Local Business Referral Program: Take Two

The image “https://i0.wp.com/www.google.com/images/google_sm.gif” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Tony Wright at ClickZ writes generally about Google’s new Local Business Referral Program — its new feet-on-the-street, pseudo sales force. He characterizes it as a “land grab” and pronounces IYPs the losers.

Not so fast on both counts. He’s correct that the program “marks a significant change in Google’s information-gathering procedure.” It reflects how serious Google has become about its local efforts. The company has invested millions in interactive mapping and Google Earth and recognizes it has a “last-mile problem” in terms of both data and sales.

The role of the local business referrers is to collect better (meta) data, including photographs, and to expose local businesses to AdWords and other marketing options on Google. But a sales force (in any traditional sense) it does not constitute.

I wouldn’t characterize the program as a land grab, though I can see competitors seeing it that way. Google, which was once all about getting you in and getting you out, has increasingly added services to encourage you to stay. Google wants to provide a better experience and has decided that it can’t entirely rely on third parties for local content. But this is just one of numerous strategies being used to improve local, including UGC (My Maps, reviews) and content aggregation. But the data being collected will make the service incrementally better over time. It’s not going to represent a near-term radical change from a user perspective.

Yellow pages, which have a professional sales force, are free (and able) to collect all the images and metadata they can for enhancement of their own sites. In addition, they’re starting to add video, which Google doesn’t currently have.

Should IYPs be worried? Not unless Google radically simplifies the process of signing up for AdWords. I’ve speculated about that before and it might happen. But most businesses need lots of handholding and help with online advertising and that’s not really something that the local business referrers are in a position to provide (perhaps a call center, however).

Journalists and others always used to ask the question: Will Google buy a yellow pages publisher? I always answered “no” because it was inconsistent with their culture and world view. The Local Business Referral Program, if you think about it, is very much consistent with Google’s culture and historical approach, albeit something of a stretch.


2 Responses to “Local Business Referral Program: Take Two”

  1. earlpearl Says:

    This is getting so much more press than it merits.

    It can’t be an organized systematic effort to access information. It can’t be anything more than an experiment.

    There is 0 organization. There is 0 coordination.

    Has anyone done this sort of thing before? I have. It is time consuming and tedious. As a commercial retail real estate agent….I started out by getting and attempting to get information on every retail business along long and relevant corridors with strip centers/businesses/retailers/etc.

    Imagine going into a lot of businesses and trying to grab time from the decision maker. They may not be there. They may not have time or interest in you. They may not give you the necessary information.

    At best, this has to be an experiment. If Google finds good people who provide them with good quantities of accurate, verifiable information….they may have the makings of a management group for people on the street.

    YP’s have a paid sales force with significant incentive to make the sale. Based on my experience, I hope they put their better people into the big ticket areas where their sites are strong and they can command better revenues.

    Even with a trained staff….they just aren’t that good….and my experience is that they were often not knowledgeable or passed on false information.

    Data collection is so tough. I know that in the restaurant business in the greater Washington DC region the vendors in the industry have an awful hard time keeping up with new operations and contact people.

    Its a massive task.

    I can’t imagine it, at this point a threat to YP. It may be a start, though.


  2. Russell Says:

    It’s no secret that Google and its brethren have been feverishly working for several years now to crack the local business advertising market, historically the province of yellow pages publishers. However, despite endless resources and top programming talent, Google has apparently concluded that you can’t organize information that doesn’t exist. There’s just not enough information available online on most of these small, locally-focused businesses.

    Of course if you’ve got boundless self-confidence (and billions in the bank), no problem seems insurmountable. That’s the genesis of Google’s new “Local Business Referral Program.” While there’s a sales element to this program, the bottom line is that Google is beginning to compile a proprietary national database of local businesses.

    Google’s vision is to have a fleet of independent contractors running around the country, collecting information on local businesses and snapping pictures of them. Bounty: $10 per listing if the company verifies the collected data.

    Job requirement are minimal: love of the Internet, access to a digital camera, and ability to fill out a W-9 that won’t get kicked back by the feds. Forgive me for chuckling at the visual picture of the workforce this program is likely to attract.

    There’s some indication that Google expects this supremely qualified force to “talk up” the benefits of advertising with Google, but this seems secondary to what is clearly a major data compilation exercise.

    What particularly intrigues me is that Google does not appear to be assigning companies to its contractors to interview. If they should all decide to visit only pizza parlors and drug stores, that’s apparently okay to Google. Even more surprising is that Google won’t pay a contractor if some other contractor got to the company first. How many times will you have your work rejected before you give up in disgust? Similarly, after being hit up by multiple Google contractors for the same information, how many local businesses will conclude Google is not cutting edge, but out of control?

    Of course, those of us in the business know that gathering data is nothing compared to maintaining it. I presume that Google expects all these businesses to self-maintain their data using a handy web page. If only the information business was that easy.

    Though Google’s foray into the data business — at least in its early stage — seems a bit amateurish, it has now crossed the Rubicon. It has moved from organizing data to building proprietary databases, and seems willing to do so on a massive scale. While most of us have chosen to view Google as a “frenemy” to date, this is a profound move, perhaps more profound than even Google realizes.

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