Wine, Google, & Zagat

Google plays a centerpiece role with wine enthusiasts searching the web for quality wine content.  Google is not always efficient though, since wine sites figuring neatly into the search engine’s algorithms are too often commercial content aggregation sites. It’s predictable and annoying.  These sites are more suited to sell you a wine than tell you what you’re trying to find out about it. Because of ongoing content aggregation and new offering updates, these sites build authority with Google and dominate page one returns.  Search Monbousquet and see what I mean.

Guys like Doug Cook hint at solving this challenge, working on behalf of the greater wine community with his ablegrape vertical search project.  His site distills the valuable from the commercial. So if Google’s algorithms can’t and don’t, and continue to challenge wine enthusiasts by understandably returning content rich commercial sites, what is going to happen now that they are in the wine business?

Last month, in case you missed it, Google acquired Zagat.  Zagat has just announced their new wine club. Will this commercial venture, and the wines they sell, figure “preferably” into search returns? Google denies AdWords clients receive preferential organic search treatment to reward their spend with the search engine.  I have seen strong examples to challenge that claim, yet it is impossible to prove.  Some media experts suggest Google might have big ideas about the content business and the Zagat deal feeds their progress. Is it so crazy to also speculate about tainted organic wine search results in the instances where it might benefit Google’s new commercial wine venture?

Wine clubs don’t sit well with me in the first place.  I’ll pick my own wines, thank you.  They get in the way of personal preference and touch that figures into the unique organic growth of my cellar.  With Zagat now in the Google portfolio, is the opportunity to sell wine to the world of internet users large enough to further obfuscate the discovery of relevant wine content on the web? Between the plethora of commercial seller content added to the web every day and now Google’s (first?) commercial investment in wine, will the best wine content suffer from deeper organic search suppression when it benefits Google economically?

Google controls the largest online shopping center in the world.  I have to believe that I am not alone contemplating Google’s investment in offline commercial ventures like Zagat and their new wine club might be unfair to competitors, content creators, and consumers reliant on organic search discovery?  I can’t imagine Google would undermine their search experience to sell a few extra bottles of wine, but would anyone ever really know? Certainly, the one thing I can do in response now that Google is in wine business is to boycott their Zagat Wine Club.  Not only because I hate wine clubs in general.  For me, it’s a satisfying way to register my complaint about the weak search experience that already exists for wine content searchers and creators before they decided to get into the wine business themselves.

  • http://twitter.com/DrinkInsider Drink Insider

    Definitely some good thoughts here, Adam. I’m interested to see how Google’s most recent “Panda” changes will hurt or help search within categories like wine, to help push down content aggregators and bring up to the surface more relevant content. And, with that, I also wonder what kind of levers Google is pulling for the growing legion of websites and companies that they have a vested interest in, such as Zagat. Will be interesting to watch and see if/how search results change over the coming months.

  • Anonymous

    Terry, you pose really good questions. I am not sure the Panda algorithm update will have much affect on the aggregators if they are repurposing the content correctly and if they are just crowd sourcing or adding unique content, which most are. Agreed, this monopoly search tool that Google can unleash on acquired online businesses can be a big advantage if they improve their search discovery in some way unavailable to non Google businesses. I guess all we can do is watch. We need to cheer on Doug and ablegrape to make vertical search more popular in the world of wine.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2L77VPOGHWV3EIZX4HL2Q625AI Jason Phelps

    Adam,

    I think the problem here is the same problem you’ve pointed about about topics like wine blogging and wine discovery before, the majority of the people who are looking for wine information are not really enthusiasts so they don’t really care what comes of what issues like this. I find that fact to be sad and am often just as disturbed and the same things you are. We could do so much more.

    The problem is that until a large community makes it publicly known that they are being under-served by the wine industry and those that provide information about it, nothing is going to change. And they would need to do this with their money for any real impact. The sales numbers don’t support that from the cracked perspective folks with them in hand come from at the current time. Real wine enthusiasts are such a small community so any amount of under-service seen by them is in the last few percent of what the establishment thinks it has to do to provide, so they don’t.

    Jason

  • http://www.vtwinemedia.com/ BurroBoy

    I have wondered for some time how much we can really expect out of Google search responses when looking for quality content. Most of the upgrade in content delivery is now gearing towards individual targeting based on preference, which runs counter to the adventurous part of wine discovery, where we wish to go beyond known boundaries ( and I might not necessarily ‘like’ what my friends ‘like’ either, nor wish to trend with moscato, however tasty it is).
    I’ve been mulling on the idea of content concentration for a while now…I wonder if the wider online wine community needs to aggregate its own critical mass of quality content, delineate content relationship links, present it in a format that the search engines can index efficiently, and allow the engines to be the “point of sale’ for the information.
    For years, Google was the best way for me to surface Microsoft technical material from the knowledge base, when I was doing field work…could we do the same for wine?

  • Anonymous

    Jason, Google rules and that just might come back to bite not only wine enthusiasts, but the large cadre of unspoken web marketers that rely on search for business results. I agree with you that a small special interest group like winos have little chance of advancing their agenda around relevant content discovery.

  • Anonymous

    BurroBoy, thanks for your thought provoking comment. It seems to me the social graph already figured into the search engine’s algorithms so the move to bring it to the forefront via the user interface seemed inevitable. I guess we will always know what wines our friends like…and if we keep the right friends that might not be such a bad thing:-) …getting at the content that expands our knowledge base and orientations is exactly on point. Did you ever search for a remote winery’s website in some small appellation somewhere in Europe? It is impossible to find because of all the review sites and seller sites aggregating content. Whether we can band together in some way or whether Doug Cook’s idea on vertical search will prevail, something needs to give to make search more relevant to folks like us.

  • http://www.vtwinemedia.com/ BurroBoy

    I hear you…I have definitely been there, sifting through piles of results where the only real information is the price being asked. I’m stubborn, so sooner or later I can dig up something from small producers (even if it is in the native language, or I am only leveraging a google image link into a Flash Only site…egads!) Yes, it can be a terrible challenge…for those in the trade or education, we have to be motivated to dig deeper, but can that be asked of the average consumer who is becoming more curious?

    I am fantasizing about some kind of a hybrid content/search model which includes the query specificity that AbleGrape is pursuing, while also doing human based aggregation in a wiki-like environment, which in turn spokes out from topics to on-point resources, not useless sales pages.
    The only real ‘utility’ for those sales pages is actual purchase.

    As with the AbleGrape, and any venture of this type, the real challenge is finding the funding (or pure sweat investment) for the design and development of the platform, the revenue to keep it performing, and building the loyalty of the user base.

    Sounds a little like starting a vineyard and winery. ;)

    Cheers,
    Todd – VT Wine Media

  • Ksauro

    Adam,

    no one knows Google Algorithims better than Google. So they have the upper hand always. What’s to say they can’t suck up as many Google ad words as possible to drive traffic? I think of the SEo value You Tube has, now this? What;s next Amazon.com?