New Google+ Local with Zagat Ratings: Better Than Yelp?

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Remember last year when Google bought tried-and-true restaurant guide Zagat? Well, apparently it was all leading up to this: Google+ Local.

It’s basically Google’s answer to Yelp, except instead of vague five-star ratings for locations, you’ll get Zagat’s more complete 30-point system, which gives you separate scores for food, decor and service. Google is also — surprise, surprise — pushing integration with Google+ by adding recommendations from friends in search results and listing reviews from Google+ users under each business.

It’s pretty well integrated across all of Google’s other products. While you can reach it directly by clicking on the “Local” tab in Google+, the Google+ Local results also come up when looking for a business in Maps or Search. Another nice feature for Gchat users such as myself is the ability to chat while searching for a business, making it easy to coordinate dinner plans with friends who are online.

There are also strong incentives for businesses to keep up their Google+ profiles. Take the results for the Meatball Shop, a fun restaurant that, coincidentally, opened a second location not too far away from my apartment.

On Yelp, all I get are a bunch of user reviews, a big map and some small tiles leading to a photo gallery. If I want to find substantive information directly from the business, I have to click on the link to the Meatball Shop’s website.

Google+ Local puts everything in one place. Because the business posts on Google+, I can read about specials, see photos from recent events and more directly on its Local page. It also lets me switch easily between photo galleries, videos and basic information about the business. If a restaurant has an indoor Street View photo, I can even take a 360-degree look around the place before deciding to go there.

All in all, Google did a great job of integrating its own products with Zagat’s huge database of surveys and reader submissions. The biggest challenge for Google+ Local is getting people to engage with Google+. Local search lives and dies by user engagement; if nobody is rating business and uploading photos, you’re going to be light on content, even with Zagat’s backlog of ratings and reviews.

Google needs to entice people to interact – not an easy task considering people are pretty ensconced in Facebook and Yelp. If they don’t, Google+ Local will look like a lot of the rest of Google+: pretty, functional and empty.

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