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November 24, 2010

Hotpot: Hot Tips for Businesses

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By now, you have probably heard about Google Hotpot. If you haven’t, here’s a simple explanation: it allows users to rate local places they’ve been to and receive customized recommendations from Google based on those reviews. And while it’s really focused on creating a great experience for the user, I believe some key takeaways for businesses are:

1) If your local listings aren’t up to par, you’re in trouble.
2) The social wave continues to affect rankings and conversions.
3) Consumer and competitive research can be a part of the Hotpot experience.

And since each one of these points further expands on the one prior, it’s best to address all three. Let’s take a look.

lfy - pot of beans

Hotpot and Local Search

This is gonna be just a quick lecture and then we’ll move on to more in-depth talking points: For God’s sake, man, make sure you have a local presence online and make sure it’s set up right. If you haven’t heard the message loud and clear that local search is changing things, start listening. With Google Place Search, it’s now more important than ever to make sure all your ducks are in a row. Try a service like LocalPack that will do it for you or at least make sure your Google Places listing is up to par. If you can’t be found in the first place, no one is going to be able to review your business.

Hotpot and Social Search

Social is dominating our online experience. In fact, I believe Google Hotpot is a great follow up to the recent article by Bruce Clay, “Are likes the new links?” The authority that used to be bestowed upon websites from garnering links from influential websites might fall by the way side in favor of social authority. People are much more likely to trust recommendations of those directly in their network.

And with Google Hotpot users, this new social “authority” couldn’t be any more evident. It’s not only potentially affecting conversions but also rankings. Check out the following snippet from a Google blog post, “Lunch is on Google“:

We believe Hotpot helps find places tailored to you in a number of ways. First, places your friends like will rank higher in your search results. Since a friend’s review matters more than a stranger’s, we’ll highlight what your friends had to say if they reviewed a place. Lastly, Hotpot calculates recommendations based on what you like — so you can even find a perfect place in a new location.

Hotpot and Consumer/Competitive Research

Raise your hand if you have time to keep track of what everyone is saying about you all the time. I thought not. While it looks like Google Hotpot hasn’t yet made its service easy for a business to be deeply engaged with its community (maybe that’s coming soon), just the same, reviews are a crucial way to understand the community.

Sure, as a business, you can find out some basic analytics from your Google Places dashboard, but the reviews are the real gem. Stats don’t tell you the reasons behind your user behavior. Reviews do!

Google says that the profile you set up for your Google Hotpot account is viewable by everyone. I thought, Great – businesses can further profile their customers. But I did a quick test and left a review in Hotpot and then logged out to look at it. I didn’t see any profile information available. Perhaps it was user error – keep in mind it’s the last day before T-day and I have sweet potatoes on the brain.

Once you’ve committed to data mining and understanding your customer, use that information and the tools that are provided to you to capitalize on it. Some things to ponder:

  • How can you make people aware of your online presence, offline? I don’t see a “Review us on Google Hotpot or Google Places” icon for business sites similar to what Yelp offers (maybe Google ought to think about that as a way to promote usage), but get creative and let your consumers know through marketing materials at your place of business. And there’s a Hotpot Android application, so users can review your business while they are there or right after their experience. How can you get the most out of on that? Can you think of ways to work it into each interaction?
  • How can you use the information you gain to better target those customers? What offering can you provide, whether it’s through the coupons feature in Places out otherwise that speak directly to the targeted audience you’ve defines through the social reviews?

While there’s not a business profile setting available, like you would have with a Facebook fan page, there are other ways businesses can use Hotpot to their advantage. For example, you could sign up as a user but be clear about representing your business.

Begin interacting with your reviewers on a friendly basis, give good reviews for other businesses in your community to build rapport, take advantage of the recommendations Google Hotpot gives to you as a user and use that as competitive research.

At the very least sans Hotpot, you can respond to poor reviews, if you wish. But in my experience, those aren’t always met with arms wide open unless it’s done right. Otherwise, it just seems like the business is defensive or trying to cover their derrières.

With local and social being the catalyst for conversions these days, it’s important to really take an in-depth look at all these new services rolled out from Google and as a business, use those as clues to make predictions on how your online presence will develop.

I welcome your feedback and wish you all a happy Thanksgiving!

Update 12/3: Google released a video of how its newest local features, including Hotpot, works in rankings. Check it out:

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8 responses to “Hotpot: Hot Tips for Businesses”

  1. Andy @ FirstFound writes:

    I just can’t take it seriously. It’s called Hotpot. Hotpot’s the ultimate in cheap, working class food. I survived on it as a kid – and it doesn’t make me think of places that I’d recommend to my friends.

  2. Raj @ SEO Australia writes:

    Google offers number of local services in the form of Google Maps, Google Places API, Geotagging Photos with Picasa in Google Earth which clarifies that Google is weighing more to local prominent websites. So, if you want to show up your business in Google and your target is on local audience, a good number of reviews & ratings become an even more important element to your local listings.

  3. Amalgam Design Web Marketing writes:

    I suspect that Hotpot will garner the same level of success as a number of Google’s other social media entries. But, I’m also confident that sooner or later Google will get right. This is especially true given the continued (or even increasing) importance of search to generate website traffic.

  4. Archer writes:

    If Google are giving more prominence to local businesses it make sense to have their own user generated reviews and not rely on other review sites.

  5. Jessica Lee writes:

    Hi Andy, your comment made me curious and I looked up the definition — I didn’t know it was a stew of lamb or beef and vegetables, lol.

  6. Jessica Lee writes:

    Thanks, Raj. Yes there are many ways to have your business show up in a local search. The key is to take the time to do it, and many people are either overwhelmed or simply don’t know how.

  7. Jessica Lee writes:

    Hey, thank you for your comment!

  8. Jessica Lee writes:

    Hi, Archer. Thanks for the comment. You’re right, especially since it seems Google was trying to come up with something after the Yelp deal fell through: http://tcrn.ch/chF7Nh



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