Ever since Google discontinued using third party reviews on Places, we all knew it was only a matter of time before they bought their way back to relevance and this week they did just that. After an unsuccessful attempt to initiate a buyout a few years back, Zagat has officially been purchased by Google. This will most certainly change the social review landscape as we know it.
This purchase can certainly bring Google Places back to a relevant service as soon as Google reintegrates Zagat reviews into the service. The problem, however, comes with the credibility of Zagat. For years they have been the independant, unbiased review site and publication for restaraunts. That will all change once Google puts themselves in charge of the brand.
How might this change the way many people find new places to eat? Hit the break to find out.
Google has desperately wanted to be relevant in the social ratings market, but has never seemed to quite gain the footing they needed. They started by trying to buy Places competitor Yelp, but Yelp wasn't selling. Then, instead of trying to compete directly, Google started indexing their competitors' content, thereby presenting it with their own. This certainly made Google Places a relevant way to find information about locations, but not a great way for the competitors (namely Yelp) to stay in business.
Several weeks ago, Google announced that they would no longer be using indexed content in their Places results, so purchasing Zagat is a great way for them to get their review count back to a place where people might use Places again. Add to that the investigation by the federal government into Google's anti-competitive behaviors and their tendency to promote their own content over more relevant results from competitors and you can start to see why Google needed this.
Zagat, on the other hand, stands to lose a lot of credibility in the deal, again because of Google's bias. For places that Google wants to promote (or places that are paying Google to promote them) will probably start showing up higher on search results. We might even start seeing Google supressing negative reviews for companies who pay them, or supressing positive reviews of their competitors. Google has done this type of thing before, they will do it again and with their new social search options, they can very specifically target those alterations per user.
The real question that comes out of all of this is, will anyone care? Zagat has certainly never been a name young people have thought of when they think of reviews, that honor seems reserved for Yelp. With Google backing them and in integration into Google's products, they possibly will gain some traction but will it be enough? Only time will tell.