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Google buys Zagat to vie with OpenTable, Yelp

A Zagat restaurant guide book is pictured in Los Angeles September 8, 2011. Google Inc has bought popular dining ratings authority Zagat, adding a valuable brand to its content offerings and bolstering its push into the rapidly growing local commerce market. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

By Alexei Oreskovic

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Google Inc has bought popular dining ratings authority Zagat, adding a valuable brand to its content offerings and bolstering its push into the rapidly growing local commerce market.

Local commerce offers services such as finding a discount from a nearby store, or a review of a neighborhood eatery, and the world's No. 1 search engine plans to compete in this market against Yelp and OpenTable.

The deal, for which Google did not provide financial information, gives it valuable content about restaurants, hotels and nightclubs that can be paired with its popular online maps and mobile search services.

Google needs to provide more than just directions to consumers seeking information about restaurants and other local businesses, said Marissa Mayer, Google's VP of Local, Maps and Location services, in an interview with Reuters on Thursday.

"It's also (about) getting them a sense of the place. A sense of what to expect," said Mayer. "Zagat reviews, in a few short lines and a few scores, gives you a great sense of a place very quickly when you're on the go."

The move is part of Google's push to adapt its online services for a world in which consumers increasingly access the Web on mobile phones such as Apple Inc's iPhone and rely on social networking services such as Facebook to get information from friends.

Last month, Google announced plans to acquire mobile phone manufacturer Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion. The deal, if approved by regulators, will allow Google to produce its own line of smartphones based on its Android software.

"A reasonable person would say that Google may never beat apple in product design by itself. At least not for a sustainable period of time. But Google could better integrate content and have that become another reason to buy those devices," said Stifel Nicolaus analyst Jordan Rohan.

The 32-year-old Zagat, which polls consumers and compiles reviews about restaurants around the world, will become a cornerstone of Google's "local offering", Google said.

"This underscores Google's local and mobile initiatives," said Brian Pitz, an analyst at UBS, who expected the acquisition to provide a boost to Google Maps as customers look for restaurants. Last year, Google moved Mayer, a top search executive, to head its local initiatives.

Google needs reviews and other content for its "Google Places" websites, in part to fend off criticism. It has been accused of using comments from review sites such as Yelp, essentially siphoning off their readers and, more importantly, their clicks. Google has toned down its borrowing of comments recently, Pitz said.

The Federal Trade Commission has been looking into the issue as part of a broad antitrust investigation, a source familiar with the probe has said.

The move raises the question of whether the search giant will start its own restaurant reservation service, building on existing ties with restaurants that advertise on it.

The shares of restaurant-booking service OpenTable, which also publishes reviews and ratings, closed down more than 8 percent at $57.50 on Thursday after hitting a low of 54.50 earlier in the day.

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