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Yelp has officially opened shop in Australia www.yelp.com.au, with a little help from Telstra, as part of its progressive international expansion plans.

The Australian expansion features a first for the US site in its partnership with Telstra’s directories arm Sensis.

Yelp traditionally does not partner with local carriers or directories companies but Yelp co- founder and CEO Jeremy Stoppelman said it was important for the Australian launch to get accurate business data as it was difficult to acquire.

“This is the first time that we have worked with a traditional Yellow Pages company but in Australia it is particularly hard to access business data,” he said.

Under the deal Sensis will provide 1 million business listings that allow Yelp to ready the site for launch.

The local site, which at launch will be concentrating on Melbourne and Sydney, went live this morning attracting flurry of grumbles from the Twitterverse.

Key detractors pointed out that the search functionality was lacking a strong degree of accuracy.

“ "Pub" search in Cronulla doesn't yield a single result from Cronulla. Or the entire Southerland Shire. You're kidding, right? #YelpAU”; and “Searched for "bar", get results for newsagents. Relevant. #YelpAU” or “A #yelpau search for Pizzas in Neutral Bay gives me results in Pyrmont, Newtown & Bondi Beach on 1st page. This is not good.”

It is unclear why these glitches have occurred but the fact that Sensis is only supplying 1 million business names would suggest that Yelp to attract a lot of UGC to provide comprehensive search coverage.

Sensis CEO Bruce Akhurst unfortunately said in the launch release, “it’s our job to ensure Yellow Pages advertisers can be found where their consumers are looking and our partnership with Yelp is another example of how we’re extending our advertisers’ reach.”

The second element of Yelp’s relationship with Sensis will cover outsourced online sales. Stoppleman said that Sensis would start selling on Yelp’s behalf once the Yelp community has built enough content to get audience traction, but could not predict how long that would take or give any audience measurement predictions.

Stoppleman has been in Australia this week for the launch and said that the company, which launched in 2004, had also had Australian on its target destination list.

“We wanted to come here for quite some time, the language and cultural similarities are appealing and what works in the US should translate to the Australian market,” he said. The recommendation and search site has already expanded to Canada, UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Spain.

The company is keeping its local investment to a minimum hiring only two dedicated staff at this point but using the wisdom of the crowds to populate its site.

In pre-launch phase, Yelp initiated the rollout of a “scouting ” programme, where local bloggers were hired to review the most popular businesses in their areas across several cities.

Yelp has already hired a community manager in Melbourne is looking for one in Sydney, both will be ‘local ambassadors’ for Yelp managing all online affairs and being present offline at Yelp community events.

Stoppleman could not discuss what Yelp would be doing with the proceeds of it’s $US100 million IPO which was lodged last week, as they are currently listing blackout period but did not rule out looking at acquisitions down the track. Yelp has already attracted a raft of venture capital including $AU95 million from Bono’s Elevation Partners.

“We aim to bring Yelp to the entire world if we can. We have been prioritising cultural closeness but we do want to be everywhere,” he said. Yelp has yet to commit to any local infrastructure investment plans but said that they would be watching the performance of their network closely for any signs of sluggishness. They currently use Akamai “to push things along quickly.” ®

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