Google Hotpot: Two Primary Implications

Filed in Featured, Google, Local Search by Matt McGee on November 16, 2010 10 Comments

places_w_hotpot_logoYes, 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.

Final Thoughts

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?

Comments (10)

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  1. Ruth Henry says:

    I think they are trying to target that Foursquare market. I am hoping that Foursquare still continues to grow as Google already has a monopoly as far as I am concerned and already monitor consumers too much already with the ads and picking up our locations amongst other things….Hopefully though it will make people go out more and enjoy life in order to review and rate instead of sitting in front of a PC. Obviously the reviews can lack validity like any review based on competitors dirty tactics, personal grudges etc.

  2. Ted Paff says:

    I agree that one of the biggest implications to this is the additional local signals that are generated. That said, they could get lots of it simply by adding support for additional hReview attributes.

    The hard part for me to understand is why would I replicate my social graph in google? If ownership of my social graph remains an asset of Facebook, I think local/social is theirs to loose. (ok, lots of hyperbole in their but you get the drift)

  3. Matt McGee says:

    Ted, I think the problem with hCard and similar stuff is that the only people who know what it is are web geeks. If you go out to any typical small market Chamber of Commerce luncheon and ask 100 SMB owners if they know what hCard is and/or if they use it, you’re gonna get a TINY amount of “yes” replies. There’s not enough signal there outside of the geek crowd. I tend to think they’ll get a lot more local signals via efforts like Hotpot, but we’ll see.

    And you’re right about the separate friend networks and such. Definitely makes it a bit more of a hill to climb, but I think they’re very cautious after the mistake of automatically connecting Buzz to the existing Gmail contacts.

  4. Kristinn says:

    One of my clients has limited funds, so I tell them to focus on Google search with content development. Then you have Facebook and Twitter which seem to be necessary in peoples minds, but I consider them much lower value than Google search. How much effort should be made with things like Hotpot? What I say to them is do the high value activities and then work in lower value activities as time and money become available. I put Hotopt at low value, especially for plumbers and electricians and those kinds of businesses. As the online marketing activity list grows it’s hard to tell where to be if you can’t be everywhere.

  5. Raj says:

    These days Google is entirely focusing on Local results and it is really happy to those who have been doing their efforts even before this emphasis has been taken by Google. Citation’s to a listing has become backbone to its ranking just as quality link score ranks in normal results. And to your point on Local Signals, yes Google take the support of Web-browser history and Maps History to provide user specific information to Local Searches.

  6. mark James says:

    The only part of this that concerns me is the reviews of local business. We all know that on holiday sites for example companies get their staff to post good reviews etc.

    So what if two indian restaurants decide to try and give each other a bad reputation and get staff to say how bad the food and service was at another restuarant.

    This really is an area that cannot really be controlled and could result in people not going to that place because of the bad reviews.

    In theory of course the real and good reviews should always out number the fake ones – but this cannot be guaranteed and this does cause some concern – what do people think?

  7. Having looked at Hotpot I can see how useful it is going to be for Google and if enough people add reviews then it COULD even begin to affect rankings (come on, Google, admit it) but I have to agree that there isn’t going to be much take up on this – unless Google figure out a more friendly and mobile way of reviewing places. That might make it more Yelp / Foursquare-esque and acceptable to the general public.

  8. Matt writes:

    If you go out to any typical small market Chamber of Commerce luncheon and ask 100 SMB owners if they know what hCard is and/or if they use it, you’re gonna get a TINY amount of “yes” replies.

    Uh-oh… I’m supposed to be that TINY amount of yes replies. Instead I ask myself.. WTH is hCard? After looking it up on wikipedia I then ask myself.. did I miss a crucial post here on SB SEM?

    Looking foward to learning more about hCard – thanks in advance.

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