Reviews are Important to Google
Google has been innovating two major products recently, both that can benefit from reviews: Google Plus and Google Places. Reviews have risen to the top of the wish list for what Google hopes to draw more eyeballs to these services. Obviously, trusted reviews can drive sales and traffic to a site and for Google this can both lead to monetization of ads. Obviously, Google has been trying to either build or buy a review site for some time. In the past, they did try to buy Yelp, but that deal fell through. So now they decided to beef up their own review assets and buy premium review sites such as Zaget that can lead to high quality, highly relevant reviews that can be shared with the masses.
Google has made a major change to how it utilizes reviews for Google Places. Up until recently, Google pulled reviews from external sites such as Yelp, Insider Pages, etc and served them to visitors of Google Place listings. This has changed. Now, only reviews created through a Google account or product will be served up for Google Place business listings. This means for those businesses that want their listing to rank high and be relevant, they now have to push their customers to create reviews on Google. Reviews on Yelp and other review sites will no longer be integrated into the results for Google Place listings.
Local Search and Reviews
One of the most popular categories when it comes to local search is restaurants, clubs and bars. Zagat, while a fee based review site does have some of the most respected and relevant reviews available. This is a big deal for Google. These high quality reviews- like high quality content can drive visitors to Google instead of other review sites. While Zagat is currently fee based and closed to the public, I think within a short period of time, many of these reviews will be viewable to the masses.
What this Purchase Says About Google
The purchase of Zagat by Google definitely cements the fact that Google is serious about Social and Local search. Up until recently, it was nationwide businesses or businesses with a big reach that did well online and advertised on the web. With Google Places and local search, small mom and pop businesses can also leverage the web for traffic and increased business. Using content such as high quality local restaurant reviews, Google can offer content that pretty much no one else has access to. Because Zagat is fee based, the quality of reviews should be immeasurably higher- there are usually no spammy reviews or family & friend reviews that can skew expectations.
For SEO/SEM Professionals
If you are currently working with local businesses, then definitely consider reviews- specifically reviews created on Google as a major aspect of a local campaign. It is also important to note that reviews on other sites will not be integrated into the Google ecosystem. That doesn't mean that reviews on sites such as Yelp, etc are useless, but it does mean that an effort should be made to drive the bulk of your reviews to Google- where hopefully they will not only be seen, but counted and utilized for ranking purposes.