Posted May 5, 2011 8:39 am by with 4 comments

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If you are an SMB owner or marketer and have been in the Internet marketing game for any length of time you know how strange it sounds to consider Google reaching out to you though marketing. It’s a well known frustration regarding Google that having something that has a pulse behind it rather than a blinking light to field questions or concerns or even give some general information often feels more like a matter of fate and chance rather than design. Of course, if you spend enough money in AdWords you may have spoken to someone but that’s another story (that’s called revenue).

Well, take heart because Google is hitting the streets to do something they just aren’t known for: reaching out to prospective customers in the SMB space. I had a conversation with the head of local consumer marketing for Google, Jeff Aguero, and came away encouraged that maybe, just maybe, there will be a human side to Google (which I would accept as a social effort in place of any other products they come up with!).

This push to reach out to businesses at the local level is happening in a variety of ways in several target markets. The markets have been slow rolled over the past few months as follows:

Portland, OR – started early January
Austin, TX – started early February
Las Vegas, NV – started early March
Madison, WI and Charlotte, NC – started at the end of March
San Diego, CA – started in April

Aguero was very personable and forthcoming which pleasantly surprised me since Googlers aren’t known much for their interactions with other human beings. He pointed out that this effort is really in its nascent stage and the company is trying to figure out exactly what works and what doesn’t as it relates to the SMB market. He readily admitted that the diversity of the businesses and the personalities running the businesses makes this effort both extremely rewarding and exciting while at the exact same time a challenge due to the wide range of general knowledge and experience with Google in general.

The three tactics that are used in varying degrees by Google to reach the markets consist of consumer advertising campaigns, representatives or ‘feet on the street’ reaching out to local businesses and, in some cases, community managers who are tasked with engaging with the consumer and creating buzz around Google’s ability to enhance experiences with local businesses through Place Pages and more.

There doesn’t appear to be any ‘silver bullet’ or formula that the effort has unearthed as Aguero pointed out that they are using all three techniques in both Portland and Austin while experimenting with different combinations in other markets.

Google has put together a Google Places Business Kit with various promotional items etc. (more on that at another time). For instance, to get started in Charlotte they mailed 41,000 of these kits to businesses in the Charlotte region. I know a few businesses that received these packages and were at once surprised and curious, to say the least, as to just what Google was up to. Aguero said that a community manager will be up and running in Charlotte over the next few weeks so that will be interesting to watch how the city takes to the interest Google is taking in it.

The ultimate goal of this is education for the SMB. A Google representative confirmed that only 6 million of the 50 million Google Place Pages have been verified in their system. Of course, this accounts for all Places internationally including landmarks etc so we don’t know what percentage of businesses have verified and optimized this very important Google property.

Aquero explained that there are three components to the education of the SMB in this new approach from Google. There are three goals with regard to the SMB that Google touches:

1. Introduce them to and educate them about Google Places and local search in general
2. Claim their Place Page and give them tips about managing that page moving forward
3. Introduce them to and educate them about the NFC (near field communications) window decal that Google would like to see in every merchants’ window across the land.

I joked with Aguero that I suspect most SMB’s might confuse the acronym NFC with the National Football Conference of the NFL. In other words, if the SMB is not tech savvy the terminology itself, let alone its application would be lost on them without real guidance and even then it’s debatable as to how many would truly understand it.

These efforts prove that it’s obvious local is extremely important to Google. Even with the executive shuffling including Marissa Mayer and her new boss, Jeff Huber, Google is committed to making this work. Once more of a ‘formula’ for marketing success is established these campaigns will be rolling out to more cities with increased frequency. The clock is ticking on local and Google knows it.

That clock comes in the form of the rising use of local for search and with the continued growth of the smartphone market amongst demographically pleasing consumers the race is on. Aguero confirmed that Google pegs the amount of searches that deliver local results is over 20% of the total search volume. It is important to note that a local search result is not dependent on the searcher putting a local qualifier for their search. For example, if you search for the term “pizza” without adding a town to your search the results will still be localized by Google based on factors like IP address etc. That 20% plus figure for searches is about the result set and not what a searcher enters for their inquiry.

One area that Google is not aggressively marketing to is the agency and small consultant market and I see this as a big mistake. Let’s face it, Google is there to advance Google’s business so the local SMB often relies on local consultants to help them navigate the Internet as a whole which includes social and more. While Google may be able to educate the SMB, they won’t reach them all. Consultants have valuable relationships and if Google made their job easier then I suspect that the adoption rate of Google Places would increase much more rapidly.

Overall though, I have to admit that while I wanted to hate what Google was up to because I have been pretty harsh about anything that put the words “Google” and “marketing” together, I am impressed and very interested in this push that Google is making. It’s evidence that they recognize that you are not going to be able to automate everything and expect the masses to simply “get it”.

At this point in time of the Internet’s commercial development there are too many business owners who built their success on more traditional models. Until those owners age out and the business market is occupied by those who have lived and breathed the Internet for their lifetimes the assumption has to be that many business owners will need help in getting this. That help can’t just be forums occupied by guys looking to get clients either. SMB’s need help from the source.

If you are reading this from one of the markets that Google has been concentrating on, we would love to get your feedback as to what you have experienced thus far. We plan on keeping a close eye on the efforts moving forward because, let’s face it, it’s big news when Google decides to move out from behind the data center and directly into the light of day. Wouldn’t you agree?

  • This is fantastic! It’s about time that Google reach out to SMBs with real, human help. Too many businesses have been too frustrated for too long with Google Places. Hopefully this program will put Google back in their good graces.

  • Yeah glad to hear how Google are moving forwards they have to realise that if they are to stay at the top then they have to react with marketing. They are still much to slow in their responsiveness hopefully this willimprove.

    Interior designers Cheshire

  • I think this is a step in the right direction along with Google Engage they just rolled out. Hopefully, as you mentioned they will see the missed opportunity to allow agency and local internet marketing consultants to have the ability to manage Google Places for SMBs.

    In our experience, SMBs have limited time and knowledge in this area and prefer a person to do it for them. I remember when we had over 40 Google map listings we verified for local smbs and even used call tracking with Google Local Business Center. Now you get your account suspended for trying to enhance or help an SMB verify an account within your own central places account.

    There is opportunity to allow local consultants to manage Places for SMBs in the same way you can become an Google Adword professional and manage PPC for someone.

    Maybe they can create a Google Places professional certification as they did with Adwords..

    • @TJ – The major concern with allowing this kind of ‘control’ of these listings is that many unscrupulous SEO’s and consultants will use that to hold the listings hostage thus making it difficult for a customer to leave their service. Some claim this is is good business but I don’t see it that way at all. When I help a company do these things I always set them up under their own account which I have access to. Once the engagement ends they can simply change passwords and it’s done.