No. 1404
April 3rd, 2012

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