Before Yelp came along, Zagat was one of the most revered restaurant review guides. The premise of Zagat's guides is simple; customers fill out reviews which are aggregated both as a small blurb and as an average of scores in several categories. While Zagat was never as prestigious as a Michelin rating, it certainly influenced many a dining decision over the years.
One of the main goals of the Zagat guide, as stated by the founders, is to collect and organize reviews to enable customers to make informed decisions. Zagat has grown from one guide for restaurants in New York to over 70 cities, covering food, lodging, travel, and entertainment. It's almost like Zagat was the original social network - they even distribute stickers for merchants to place on their doors just like Yelp and Foursquare do now.
Yesterday, Google announced that they intend to purchase Zagat. While this announcement seemingly comes out of left field, it actually makes so much sense it is a wonder that it didn't happen sooner. Google's mission statement is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible." While restaurant reviews in NYC is a much smaller scope, the original intent of the Zagat guide was also to organize information and make it useful.
Even more importantly, however, is Google's increasing reliance on user reviews to power Local Search and Shopping. Google used to rely on third party sources to provide these reviews. As social networking and peer interactions became the way of web 2.0, Google started to cultivate their own database of user reviews. These reviews became more important in how local search results and shopping results would rank.
It only makes sense then that instead of slowly and methodically imploring users to write reviews, Google essentially purchased that content. In doing so, Google has filled in a large gap in their library of reviews. Google now has the ability to take some of the most trusted user reviews in the industry and spread that content to every corner of the internet.
It will be interesting to see how Google uses this new content aside from just adding to the Places and Maps listings. Will it help with rankings? Will it help with organic listings? Only time will tell what Google has in store for Zagat, but it's safe to say that this was definitely a smart acquisition that actually makes sense for Google's business model.