Google’s acquisition of ZAGAT is all about original content

Posted on September 8, 2011 10:08 am by | Content Curation | Media | Search | Social Media

Media, social and mainstream alike, are abuzz with Google’s acquisition of ZAGAT, which was a curator of diners’ reviews of restaurants (along with hotels, theatears, golf courses andmore) before the World Wide Web existed. According to Local, Maps and Location Services VP marissa Mayer, writing on the official Google blog:

Zagat will be a cornerstone of our local offering—delighting people with their impressive array of reviews, ratings and insights, while enabling people everywhere to find extraordinary (and ordinary) experiences around the corner and around the world.

What this comes down to is original content. In their letter to customers, ZAGAT founders Nina and Tim Zagat wrote, “After spending time with Google senior management discussing our mutual goals, we know they share our belief in user-generated content and our commitment to accuracy and fairness in providing users with the information needed to make smart decisions about where to eat, shop and travel.”

The move adds to Google’s growing collection of original content properties, including Google+, with its stream of original user-generated content that feeds into search results, and Think Quarterly, a print publication with an online version, providing long-form content designed to inspire thinking and provoke discussion.

Clearly, Google believes providing search results of other people’s content isn’t enough. And they’re right. They’re starting to think more like a publisher than an aggregator.

Producing and delivering great content is no longer optional for any organization. The old method—earning coverage by pitching stories to the mainstream press—is getting less and less effective. The size of mainstream news organizations continues to shrink. And when you get a news-packed month like August was (with 7.85% more news stories published than in any August in 10 years), all the coverage of breaking news stories means less space for the stories you were hoping news organizations would cover about your organization.

Just because traditional news organizations are ignoring your stories doesn’t mean they’ll be ignored by readers. A study from Pew Reseach Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that the stories that gain traction in social channels don’t mirror those the press covers. Over the 29-week period of the study, the social media space shared only one top story. What’s more, space limitations keep traditional channels from offering more than broad, top-level categories of stories, while the online space makes room for far more coverage of science, education, green issues, consumer-related conttent, religion, the off-beat and more.

Science, for example, accounts for 10% of stories covered by blogs but just 1% of those covered in the traditional press, according to Pew.

The story cycles are shorter online, too. While big news stories may still be trending in traditional news channels a week after they break, online channels move on to new topics far more quickly. Your niche content may never have made it into the mainstream press because it doesn’t fit neatly into one of the defined categories, but it can still get traction online, leading to offline word of mouth.

In the interview I conducted with Jack Holt, the Defense Department senior strategist recounted the great media coverage the military got for one day after launching an initiative to explain some of the positive results coming out of Iraq. The next day, however, Anna Nicole Smith died and the media attention on military accomplishments evaporated. The DOD turned to the military blogosphere, earning great coverage and lots of attention, even when the mainstream press had lost interest in the face of more, um, titillating events.

So Google’s acquisition of ZAGAT should come as no surprise; I’d expect the company, which is sitting on huge cash reserves, to make more content acquisition plays. It should also serve as more evidence of the importance of content to your organization.



  • 1.Great article - I would point out that the recent ruling against Google for co-opting other sites review content is probably the major reason behind this purchase.

    Serena Ehrlich | September 2011 | LA

  • 2.Yes, and since Google is not wed to the banner advertising monetization model, they stand a much better chance of continual funding for great content than say, AOL.

    Robin Fray Carey | September 2011

  • 3.Shel, This is pretty important.
    The divide between the traditional media's view of the world and the public's engagement with a different agenda has a counterpart in consumer interests in products (which is why people tend to be so adverse to corporate and brand messages in their online space).
    What we find is that when self important people try to second guess the interests of a public, they often fail badly.
    The tools we have had todate that allow us to listen have been pretty blunt instruments too.
    The change is one that fundamentally affects how democracy, consumerism and work (among many other things) but we are all far to frightened by the scale of this change that it is really hard to understand.

    David Phillips | September 2011 | United Kingdom

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