Matt McGee discovered that the Google Local Business Referral Representative program is being closed. This was the program that was intended to collect more accurate local business data for Google Maps and introduce SMBs to AdWords, if only in some vague, general way.
Google provided Matt with an official comment about the end of the program:
On December 31, 2008, we will end the Google Local Business Referrals program, which was one of many Google Labs initiatives that we had developed as part of our ongoing commitment to experimentation and testing new ways to help businesses establish a presence online.
Many relationships have been built as a result of Google Local Business Referrals, and local connections between representatives and businesses have been forged that we hope will continue. However, the program will conclude at the end of the year as part of our effort to ensure that we prioritize our resources and focus more on our core search, ads and apps business.
Matt thinks the program failed — or earlier predicted it would fail — because it didn’t provide enough money to the participants. However, I had heard some time ago that there was a good deal of demand for participation. And now would seem like a great time to expand, rather than shut down, the program given how many unemployed people there are out there who might appreciate the additional income.
Every time Google is perceived to stumble there are people out there who feel satisfaction. But I give Google credit for trying things. However, I think the program “failed,” to the extent we can use that characterization, largely because:
- Google appeared to be ambivalent about the program and didn’t fully commit to it
- AdWords itself is not a self-service product that can be readily adopted by the mass of SMBs
I’ll take the second point first. I don’t know what the “pitch” was or the leave behinds were, but a simple introduction by a lay person and/or the distribution of printed material is probably insufficient to get most of these local businesses to engage with AdWords. Free ad credits would likely have done it, but I don’t think Google has given away AdWords credits in years.
AdWords is a product/service that requires expertise and is elusive for time-starved SMBs who may be inhibited from trying it by inertia.
In terms of the first point, Google was trying to kill several birds with a single rep: getting better data and images, while exposing SMBs to Google’s ad programs. Yet the absence of a dead simple process for SMBs seeking to advertise on Google probably meant that this aspect of the program was less successful than the data-gathering function.
Google has also cultivated a broad group of “reseller” partners, including newspaper and yellow pages publishers. Those publishers would potentially be “put off” if Google aggressively developed a local “feet on the street” channel that might be seen to rival theirs. You can invoke the “frenemy” rhetoric but Google probably decided that these established channel partners were too valuable to alienate by building up the profile of the LBRRs.
The fact that Google was quite coy about the program and kept it largely on the “down low” to me reflects the dilemma of wanting to develop and deploy a more effective local channel while not trying to upset any of its partners. But the failure to aggressively embrace the program and promote it probably is what foreshadowed its demise