One of the greatest usability lessons we have learned in the last ten years is that users will most often stick to the path of least resistance.
To that end, many are willing to compromise their privacy in exchange for ease and personalization and features. For example: Facebook and Google sign-in have become part of the natural landscape of user engagement. Because it’s more trouble to have to create yet another account.
The introduction of Google restaurant menu search may just be the greatest threat experienced so far by dominant online restaurant review and menu providers Yelp and Urbanspoon. Considering most people arrive at Yelp via restaurant-specific searches, having Google serve its own menu options with a simple tab-based user experience will certainly cause some pain in terms of traffic to these two market leaders. Those searching for menus will now be fewer clicks away from the desired info, and Google will make sure its feature will take priority over all other organic listings.
(Check out: “Online Restaurant Marketing: Where You Can Post Online Menus”)
Currently, Google is entering this segment without the richness in data, curating services, and value-added services offered by Yelp and Urbanspoon. To be fair, if a customer wants to make a reservation, or if a potential customer wants to make a decision based on a large pool of online restaurant reviews, he will not be able to have a seamless experience with Google alone. On the other hand, it is very probable that users will find the convenience of quickly searching and accessing a menu to be exactly what they were looking for.
As the service becomes more popular, it is possible that consumers will be far more likely to provide reviews and ratings in an environment with no barriers, where the login happens automatically based on their Google and Gmail profiles. To many, this feature alone will be sufficient incentive to engage.
What does this mean for business owners?
As for businesses, this new player presents a unique opportunity to relieve the pressure caused by the rules of moderation associated with Yelp and Urbanspoon. To those who have been the victim of the “hidden review syndrome,” Google, with a culture of self-moderation and peer-to-peer engagement, brings a breath of fresh air to businesses hoping for the opportunity to have a fair consumer-based assessment of their services and products.
Nobody knows what the future holds for Google’s new restaurant menu search feature. But given the sheer size of all other Google products, plus the search engine giant’s ability to display their own products with priority over organic search, there is little doubt that the potential is amazing.
The number of restaurants currently displaying this feature is very small in comparison to the large and widely encompassing availability currently displayed by Yelp. In fact, we here at ReviewTrackers tested ten of our favorite venues and so far we have had no luck locating one that is displaying this new feature.
For now, both restaurateurs and providers like Yelp, Urbanspoon, Foursquare, and OpenTable can just wait and carefully observe Google’s every move. If the feature snowballs, these vendors surely have a reason to have indigestion and will need to be ready to go back to the drawing board to enhance their features. Regardless, expect some change, and be ready to adapt your strategies to cope.