The cornerstone of Zagat is its reviews and 30-point rating system. For foodies, you know exactly what someone means when they provide a number in reference to the quality of a restaurant. The reviews are thoughtful, vetted and always written with some measure of authority.
People who have come to rely on Zagat as the unimpeachable source for recommendations moved from their printed pocket guides to their online resources, even when they were launched behind a pay firewall. Though Zagat undoubtedly saw real loss of market share to the likes of Yelp, it has nevertheless done a good job of holding its own by sticking to a simple formula: provide consistently high-quality content and ratings.
These reviews and ratings come from more than 350,000 survey-takers around the world. As important, Zagat relies on its own fact-checkers and hundreds of contractors who conduct surveys worldwide. Many of these surveyors have been contributors for years and are very good at what they do. But even for those who may be new or aren't providing content that's up to snuff, Zagat's crack team of fact checkers and other fail-safes have helped it remain a go-to resource for people in search of a wonderful night on the town.
Assuming Zagat was sold to Google for around $100 million, it would be easy to dismiss this as another one of Google's many small acquisitions that don't mean all that much in the bigger scheme of things. But don't make that mistake.
Zagat's high-quality, user-generated rankings will become key to how Google delivers recommendations for restaurants, hotels and other areas that Zagat reviews. The 30-point rating already has broad brand awareness internationally, and Google can easily return results for restaurants in your area with at least a 20-point rating, for instance. This is absolutely essential for local and mobile search, both of which are growing.
"All of these are users wondering where they should go, where they should spend their time, so to be able to offer accurate information is important, and that's why we've been getting focused on reviews," Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president for local, maps and location services, said in an interview.
So Google will now be able to provide Zagat's written reviews on its Google Places pages, with links back to the Zagat site, which Google said it will maintain (together with the "dead tree" version). Also, Zagat's methods for soliciting, aggregating and presenting user-generated reviews and ratings will be something Google can expertly scale across all Places categories.
Such a move will also likely mean Google can stop scraping Yelp and other sources for its reviews and ratings, which has been a source of discord for the respective players over the last couple of years. And because Yelp's reviews and ratings are often the source of bitter disputes themselves, Google can now point to the superior quality of their Zagat reviews and ratings as a key differentiator for Pages.
Quality content, yet again, wins the day.