Exploring Personalization



Updated October 11, 2023
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We’ve now done a surface dive on Yelp. Primarily focusing on Search, briefly popping to the App Store and then returning back and exploring the app via the tab bar navigation.

Next up, I’m curious about how Yelp is trying to improve its recommendations via personalization. As previously mentioned, getting personalization right can be useful for a business as relevant content leads to higher engagement and user retention. However it’s how apps implement personalization that makes all the difference.

Figure: Personalization Entry Points

We briefly covered this in earlier critique but it bears repeating: there are multiple entry points into personalization on pages. In this case, we have Home, Me, and More.

Given the high prominence of the personalization banner on Home, it’s likely this is a main entry point for the feature. I suspect Yelp is trying to temporarily promote the feature in order to drive engagement. Logically having preferences under a Me tab makes the most sense. I suspect “Your Preferences” is included in More in order to promote this feature.

Figure: Browsing Personalization Page

In this case, Yelp is essentially asking the user to complete a survey of what they prefer to do. Tapping “Learn more” gives us an explanation of the feature (2). This all makes sense if a user is choosing options in the “Food & drink” category (1). However things get less clear once we scroll down the page. Are dietary needs, lifestyle, and accessibility preferences (3)?

Figure: Getting Strange Results

What about Hair Salons? My assumption is that if I pick hair salons as a “preference” (1), Yelp will be smart enough to point me to places that are open nearby. The tap interaction feels responsive as the heart on the top right turns red and pops in. I tap on Add preferences and get excited by the drumroll message (2).

Unfortunately it looks like something went wrong somewhere. Not only did I not get any hair salons, but somehow I got suggestions for food delivery (3). If I was a user, I’d lose trust in this feature fast. I suspect this is a bug. Maybe there were no salons available, and Yelp tried to pick the next best option—but it didn’t take my input into consideration.

In general, Yelp does a good job of asking users to provide feedback in bite-sized portions. I wonder if a similar approach can be used here for personalization. It’s useful to have this page as a way to confirm what things I’ve already shared with Yelp. However, filling it all out in one go feels cumbersome.

One way to simplify this interaction is to break up the questions into small chunks that can be sprinkled throughout the app. Alternatively, preferences can be assumed based on user interaction. For example, if I’m searching for restaurants and I have tapped on Indian the last five times I’ve used the app, it should know I prefer this type of cuisine, and show me relevant options.

Ordering From a Restaurant

Now, let’s take a look at one of the Yelp app’s core flows. Imagine I, the user, am looking for a takeout option in a new part of town.

Figure: Getting Takeout

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