As part of a launch of new Google Local features on Thursday, Google Inc. is tapping into Web reviews to provide a snapshot of the online ratings and comments about restaurants, shops and other local business, Google executives said during an interview here at the Search Engines Strategies 2005 Conference & Expo.
Google also has begun to display structured data, such as hours of operation and payment methods, within business listings and has switched the maps within local results to its recently released Google Maps instead of external providers.
The local reviews are similar to the features Google recently added for viewing and searching product reviews on its Froogle site and for retrieving movie reviews, said Marissa Mayer, Googles director of consumer Web products. With Google Local, the reviews include a red, yellow or green icon to indicate if a review was negative or positive.
While reviews of restaurants are likely to be prevalent, Google also can extract reviews about other types of businesses. Users can search within a set of reviews, a feature that Mayer said could be used to find the popular dishes served at a particular restaurant.
"We broadly look at Web sites with reviews information and associate it with businesses," Mayer said.
Googles recent focus on Web reviews was born of a project by a group of interns last summer, Mayer said. They had developed a reviews search engine for identifying reviews, categorizing and scoring them, and the interns work serves as the technical basis of the recent product launches.
Using the reviews engine, Google is able to discern the most common phrases appearing in a set of reviews. The company will display those in a left-side panel alongside reviews results, including in local search, Mayer said.
To incorporate structured data into local results, Google is both extracting data from the Web and tapping feeds from undisclosed business-listings providers, a spokesman said.
The Mountain View, Calif. company also is investigating ways to allow businesses to update some data, such as addresses or phone numbers, Mayer said.
"Its something we should do, and were doing a limited test [of it]," Mayer said.
Competitor Yahoo Inc. started a local submission program in December for businesses to update their local listings. It included a paid option for adding photos and more detailed information.