Google Making More Pronounced Effort to Reach SMBs
The Local Search world was abuzz when Google announced its rollout of a basic analytics package within the Local Business Center a couple of weeks ago.
Clearly, certain powers in Mountain View are starting to sense the underlying current of frustration in the typical SMB owner’s world, highlighted by the recent Borrell study and Mike Blumenthal’s weekly (self-described) “snipes.”
Mike’s already found some of the Local Analytics data to be pretty valuable, but that’s just one of many initiatives Google has undertaken recently to promote the LBC.
- included a pretty prominent plug for the LBC on the “homepage” of maps.google.com (see screenshot; this has been around for some time now)
- started a blog of their own called the Water Cooler
- started a Twitter account (that they actually update regularly!)
- asked for SMB engagement with the LBC on the official Google Base blog
- included Local Businesses in the #2 slot on Google Explore (right beneath the weather!)
These are all admirable forays into a higher level of engagement with SMB’s and the web community. And not a moment too soon. Allow me to share a couple of real-world anecdotes from this spring.
Anecdote #1: An Actual Small Business Owner
Just after SMX West in February, I decided to hang out in my old neck of the woods for an extra night with my aunt, who lives in the East Bay, before flying back to Portland. She told me about this brand-new Emeryville, California pizza place that had just opened & we were anxious to try their fare. We stopped in Thursday night to take some back to her house.
The owner of the place happened to be the guy cooking the pies & running the cash register. As we were waiting for the pizza to heat up, I struck up a conversation with him about what he was doing in the online world, as a new business owner. He mentioned that he had been pretty busy starting up his business, but that he had definitely made sure he signed up for a listing on Yelp. He was rightfully proud of the fact that he already had over 20 Yelpers review his pizza, all positive, within two weeks of being open. He whipped out his iPhone to show me.
My next question, of course, having just spoken on a panel with MapsGuideJen at SMX, was had he submitted his business to Google?
His answer: Huh?
This is a young (30-year-old?) highly-engaged, tech-savvy guy, living in the technology capital of the world, less than an hour from the Google campus, who was more familiar with his iPhone than I am with some body parts. He’d never heard of the LBC, or even thought about the opportunity to submit his business to Google.
It’s truly a shame that an average business owner starting up in the Bay Area claims his business on Yelp immediately, but doesn’t even know about the existence of the LBC.
Anecdote #2: A Room Full of Online Marketers
Late last year I recounted my experience at the Tri-Cities Learn About Web conference, where barely half of business owners raised their hands to indicate they knew what “SEO” meant. I asked a similar set of questions to gauge the level of experience of the audience before a recent presentation at the Innotech E-Marketing Summit here in Portland. This was a room of about 120 – 150 people who e-marketed for a living. My questions:
- Who knows what “SEO” means? (100% of hands went up)
- Who knows about Title Tags & what they mean for SEO? (~60-70% of hands went up)
- Who has heard of the Local Business Center? (2 hands went up)
It is perhaps even more frightening to consider the widespread ignorance of the LBC among web professionals . These are people who are online 10-12 hours a day, many of them probably already spending tens of thousands of dollars on Adwords, dragging their clients into the 21st century…and yet they are just as in the dark about where to start with Local Search as a typical business owner.
So to my mind, despite these recent, admirable efforts coming out of Mountain View, awareness of the Local Business Center is still pretty low among business owners and even among web professionals. It may be time for Google to spend a little money on offline as well as online marketing of the LBC. At the very least it might serve as a nice brand counterpunch to all the recent Bing ads.
The baby steps Google has taken in the last month are nice…but whatever their form, further efforts are clearly needed to increase awareness in the general public about the importance, and relative ease, of using the LBC.