Adios, Urbanspoon, Hello Zomato?
If you're like literally thousands of other food bloggers, you had been exchanging reciprocal links with Urbanspoon until the end of May, when Zomato, the new owners of the service, finally closed it down. Zomato purchased Urbanspoon at the beginning of the year, and while some of us were braced for some considerable changes, the breadth of them was still quite a surprise.
To backtrack, let's talk about the terrific deal that Urbanspoon brought to the blogging community. Just the traffic alone was a great one; by displaying an Urbanspoon badge on a blog, with a link to Urbanspoon's page about the restaurant being reviewed, Urbanspoon maintained a link to the blog, guaranteeing the possibility of traffic far into the future of the post being buried in a blogger's website.
To be fair, in some cases, this was of minimal benefit to bloggers; any one blog's link to, say, Schwartz's in Montreal, possibly the most written-about restaurant in North America, was only one of hundreds on Schwartz's Urbanspoon page, and any traffic that
came to the blog was short-lived, as new reviews pushed older posts further down, or off page one entirely. Also, in small markets where Urbanspoon was used less, it didn't bring many referrals. But in larger cities with an active and engaged foodie community like Atlanta, Chicago or Seattle, just to name a few, a new review on Urbanspoon's front page guaranteed several
dozen visits a day. Everybody wanted to be one of those "top 3" most recent blog posts, because it meant a steady stream of clicks.
But perhaps the best and most popular feature was the blogger leaderboards. These provided the only objective ranking of blogs, even though the methodology was slightly flawed - they measured views within Urbanspoon, not actual blog traffic - and, consequently, a solid ranking number that bloggers could point to with authority. This encouraged competition and friendly rivalries, which was great fun, and many of us made new friends through them. They were also used by marketers for restaurants, PR firms, and by convention & visitors' bureaus to find active bloggers in each region.
On June 1, Zomato announced "there is no spoon," a take on the movie The Matrix, and changed everything. We've reached out to Zomato multiple times for comment on these changes, but the company has declined to respond. Blogger reviews are much harder to find on Zomato than on Urbanspoon, and the leaderboards have been completely
revamped. Now, each review of a restaurant - any restaurant - within the last six months earns one single point. A story from the most anticipated restaurant launch from a city's best-known chef counts as much as a report about a burger from a fast-food chain in that city's most remote suburb. Anything that a blogger had written prior to the last six months no longer counts for anything.
If your blog has not visited a particular metro in the last six months, then your blog vanishes from the city's leaderboard. For
bloggers who write regularly about restaurants in a single metro, it's not an insurmountable change, but for travelers with a footprint in many cities, it is certainly a blow. As for traffic, several of our peers have stated, both to us and to Zomato via the company's Facebook page, that they are not seeing any clickthroughs from Zomato.
With traffic at a standstill, it's probably a good idea to look at how you've been getting visitors, and modify your tactics to accommodate the loss of clicks from Urbanspoon. Take a fresh look at your SEO strategies, and double-down on your social media presence. If there are restaurants that you know well and can recommend, register for and keep an eye on foodie forums like Chowhound and Roadfood and look for opportunities to link to your stories. Remind all your non-foodie friends of your hobby or business (ahem, Facebook shares of recent posts on your personal page) and ask them to give you a social push to their contacts, and if you're not having "eat-ups" with bloggers in your area, now's the time to start!
Also, while everybody has their fingers crossed, hoping that Zomato will resume "normal operations," it would not hurt to look at other, similar operations for opportunities. A Japanese restaurant guide, Tabelog, has recently started operations in the US and Canada (www.tabelog.us ), and while it is still very early hours for this company, there's some optimism that it might replace Urbanspoon as a good partner to bloggers. They're not the first to try and claim some of Urbanspoon's goodwill (Anybody remember Foodio 54?), but in this climate they might evolve into something useful.