Skift Take

If Google is using the "wisdom of the crowds" to determine how it arranges restaurant information in search results then in a lot of ways it believes professional reviews, and especially those from its Zagat franchise, trump user reviews. But when it gets down to displaying the text of diners' reviews, Google unfairly believes that its own consumer reviews are the fairest of them all.

Google is feeding scraps to admirers of TripAdvisor, OpenTable and Yelp’s restaurant reviews on mobile as the search-engine behemoth emphasizes professional reviews from its own Zagat unit and Google user reviews over other popular review sites.

As recode pointed out, the CEOs of TripAdvisor, Steve Kaufer, and Yelp, Jeremy Stoppelman, aren’t taking kindly to getting the Google treatment in that consumers might get finger cramps when scrolling down Google results on their phones trying to find dining reviews from the aggrieved user-generated content duo.

Here’s what’s angering TripAdvisor, Yelp and undoubtedly other competitors.

If you search for “New York restaurants” on your mobile phone, and select Eleven Madison Park, for example, Google begins the review fest with professional reviews starting with Zagat, which Google acquired in September 2011, in the prime, flush-left position, and then the user can scroll right to left to view more reviews from the Michelin Guide, USA Today’s 10Best, and Travel + Leisure.

As you move down the page, then come best-of listicles from the likes of Eater and, Google Street View images, other photos from a variety of sources, a Google Map, and a summary of Google reviews. Google explains the feature here. 

Next in the sort order, moving down the page on your phone, come the Google user reviews replete with ratings, review snippets and photos.

At this point, user dining reviews from the likes of Yelp, OpenTable, TripAdvisor, Facebook and Eater are still so far nowhere to be found. You’d have to continue to scroll down the page past three rows of photos from other restaurants with their Google ratings before Google starts listing Web results.

Web results get no special treatment in terms of their look and feel — unlike the way Google displays its own user reviews.

In the case of Eleven Madison Park restaurant, the first Web links, in order, are from the restaurant’s website, Yelp, OpenTable and then The New York Times. 

In this particular example, TripAdvisor’s restaurant reviews — it has 1,685 for this establishment on TripAdvisor — are totally absent from the Google page, although for other restaurants TripAdvisor reviews were listed down the page in Web results.

Google has come under scrutiny in Europe for favoring its own shopping results over those of competitors, and in the U.S. has repeatedly been criticized by Yelp, TripAdvisor and others over the years for using its dominant power as the largest search engine to tilt users toward its own products such as Zagat and Google user reviews.

In its defense, Google states it is providing the best answers to consumer queries in an efficient and speedy manner — a formula that is especially important in mobile. Google’s critics have tried to demonstrate that these are not the best answers.

There is a lot to munch on here — and the antitrust debate will continue unabated.

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Tags: google, opentable, tripadvisor, ugc, yelp

Photo credit: Google's restaurant review results give critiques from its Zagat unit prime placement. Zagat

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