Most tech companies have no idea what to do about the creation and management of content. Google proved that with Zagat and other acquisitions, so it is good to see it in the hands of a content-first company.
— Kristen Hawley
Google is poised to sell its Zagat review business to The Infatuation, the New York Times reported. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The company intends to keep Zagat as a separate brand, according to the report.
The Infatuation, a nine-year-old ratings and review site, rose to prominence with its model of no-fuss “reviews for the people” and heavy reliance on social media. According to Infatuation CEO Chris Stang, the company plans to use Zagat content as a user-generated complement to its review content.
Google purchased Zagat for $151 million in 2011, giving the search engine a cache of expert reviews of restaurants, nightclubs, and retail stores in over 100 markets with which to fight off Yelp’s growing power in local listings as well as counter what was at that time a rapidly growing local deals threat from brands including Groupon.
In January, Reuters reported that Google was searching for a buyer for Zagat, after letting the brand slowly wither through shrinking coverage, halting most publishing, and killing Zagat’s distinctive ratings system.
Google’s Content Game
Most notably, Google has used Zagat’s content to augment its Maps product, providing quick access to restaurant reviews. But after eight years, Google seems confident in its own reviews product, which it has built into an integral part of its search offerings.
“Reviews and place recommendations are really important to Google Maps, so if they are selling Zagat it says to me that they feel confident in their new review systems,” said Skift senior research analyst Seth Borko.
A recent Skift report gives more perspective on Google’s approach to user-generated review content:
When this approach [acquiring Zagat, Frommers, and others] proved slow to move the needle, Google shifted to crowdsourcing information from its community of local guides, who add, review, and correct location information. Google now has 50 million local guides, up from just five million in 2016, who are adding 700,000 new places to Maps a month — and 95 percent of these new locations are outside the U.S. This approach is augmented by algorithms such as when, just over a year ago, Google added areas of interest to its maps.
While a competing review platform may seem like an unlikely place for Zagat to land, according to The Infatuation the deal provides Zagat room to grow. According to the company’s release, “Zagat will expand user surveys and develop a new tech-driven platform that will create a stronger, more meaningful alternative to other crowdsourced restaurant reviews.”