The engineers at Google have recently been throwing a lot of new ingredients into local search, working to improve both user experience and merchant visibility. This week’s announcement of a new local recommendation engine called Hotpot is the latest culmination of those efforts.
Hotpot is an extension of Google Places, the local search database of more than 50 million locations in which merchants can claim their businesses, provide their addresses and other information, and engage with customers. Hotpot adds two important new features into the mix: user ratings and recommendations from friends.
The ratings are done on a five-star system, and a user can share a business’ ratings to get further recommendations from friends. One example of this would be if a user is visiting a town for the first time and has an online friend that has also visited that town or is a local resident. That friend’s recommendations for restaurants and hotels will provide an added, trusted element to the ratings the user discovered during the original search.
Google’s new feature is not exactly new in that it essentially provides the same service as Yelp and other local-recommendations services, but it confirms Google’s growing interest in local search – not to mention some poorly named new features lately. The mere fact that Google Places provides Hotpot with a database of 50 million businesses out of the gates means that it may very well catch on – and local businesses that aren’t already in that database should change that right away.