Yes, Google’s new “Hotpot” product is a game-changer in local search, but maybe not in the way many think it is. I think it’s more of a game-tweaker on the consumer side. But the implications seem bigger on the industry side, and that’s where I think the game-changing element comes into play. Let me explain….
If you haven’t read it, start with (or end with) Vanessa Fox’s article on Search Engine Land, Google Hotpot: Local Recommendations From Your Friends. There’s also the Google announcement and a separate Android-based mobile announcement.
Right off the bat, I see two primary implications from Google Hotpot:
1. Consumer side: Increased emphasis on social signals in search results.
Ratings and reviews from people that you “friend” in the Hotpot system (which is a separate system from your main Google account/profile) will show up right in the search results. In the image below from Google’s announcement, a friend’s hotel review shows up on a local hotel listing.
That can be a pretty strong enticement/advertisement for the local business. Those reviews and/or ratings will show up in Google Places search results and on individual Place Pages. What it means is that reviews & ratings become an even more important element of local search. A great experience and/or great customer service — reflected through reviews added directly into Google Places — is more important than ever. Maybe not in terms of rankings; Google hasn’t said anything about that. But definitely in terms of encouraging searchers to become customers.
This, to me, is a game-tweaker. The game-changer part is next:
2. Industry side: Increased amount of local signals within Google’s own system
Lack of signal is one of the biggest challenges in local search. If you’ve ever tried to do some local keyword research, you know what “lack of signal” means. There’s just not enough data out there for you.
Google sometimes has similar problems. One of the reasons that local SEO is harder in some markets/industries than others is because Google doesn’t have the same quantity and quality of rankings signals to use. There aren’t a lot of dry cleaners in Walla Walla that have a lot of signals like hCard-formatted address, ratings, reviews, geo-tagged photos, etc.
Hotpot is important for Google because it represents a huge move toward growing their own database of local signals. Look at all the signals Google asked for when I started to rate a restaurant over in Seattle:
It’s getting a rating from me, and then optionally I can add a review and several pieces of sentiment related to food, service, and so forth. That’s a lot of new data, new local signals going directly into Google’s system. And it means they can rely less and less on third party sites for this kind of data.
I think this is the game-changer because Google is pretty darn good at putting together search results when it has a lot of ranking signals to use.
Hotpot, by the way, is pretty fun to use. It’s very Yelp-like in the way that you find and add friends and then see their reviews. (Although, ironically, Yelp doesn’t default to showing me friends’ reviews and ratings when I do searches there. Expect that to be added soon.)
I don’t know if Joe User is going to widely adopt Hotpot and start pumping dozens of new reviews in the system. Doubt that, actually. But even if a relatively small number of users start to do that, it’s still a lot of new local data and signals for Google to process.
Your turn: Agree or disagree with the above? What implications do you see from Hotpot?