Search Giant Google Steps into Publishing

As news began circulating today about Google’s purchase of Zagat (see the official Google Blog post from this morning by Marissa Mayer, Google’s VP, Local, Maps and Location Services), the accusations began to fly.

“Google has taken its clearest step into the content business yet,” writes SFGate.com’s James Temple in his latest Tech Chronicles piece, as he clearly sees the move as a dramatic about-face for “a company that has long touted itself as an objective search engine.” Temple cites Google’s recent history of prominently featuring its own products (Youtube videos, Google Maps) on SERPs over similar ones offered by competitors while asking the million dollar question: “Now that Google owns Zagat … will it favor those reviews over those created by competitors?”

Mayer is unequivocal in her take on what the purchase of Zagat, which in recent years has expanded its Web offerings and even dipped into the mobile app sphere, means to Google’s location-based initiatives: “Moving forward, Zagat will be a cornerstone of our local offering – delighting people with their impressive array of reviews, ratings and insights, while enabling people everywhere to find extraordinary (and ordinary) experiences around the corner and around the world.” What she means, of course, is that Google will have its own content and further lessen its reliance on curated content from review sites like Yelp and OpenTable; moreover, Reuter’s Edwin Chan notes, the move will provide a huge boost to Google’s mobile usage, as users will likely be more inclined to use Google Maps to find restaurants.

Who’s Impacted?
Users. In the very near future, we may well find our searches for terms like “Upper West Side Italian restaurants” dominated by dining spots with Google Places listings … in other words, Google won’t just help us indentify restaurant, as Fox News notes, it’s going to connect us to certain ones.

For business owners, this sends a clear message that they need to claim ownership of their Google Places pages (hey, they’re free), check them frequently for accuracy, and make sure their businesses are represented as robustly as possible – Google allows image uploads, full contact info, etc. This is one of those cases where it’s far better to be in the game than not.

Users and businesses aside, sites like Yelp, which Google attempted to buy in 2009, and OpenTable seem to be the largest losers today, as many in the industry predict content from those sites will begin sinking in the rankings as Google Places gathers a stronger, more sustainable foothold. Market proof: when news broke about the purchase this morning, shares of OpenTable tumbled almost 11%.

Of course, next in the scope are enterprises like Groupon and FourSquare, which have cleverly capitalized on the local business market by offering customers coupons and special deals for interacting with businesses through those sites. With newly-enhanced local business coverage (not to mention the clout its name carries), Google clearly has its eyes set on selling more ads to local and independent business owners.

Joey Hall
VP, EnVeritas Content Creation Center

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