Last night – perhaps while you were dreaming about sugarplum fairies – Google did a soft launch of Hotpot. It’s Google’s offering of personalized recommendations for local businesses based on a rating system and your network of friends. Right now, it doesn’t seem to offer anything different than many of the local ratings places out there like Yelp, but that will likely change – more on that in a bit.
What Is Google Hotpot?
If you’re reading this because you’ve heard all the buzz (bad pun intended) about Hotpot and wonder what the heck the thing actually is, the official announcement compares the thinking behind Hotpot to a recipe with three main ingredients:
- Google Places. Everything works off their Google Places Pages for businesses. This tie in makes Google Places (and local SEO in general) even more important to your business. It also marks another example of how Google is putting massive efforts toward monetizing this fastest growing area of search. 98%+ of revenue in one giant AdWords egg does not a diverse basket make.
- Your Tastes. As you rate places, Google will use its algorithm to recommend other places to you based on your history. Based on the description – and this might be incomplete – this factor seems to be more important to people in larger metro areas as it may only be used to provide you recommendations in big cities. For those of us in smaller locales, you kind of already know what’s out there and when something new comes in.
- Your Friends’ Tastes. By giving extra weight to ratings from people in your network, Google is hoping to add that trust factor into its recommendations. It’s certainly a smart way to cut out the easiest forms of social media spam.
Google Addressing Privacy
There has been a lot of buzz (oops, Brittany, I did it again) among local SEOs regarding Google’s recent mysterious move of removing reviewer names, thereby obfuscating instead of creating more transparency and trust in reviews. Along the same time, they started removing select old reviews, which was probably done appropriately in the name of spam reduction, but at least gives one pause as to whether or not this could be used by Google to the benefit of paying customers now that there is no longer a firewall between SEO and paid search, at least as it comes to local.
Well now, the moves make more sense in the larger scheme of their plans for Google Places given this launch of Hotpot. Not saying I agree with the changes or at least how they were handled, but they make more sense.
One of the things I think Google got really right here from an outward facing perspective is that while you have to tie your reviews to a Google Account (thus making it more of a pain to throw up astroturf or negative competitor spam reviews), you can put a different profile name for the world to see on it. Your official friend connections can see your real name and know it’s you, but everyone else gets your Hotpot name. This reduces many of the problems of anonymity while still allowing you to not have to put your official name on something. Personally, I like, for example, using my full, real name (or twitter handle where that can be tied into my profile) when I’m commenting on business stories. But if I want to rant about my favorite teams, I don’t really want that showing up when someone does a Google search on Justin Seibert. Unlike with Buzz, they thought about privacy concerns ahead of the launch this time.
Here’s the evil genius aspect for Google, though: in a cursory review, they’re giving you more privacy to the outside world. But to Google, they collect even more information about you to make even more revenue from targeted ads, not just from businesses becoming more likely to use Tags or Boost with their Places Pages given increased traffic and top-of-mind awareness.
Learn More about Hotpot
To start working with Hotpot, go directly to the source and start playing around. If you’re rockin’ an Android, you can also start playing with it on your phone in the maps.
While Google Buzz hasn’t been overlayed onto Hotpot yet, I would expect this to happen sooner rather than later – or with whatever their Google Me project morphs into. It’s also a great tool for those independent contractors that Google has hired to sell Google Tags – just one more sign of commitment to Places Pages.