Posted December 8, 2010 8:55 am by with 8 comments

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Google’s local ad performance is one of the top priorities for the company according to Susan Wojcicki, who is a senior VP overseeing the advertising business at Google (and Sergey Brin’s sister-in-law). With the Groupon deal being a thing of the past Google is on to the next way to crack this critical market. It’s actually interesting to see a monster like Google struggle to get its arms around how it can capture one of the most elusive, and potentially lucrative, market segments in business: the SMB.

According to the Wall Street Journal

“That is my biggest focus,” said Ms. Wojcicki, one of Google’s early employees who was interviewed during the D: Dive Into Mobile event at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in San Francisco. “How can we enable you, when you’re walking around, to find out the best local offers around? As an advertiser, how can I find out if someone saw my ad and went to a store? The local market is a huge market, we’ve always wanted to be in it.”

They and everyone else have wanted to be in it but in the online space the pace of adoption has been excruciatingly slow from the SMBs of the world. Of course, there are early adopters that are doing very well from the SMB side and they probably hope that no one else catches on because they can garner more success with less of a crowd to fight through.

With Google though, they are need to do something quickly. It’s not that there are many other competitors out there that have their scale and data. Those that are even somewhat comparable are still way behind the Google curve. Google’s desire to make this happen is, of course, about revenue but also being the leader. They have lost any chance at being a real threat in the social media space so this area is one where, if they can make a real good mousetrap, could actually stave off some of the Facebook erosion they have experienced as of late.

Wojcicki pushes the failure to get into this market back on the SMB but I think this is a cop out.

So far, local Web advertising has not taken off because existing services have been too hard to use for time-strapped small business people, said Mrs. Wojcicki. “For small businesses, they don’t have a lot of time,” she said. “You need to create a model that works for them. And it needs to be easy for them to sign up. On the back end, everything needs to just work for them.”

Why is this a cop out? Because it makes it sound like the SMB doesn’t have the time to do something that could help their business. What they really don’t have is any good reason to believe Google will actually help. Many struggle with AdWords already and feel like they are throwing money into Google’s black hole. They don’t necessarily trust agencies either because, let’s face it, they haven’t done much to be trusted for in the past. And just building something that Google thinks is easy could look like rocket science to the average SMB. Right now, their idea of easy is Boost but many SMB’s don’t know about it (Google’s marketing incompetence hard at work) and the solution is to turn over the keys to Google and trust them! Yikes.

What the SMB needs, and I don’t think Google can ever provide, is the relationship small businesses desire to engage in virtually anything. This is where Google will always, and I mean always, fall short because they are an engineering company that doesn’t understand people like they think they do. They get algorithms and large systems but they don’t get people and people are the ones running these local shops. Until they humanize their delivery there will be a significant disconnect that will hurt their business. This gap currently exists because most business owners are a bit older than the generation that has grown up with Google so they get it like others. Maybe in 10-20 years Google’s machine like handling of people will be more accepted but right now it hurts them a lot. They just won’t admit it or maybe they are just too arrogant to even see it as a problem.

This doesn’t mean that Google can’t grow in this area with who they are. There are enough SMBs who are on the edge of jumping in despite the lack of support and general communication from Google. The problem exists in getting widespread adoption. They won’t and honestly, maybe having two long time employees (Marissa Mayer and Ms. Wojcicki) at the helm of these efforts is a bad move since they helped develop the current culture of “We build it, you use it and if you have questions go to a forum” is the wrong way to go.

I’m not sure just how Google plans to master the SMB local ad market but one thing I think they will need to do is the thing that Google seems to dread the most and that is talk to people. Actually have conversations with customers. Yuck! Even then though, the Google ‘customer service’ results can be less than stellar as I experienced recently.

So what’s your take on Google and the SMB in the local ad market? Will the little guys just have to capitulate or will they find other ways to survive without having to be assimilated into the Goog?

  • Great perspective. Google has great insight and product, however they assume that regular people and SMBs are as smart as they are. They aren’t. They require simple turn key solutions that drive sales. Google delivers but not without a huge degree of difficulty. Many SMBs have used adwords directly or through 3rd party services. Few have a good understanding of Adsense, Google’s display service.

    I’m a fan of what google does, they just as you pointed out, don’t really put on a human face for advertisers relative to ease and support.

    • @David – It’s not so much that SMB’s are smart. In fact, many are much smarter than me. What they are though is ignorant of Google’s processes and the eventual complexities that come with the territory that Google and most industry folks talk as if this is second nature to everyone. It’s not and may never be. Until they decide to be a company who actually gives a crap about their customers they will leave the door open for others and actually limit their revenue potential (which sounds funny since Google practically prints money compared o the rest of the world already).

      Thanks for checking in.

  • I think you make good points about Google’s idea of easy to use (heh) and their sometimes craptastic marketing (if we build it, you will come. Or else.)

    Not sure I’m 100% with you on the relationship idea – I agree that it’s important to SMBs but I don’t see them being put off of trying Adwords without a personal relationship to let them in; I think it’s ease of use and ease of finding ROI that’s the bigger barrier here.

    (Mind you, as a professional PPC person, I have theories about why Google makes large-scale Adwords accounts hard to keep organized – I suspect that to a certain extent, chaos works for them, so they set up Adwords in a way that encourages a certain amount of calculated chaos. #paranoid)

    • @Cara – Relationship may be a bit overstated but it is important in the non-tech savvy group of SMB’s which is a rather larger percentage of them that I have encountered. I am currently watching a client struggle through paid search hell (his choice) and it’s interesting to say the least.

      Google, however, REALLY needs to hire outside help to try and humanize the company. Having Matt Cutts do it for the SEO community is one thing but for the other 99% of Google users it ain’t cuttin’ it.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      • Yes – I was thinking a couple of steps ahead, maybe, to the point where SMBs tell each other that they’re setting up Adwords accounts and having success (thinking of the way that setting up a FaceBook page for local fans of your business is easy even if you don’t know much about Facebook. Also free, but you can play around with Adwords for about five bucks, so the cash entry barrier might not be as high as people perceive – again though, that’s a marketing fail on Google’s part.)

        Could not agree more on the need for Matt Cutts for the other 99%. (Funnily enough, I know several people who have seriously high-traffic blogs and they are terrified by SEO, so I’m not sure that Matt Cutts is enough for anyone who’s not already hip deep in search.) Although since I make my living doing PPC, maybe I should hope that it continues to remain oblique to so many? (I feel for your client! I can imagine pretty well.)

        To get back to the larger perspective of this article, Google + local is something I’m watching closely, so I appreciate your coverage. It seems as if it something should be possible, whether it runs on an pay-per-lead affiliate-type business model (an intermediary between total DIY and handing the keys over to Google/an agency) or something else – I’m watching Yelp and AskMetafilter pretty carefully too, to see what evolves in the space in between social networks and pure search.

        • I think the industry is moving past just PPC or just SEM. Its becoming important to blend online in the same way an advertiser would mix print and direct mail. Reaching relevant customers on the sites they visit will generate the best response. That isn’t always facebook or google.

          Automation of the system is where Google can avoid human interaction. However to reach the local market, a certain degree of education support and customer service is requires.

          Check out This site blends social, mobile, display and search in an easy to use free platform. We developed it because we struggled with the [process of effectively managing multiple channels.

  • Hopefully when all is said and done there will still be room for us local seo cats just trying to help the little guy.

  • The statements made by Susan Wojcicki are somewhat laughable – the idea that “everything needs to just work for them” is almost fantasy because while they continue to throw out new local ideas such as Boost, Tags, and god knows what else, the simple fact is that their local algorithms are still a mess. Since the most recent changes to local, I’ve seen multiple Places account listings become rejected for seemingly not complying to the guidelines where clearly they do. The fact there is no specific info about the supposed issue, and the help forums, and support are practically useless shows that from the base, Google’s love for SMB and local is nonsense. If they really wanted to get SMBs onside, they would fix the most fundamental aspects of their services.