Google is now providing photos and other information about local businesses in its search results, an update that puts Google in direct competition with sites like Yelp and comes just weeks after lawmakers grilled Google over allegations it was abusing its search dominance to quash rivals.
Searches for restaurants, hotels, museums and other establishments now present users with a panel, located to the right of results, displaying photos of the interior and exterior of the businesses, a few noteworthy dishes, hours of operation, price details, links to menus and reviews, and transit information (See screenshot below). Google said in a blog post that it will be rolling out the feature, already available for some queries, in "the coming weeks."
Though several of the links in the new pane direct users to third-party sites, such as OpenTable, Seamless and Citysearch, Google's own products are featured front and center. Search for Hill Country, and you'll find the map is from Google Maps, the directions are from Google Maps, the transit information is from Google Maps, and the photos are from Google Maps. Zagat, which Google acquired earlier this year, also appears in some results.
Google is claiming even more real estate in search for itself, a move that is bound to bother rival sites, like Yelp and Citysearch, as the search giant's colorful new feature makes clicking on to other sites' offerings less attractive and less necessary. After all, why click on Yelp -- which appears only as a blue link among a dozen others -- when you can get everything you need directly from Google? Yelp did not immediately return a request for comment on the matter.
Google explained the tool using the same rationale it has given for similar updates in the past: It will make users' lives easier.
"Our goal in making changes to the way we present search results is to get people the information they’re looking for as quickly and effortlessly as possible," a Google spokeswoman said in an email.
Google's claims of convenience aren't likely to have lawmakers cheering, however.
The new search feature looks to be a risky move on Google's part given that precisely this behavior -- showcasing Google products, from restaurant reviews to flight information, in Google search results -- triggered a Senate antitrust hearing that probed Google's practices and potential abuses.
At the time, lawmakers seemed unconvinced by Google chairman Eric Schmidt's explanations, and charged that the company had "cooked" results to come up on top.