I can't escape Google.
I often wonder if folks like you can escape your job when you are not “on the clock.” Do our HVAC clients think about work every time they see their home thermostat? Do our pet care clients think about their lodging facilities when they go out for a run and see someone jogging with Rover? Does a plumber relax in his own bathtub without thinking about drain clogs?
My job is spent in front of a computer looking at clients’ websites or researching web marketing. But I can actually go online and not think about work (sometimes). I went to the Web on a recommendation from my Japan-based friend, Martin Fackler, to watch video footage from the Japanese Coast Guard. I saw the tsunami wave racing toward their boat and I didn’t think about “work” at all. But two days later I bought movie tickets online and a mere glimpse at the movie theater’s reviews flipped on my Market Hardware switch. I read each and every one of those reviews, formulating the advice I would give the theater owner about handling some of his negative reviews. I guess it’s an occupational hazard.
But usually when I step away from the computer and do stuff in the real world, I can tune out Web marketing. I glaze over the “Find us on CitySearch” or “Like us on Facebook” stickers on the doors at my favorite coffee shops. I need a break from my Monday to Friday job. Now, let’s flash back in GriffWorld to an excellent Saturday morning two weeks ago. I walk into one of my regular coffee stops with my work guard down, they hand me my cup with its little insulated wrapper, and Web marketing slaps me in the face.
My coffee wrapper, [pictured to the right], is an advertisement for Google Places. Has the world gone mad? Google needs to advertise its local business listings on coffee cups?
After I shook off Google’s intrusion into my Saturday morning and drank my coffee, I went home to do some research. As it turns out, Google wants to advertise Google Places because it wants to win the local business listing and review game.
First, a little background.
Several years ago, Google launched its Local Business Center. Its purpose was to allow local businesses a chance to claim, fill out and enhance online profiles of businesses like yours. They tied those listings to their Maps section to make it easier for consumers to search for remodelers, chiropractors, attorneys, home inspectors, etc. But the main purpose was to help consumers find good information about quality, local businesses. Google added a ratings and reviews function later. By the end of 2010, they had over 2 million verified local business listings. But “Local Business Center” didn’t have quite the ring we marketers prefer, so last year Google rebranded the listing section as Google Places.
As all of this was going on, consumer review websites like Yelp and CitySearch were increasing competition by gaining millions of new reviews and business listings. And, a whole new breed of sites like Foursquare and Gowalla (location-based social networking websites) were developing a consumer following and beginning to show potential as websites that could be used by Jane Consumer to locate businesses that were nearby. To stay with the coffee theme, if I was driving down the road, I could go to Foursquare on my smartphone, let it read my location from my phone through its GPS signal, and tell me the location of a nearby coffee shop where my friends were or one that they recommended.
In short, a whole new type of local Web service has been created: a smartphone-adapted, local recommendation engine powered by you and your friends. Here is my sweet deal for the day: You don’t have to worry about location-based social networking sites for all of 2011! I just mention them here because location-based social networking sites and others like Yelp that offer info and recommendations on local businesses represent a competitive threat to Google Places. Google is raising its game to compete against them and win. (FYI: Their ad campaign goes way beyond coffee wrappers.)
And Here is Why You Should Care.
The fact that Google Places is advertising on Griffin’s coffee cup signals Google’s intensifying efforts to get consumers to come to them for local business information rather than go to Yelp, Yahoo! or any other consumer review website. More advertising of Google Places means more customers will be using their local listing sections to find businesses like yours. The fact that Google has developed Google Places smartphone apps means it will be easier than ever for consumers to search for local business information from their iPhones, Android phones and BlackBerrys.
If Google is starting to advertise Google Places and simultaneously making it easier to use Google Places, more people will use it. You need a solid web marketing presence on Google Places in order to give your business a chance at landing new customers and ensure that you will avoid losing current customers to your competitors.
If you have not claimed your local business listing on Google Places yet, please do. Call us at 1-888-381-6925 and we’ll help you or tell you how you can do it yourself. If you have already claimed your listing, here are some new features you can take advantage of to improve or update your listing:
- Easier uploading of photos and video. Pictures and videos grab the attention of consumers, showcase your staff and business and also seem to help with Search Engine Optimization.
- If you disagree with a review of your business on your Places Page, you can now flag it as inappropriate and Google will review it to see if it violates their standards.
- Google Places has added a coupon feature so your discounts can be easily viewed on mobile phones.
- Now you can post a short (160 character) update on your Places page for any seasonal specials, services or unique information you want consumers to know.
- Google made it easier to display your true service area on your Places page. Many of our clients don’t have a mailing address that defines where they work. If your business address is your home or some location that you don’t want to define as your service area, you can include this address (which Google requires, they hate PO Box addresses), but hide it from the public and instead show your full service area.
- Google Places 301: If you use a QR code, you can post it on your marketing materials and it will take users to a mobile version of your Google Places page. (QR is short for Quick Response.) It’s like a UPC code on groceries, but it’s designed to be scanned by smartphones which then instantly takes you to a specific webpage.)
20% of searches on Google are related to location. Source: Google, April 2010.
"The basic information that you submit through Google Places is the information that we trust the most."
~ Source: Google Places Help Center
If you have not set up a Google account yet (a first step toward verifying and editing your listing), consider creating or using an account just for your business, rather than using a personal Google account. This way, your staff can make updates to your Google Places listing without accessing your personal Google email.