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With Yelp cash-rich and hungry, Qype steps up its game

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European listings site Qype seems to be moving up a gear amid a growing threat from rival businesses.

In an announcement on Friday morning, the Hamburg-based business said it would be offering a free daily deal to all premium business subscribers — and used the offer to underscore its position as Europe’s leading consumer reviews site.

It has, it said, 400,000 active businesses and 860,000 places reviewed across 11 countries, and a healthy 25 million unique users each month. Even more importantly, perhaps, it said growth in advertising on Qype Mobile — which now has around 4 million users — has increased by 500 percent in the past year.

In a statement CEO Ian Brotherston was bullish about the company’s prospects.

“We are experiencing significant, yet responsible growth, thanks in a large part to our investment in mobile. We are successfully helping businesses increase their presence online and on mobile, and building a healthy business with a proven model,” he said. Our revenue growth last year was 93 per cent and we have a clear path to profitability in 2012.”

While this little tidbit of news may have a feelgood factor for the company and its customers, I think it’s clear who the real target of this publicity campaign is: Yelp (s YELP).

The American listings site has been targeting Europe for several years — without massive success. But since it went public in March, in a deal that valued the company at more than a billion dollars, it has got a new weapon: a war chest of nearly $100 million.

So what does this mean for Qype? Well, it’s two years since the company took any funding — and that was a €6.5 million series B from Vodafone Ventures, Advent, Partech and Wellington. Given Brotherston’s statement, we can assume it’s close to profitability — but not quite there yet.

So it looks like the company is showing itself for a reason. Is it the company dressing itself up for another round of investment, to take on Yelp? Or is this a way of touting itself around for a sale?

If so, it seems an awfully passive aggressive way of flirting with Yelp.