Google, Zagat, and Frommers: Where does Charlottesville come in?

C-VILLE news wire. File photo. C-VILLE news wire. File photo.

Google announced August 13 that it’s buying travel guide company Frommers, and plans to use the brand to build up its local search results. The search engine giant is already doing just that with content from Zagat, which it bought last year—ratings from the famous review guide will soon be folded into Google listings for restaurants in Charlottesville and around the country.

As Wall Street Journal and New York Times bloggers have pointed out, the $25 million Frommers buy signals a further shift by Google from user-generated content to curated search results created in part by editors working behind the scenes under brand names that carry some weight.

Megan Headley, C-VILLE’s own food and wine editor, is part of that shift. She was hired in April to create what’s likely to be an online-only, Google-search-oriented Zagat guide for our area. Google also tapped local experts to create similar guides in Richmond and Virginia Beach, and is in the process of wrapping up the survey stage of the project (the surveys were supposed to close earlier this month, but Headley says you’ve still got time to fill one out for the Charlottesville guide if you’re interested).

Zagat ratings are already showing up in Google results in major markets (search for Jean Georges in New York and there it is under the map listing, a little maroon 28 out of 30). The partnership with the famous restaurant review guide makes sense, Headley said—Zagat’s ratings are fueled by diner opinions, and Google’s search algorithm is fundamentally democratic.

The marriage with Frommer’s is a little more off the beaten path, and indicates Google is trying to hit on the right blend of information sources in its quest to solidify its status as the go-to place for all knowledge. It’s a formula everybody in media is chasing, Headley said. Google, bloggers, print publications—those with the info are trying to figure out how best to come at readers online, and stay afloat in the process.

Not only are they trying to figure out what people want, and how much and how fast, “but also how to make money on it,” Headley said. “That’s the weird place we are right now.”