Yelp is introducing a new personalization feature that produces custom search results based on each user’s general preferences. Users can set up profiles with their dietary restrictions, lifestyle interests, and accessibility preferences, and places that meet those requirements will be elevated in the app. The function marks the first time that Yelp has offered personalization options, as the company has been expanding its focus beyond food.
Besides dietary, lifestyle, and accessibility options, the app also lets users set more specific interests for restaurants, (like Taiwanese, bubble tea, bakeries), attractions (farmers markets, art galleries), and businesses (home decor, hair salons, nail salons). The “For You” personalization options can be toggled on and off to show up in search results. Yelp says the information customers provide will only be used to “personalize their experience.”
Businesses won’t have to do anything from their end to categorize themselves, as most of the information comes from user-generated reviews, photos, and questions that users have answered after checking in at a location. Yelp says it uses AI and machine learning to extract information from this content, and labels will be applied automatically. Business owners will be able to edit them as well.
“This is not just about an algorithm trying to listen to what you did and make biased decisions about who you are,” Akhil Ramesh, Yelp’s head of consumer product told The Verge. “What we built through personalization is an experience that gives the control to the user.”
It’s a little surprising that these features weren’t available before, but Yelp says it’s introducing them now as the company focuses on becoming a “comprehensive personal concierge.”
Yelp’s ability to learn from user photos and reviews has improved, too, which is what’s now making this possible. “We have high quality, expressive reviews, and a lot of this is unstructured content,” Ramesh said. “In the last two years, our machine learning and AI capabilities have grown immensely, and we’ve been able to tease out lots of great features that we can build on top of this unstructured information.”
The personalization options will begin rolling out to iOS users starting today, and to Android users over the course of the next year.