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Google Maps is the world's biggest funnel to destination-specific information, and it only makes sense to focus content on those users. Whether or not Zagat's distinctive ratings system and brand voice will continue to rise to the top remains to be seen.

Google’s Zagat brand pulled the curtains off a now-free website, as well as a new iOS app and a refreshed Android one, to stand alongside its long-running series of restaurant, shopping, and nightlife print guides.

The new focuses on restaurants and bars in eight U.S. cities and London only. Zagat’s website previously covered over 30 destinations. While listings in other cities that previously existed on the site are still discoverable via an external search, users won’t be able to navigate to them through To supplement the listings content, Zagat online editors have created multiple lists both specific to cities “Great Hot Dog Joints in NYC” and across destinations, as well as features (like Tim Gunn on coffee), Eater-like coverage of restaurant openings, and videos.

Zagat explained the slimming as a way to focus on a consistent experience across cities, and a shift to a digital-first strategy for all of its products. When it rolls out online shopping, hotels, or attractions listings it will do so in all covered destinations, as opposed to only ones covered in print guides. The Zagat team says it will begin adding additional cities throughout the fall and into the spring.

This digital focus goes hand-in-hand with a reduced publishing list that covers the same nine cities users find on Early last week, Zagat began quietly winding down its licensing business which managed custom print guides for corporations and content licensing to third parties.

Focus on Maps

The move, while good for users who want Zagat for free or on their iPhones, signals a slowing of Zagat as a standalone brand under Google. Google paid $151 million for Zagat in September 2011. It paid $22 million for Frommer’s guides in August of the following year. While the Frommer’s name has returned to founder Arthur Frommer, years of content across thousands of destinations, tens of thousands of photos, as well as the editorial team that creates and manages the content, remained at Google.

These editors, along with the Zagat team, work to populate the Maps product with listings information, photos, and descriptions for hotels, restaurants, shops, bars, and attractions around the world. The listings make their way from Maps into the Google Plus product as well.

While the Zagat brand may not seem as strong as its pre-Google days, the content’s influence on diners and drinkers is arguably stronger than ever, thanks to its deep integration into the world’s most popular desktop and mobile mapping service. Zagat reviews and lists make strong showings in local search whether a user is navigating on a map or using Maps new “Explore” feature. Although Zagat reviews have been incorporated into the Maps product for some time, Google has de-emphasized Zagat’s distinctive 30-point listings in favor of a 5-point scale in any product outside of the site or the books, which are now smaller than ever.

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Tags: food and drink, google, guides, zagat

Photo credit: The new, HTML-5 based mobile site on an iPhone. Zagat

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