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No. 1404
April 3rd, 2012

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An Inside Look at Google’s Get Oregon Business Online

Full Disclosure: Google is a major partner of’s ongoing Local University educational series for small business owners and is the presenting (primary) sponsor of our upcoming Austin, TX event in June.

I had the pleasure of attending Google’s Get Oregon Business Online event last week here in Portland, part of their nationwide Get Your Business Online series.  I hadn’t seen much coverage of any of these events in our little Local Search community — even from Mike (!) — so I thought I’d share some thoughts, as well as a small photo gallery.

1) Google is spending a LOT of resources on these events.

The event was held at the Ambridge Events Center–exactly the kind of place we’d seek out for Local Universities as well.  I would have expected Google to go with a premium-vibe facility like the Oregon Convention Center, PureSpace here in the Pearl District, or the nearby Left Bank Annex.  The space worked perfectly for the event–it was clean, well-lit, and technologically well-suited–and overall had a very warm, startuppy atmosphere.

The space itself was the only place Google seemed to cut costs at all, though.  They brought in a ton of schwag (see some of the photos below), laptops galore, neon signage, extremely professional podia and backdrops, right down to blue and green and red and yellow chairs.  Inside it basically felt like the Googleplex had been magically transported to the rainy Pacific Northwest for 36 hours.

Based on event costs for Local U, I would estimate that venue rental and materials alone probably cost Google somewhere on the order of $20,000 – $30,000 over the course of the two days.  Add in hotel stays and travel for about 20 Googlers and you’re probably looking at a ballpark total of about $50,000 – $60,000.

And the human resources, my God the human resources! (said in the voice of Elaine in The Burning).  There must have been a dozen Googlers in the main hall available for Q&A’s on Google Apps, Adwords, Plus, Places, basically anything and everything Google.  That’s in addition to a handful of additional Google and Intuit staff in the Adwords and website sessions.  Google  also brought in pure “event” staff that were not actually with GYBO to handle logistics like check-in, food, etc.

The main Googlers in the hall available for Q&A were Josh Keihl and the rest of the street team here in Portland–a very smart move from a long term relationship-building standpoint.

2) Their genuine desire to interact with SMB’s is real life is apparent.

Frankly, I was pretty skeptical of these events when they were first announced last year.  Knowing how time-intensive it is to run Local University–and the lack of ROI that has always seemed to drive Google away from business decisions like this in the past–I actually figured Google was getting into this “game” primarily as a PR stunt.

My initial prejudice could not have been further from the reality.

There was real enthusiasm written on the faces of all the Googlers at the event, even after what must have been a draining 36 hours (I attended at the tail end of Day Two).  Mountain View’s traditional “computer science” element was certainly well-represented, but the public presenter on Google Adwords (see photos below) seemed way too outgoing and plainspoken to fit into that category.  In fact, given the number of markets across the country in which they are trying to do this series, Google has clearly hired up appropriately.  Educational and marketing types that travel with the roadshow crew comprise the majority of their representation.

It seems to me that in just a few months, Google has already tightly honed the public-facing elements of this show, and while none of them has to answer questions with any kind of algorithmic secrecy a la Matt Cutts at a typical SMX event, everyone I saw had Matt’s same genial down-home persona.

Google did a great job of getting local partners involved, like Governor Kitzhaber’s office, the local SCORE chapter, other NGO’s, Chambers of Commerce, and business organizations like the Portland Business Alliance.  Even down to the level of selecting well-known local vendors for catering, like Stumptown Coffee and Elephant’s Delicatessen (as opposed to Starbucks and Subway), there was a clear attention to detail of doing things the right way.

3) They are actually starting to “get it” in terms of the difficulty of running a small business and interacting with Google’s products.

As I said above, pretty much everyone at the event was outgoing.  This means they were actively engaged in conversations with business owners from all ends of the spectrum.  I’m not sure what the formal feedback loop with Mountain View looks like, but I guarantee that these interactions will make their existing products better–I’ll predict as soon as Q3 or Q4 2012–not to mention give Google some amazing market research into additional products that small business owners will benefit from and possibly even pay for.

I was dumbfounded to see that at least some of the feedback that Mike, Dave, Mary, Miriam, Matt, others, and I have been suggesting to Google both publicly and privately for years finally seems to have found a receptive audience among the higher-ups in Mountain View.

4) The short-term ROI for Google seems to be minimal.

The business owners that I saw were definitely towards the top of the funnel in terms of Adwords advertisers.  In other words, very “long-tail” types, with many solo and new-business entrepreneurs.  A surprisingly high percentage (surprising to me, anyway, perhaps 75-80%) seemed to be businesses ill-suited for Local and much more geared towards e-commerce or media, for example.  Granted, I only walked around for about 60-90 minutes, so there may have been a more traditional mix of lawyers, accountants, plastic surgeons, day spas, and other “sweet spot” Local advertisers throughout the rest of the sessions.  But most of the businesses in attendance would not have, I suspect, even $100/month ad budgets, let alone knowledge or time to set up their own Adwords campaign.  It was much more about brand-building for Google than economic benefit.

The crowd also skewed much older than I would have guessed, with many gray-hairs and white-hairs populating the crowd.  Although the offer of a free website and training on how to set it up is probably not as appealing to younger folks who have grown up with the Internet!

5) This series will totally pay off for Google in the long run.

Over the course of two days, based on the window during which I attended, I’d guess Google probably had about 1,000 or 1,500 businesses pass through the door.  That puts the cost-per-touch somewhere on the order of $50 (plus the salaries of everyone involved in the event, of course, which I have no way of estimating).  I have no idea whether Google considered it a successful event from either a revenue or branding standpoint.

But my immediate (and lasting) reactions after walking around were:
1) Google is really going all-in on this series.
2) I cannot imagine a traditional media company (whether YellowPages, Newspaper, TV, or radio), let alone another internet company, doing this kind of on-the-ground outreach with this kind of positive vibe.
3) Putting a human face on Google is going to be increasingly important as other elements within Google continue to push the privacy envelope to the extreme.  The Googlers at the event succeeded in spades on that score and you could not help but be left with a positive impression of the company after attending.

Business owners who attended–even the ones who didn’t get personalized Q&A attention–will remember how fun, cool, and helpful it was for YEARS to come, even as Google gets more Groupon/Facebook/Foursquare-like competitors.  Current advertisers with traditional media companies, will remember this event the next time their bill comes in the mail.  New businesses who aren’t yet advertising anywhere are almost sure to start with Google.

Regular readers know that I’m not exactly quick to praise Google, but I am a HUGE fan of this series if the other events are anything like GYBO Oregon.  It was a great thing for Google, a great thing for small business owners, a great thing for Oregon, and selfishly, a great thing for our industry to have awareness of search raised among all these “long-tail” business owners.


Outside the Ambridge Events Center on Martin Luther King Blvd. HOW DO I GET ONE OF THESE OUTSIDE MY HOUSE???

The entrance to the Ambridge Events Center

Welcoming attendees to the event

Some of the “infrastructure” brought in from Mountain View.

Very cool “user-generated” analog map showing where attendees were from and what their business was

Inside the Intuit free website setup session

Inside the Adwords Presentation

  • First, major props for correct usage of the word “podia.” Duly impressed.

    Second, they also did these up here in WA state last week and I would’ve loved to attend one, but as far as I could tell, they were nowhere near me. The pitfalls of being in the flyover part of the state, I suppose.

    Third, great writeup and interesting opinions. I’ll stay somewhat skeptical of the whole effort, but I appreciate that you have something concrete to go on and I don’t.

  • Never heard of this event series until just now. Sounds pretty cool. Is there a source for a list of these events and where/when they will be held? David, I think they’ve been taking notes from the Local U series.

  • Matt,
    Would you care to elaborate publicly on why you are skeptical? As I said, I was a little skeptical also but having seen one in person I think there is genuine commitment on their part to make this work.

    Jeff, I think if you go to you can probably see where their next events are going to be?

    Thanks for commenting, guys.

  • Wow… Sounds like they did go all out. This is the first I’ve heard of this as well. I think it’s great for Google, but most businesses that already do well on Google may not be happy with Google reaching out to communities for new business. Now they’re going to have competition!

  • David, perfect timing on this. Just checked the schedule at and found sessions in both Pittsburgh (4/10 – 4/11) and Wilmington, DE (4/20) for us East Coast folks. Sadly nothing here in Baltimore (yet).

  • How long before we see a Google Store complete with motorola toys and genius bar?

  • Up here in Canada, David….we too have a GYBO program in place and it’s been up and running now since April 1/2011. When I last updated the stats on same, there were 7,000 brand new domains reg’d and 6,000 new websites as a result of their launch after only 3 months! I’ve asked just now again, for a furhter update…but as we can see, the program does work – and it works well!

    So #Kudos to Google for this….and the partners that also took part too!



  • David:

    Interesting read, albeit a bit late after you published it. Of interest I read this about 2 weeks following a devastating Places duplicate for one of the businesses I operate with others and upon which I perform diverse marketing efforts including SEO, Places Optimization and PPC.

    I also have the perspective of having helped others try and overcome problems stemming from Maps/Places reaching back several years, from the perspective of Mike Blumenthal’s fascinating article from late last year (Dec. 2011) about a change in the processes within Google Places that reflect improved responsiveness:

    In the above article Mike referenced a significant systemic change in the Google Places culture that speaks to an improvement with regard to solving problems and correcting errors in Google Places. The article references sea changes in Google’s responsiveness to problems with problems in Google Places…and vast improvement.

    There have been improvements within the system: I can personally reflect back on trying to help a business possibly 3-4 years ago, wherein we identified an issue with Google Places providing bad information to users. A person within Google Places responded and referenced they would deal with it…to attempt a fix and get back to us.

    9 months later we still had not heard back. The problem had continued on an ongoing basis. Then somebody(s) uncovered a “fix” to this issue that was affecting this business and others complaining within the google places forum….and shortly thereafter a “systemic fix” occurred. That solved the problem for the business in question and others.

    But before it did, we were left in the lurch for 9 months. And that was after we got a direct response within the Google Places forum that said….”we’ll get back to you”.

    —UGH!!! Over that 9 month period many potential customers were sent to the wrong address. Way wrong!!! How many customers were unhappy? How many sales never occurred? How many problems occurred because this “internal Google issue” went unsolved?

    Now several years later I’m about 2 weeks into a process wherein one of our SMB’s mysteriously suffered from the creation of a duplicate places record.

    The result was the creation of duplicate places records…some with wrong information. The Places record lost all of its “prominence”. In that regard, this business which had a certain level of strong visibility suffered. We have lost traffic, leads, sales. Potential customers have been misdirected. At the end of these two weeks, the “managed record” from our google places dashboard, is somewhat connected to the “google cluster”. Some of the strength of the record (within the cluster) is returning (I keep checking rankings within Maps/ in total from various locations).

    Visibility is still less than it was. The strength of the Places record is recovering but not what it was. The managed dashboard is partially recovered. All data from the former record has been lost. All reviews that we had generated have been lost.

    We reported through the new google system to try and rectify the situation, and I made comments in the Places Forum and got responses from both Google personnel and from current Top Contributors. That alone is a “sea world change” from what I had experienced before and described above.

    Now here is what we have not experienced. Direct Customer Service Its simply not there. Specifically nobody got back to me and said “we’ll fix, or even address your problem” and even more critically….nobody gave me a time frame for recovery.

    Of note, recently I’ve been working with two businesses that have suffered from repeated issues with google places over a far longer period of time. Problems remain. The “fix” is yet to be found.

    Now here is the issue. Despite the “sea change in responsiveness” the fact remains that Google Places simply DOES NOT GIVE DIRECT CUSTOMER SERVICE. It didn’t years ago and it doesn’t now. I’ve been spending time recently in the Google Places Forum, and even in this environment of improved responsiveness….there is no direct customer service.

    SMB’s are often frustrated. Certain businesses suffer dramatically, and clearly user experience is made worse. In some experiences….the cluster is simply giving directly wrong and erroneous information. It results in terrible experiences. Google does not fix these things directly.

    Lets relate this to your article above. Google is going all in its “Get Business Online” efforts. It is putting on its friendliest face and most welcoming and encouraging signs to attract more businesses to directly connect through any of its many products/services. Underneath, we all know the main effort is to bring more customers directly into its advertising products, either Adwords or Adwords Express. After all that is where Google makes its money. Its also an area where there is direct and responsive customer service.

    But once these SMB’s embrace Google, many will sign up and connect with Google Places…and when they do that they will be subject to this unique process which offers no direct customer service….in fact the only service I can think of that is as purposefully and dramatically non responsive as any in existence.

    It is there that the SMB’s will encounter a bizarre algo driven process that is uniquely unstable, prone to problems, and devoid of direct response or devoid of a direct fix. It is an invitation to enormous frustration to a growing world of small businesses.

    In this environment, Google Search is essentially more overwhelming and more used than a combination of the old hard book Yellow Pages and 411….two services that were subject to regulation. Its a shame that isn’t the case with Google Places today; at least in my experience.

  • Angela

    Hi i’m Angela Mihm!!!!