks in our study told us they tend to use Yelp’s desktop website at home or at work, and then pull up the app on their smartphones when traveling or leaving work.

An area that could use refinement

Because there is so much information available in Yelp, our participants pointed out that having filters is a necessity—but the filters can get a little overwhelming and confusing. Before starting the test, several people expressed that the filtering options were the most confusing part of the app.

One person reported that she often had trouble filtering by certain criteria like type of cuisine, and this test was no exception:

Another user emphasized that filtering options based on location was difficult to do:

“I found it difficult to filter by what was close to me. I would have liked it if that were a bit more intuitive.” – Female test participant, 23, United States

The benefit of destination testing

    Because we ran this study with users walking around on the street, it felt like we were actually walking alongside our users as they took action. We got realistic feedback on how users interact with the app’s features in a distracting setting like a busy street while they’re hungry. We also got to see users interacting with the map and directions in real time.

    This is the closest thing to remote ethnography that I can imagine, and it opened my eyes to other scenarios that I’d like to explore to get an even broader understanding of how useful Yelp—and other apps that rely on location—can be.