So Google Wants More SMB Content?

Mike Blumenthal and others yesterday were discussing a MediaPost article that summarizes a talk that Google’s Chris LaSala gave at the just-ended Kelsey show. I wasn’t there so my comments pertain exclusively to what was reported in the article. I do know Chris, however, and have talked to him many many times over the past five or six years about local issues. 

An excerpt:

LaSala estimates that Google has indexed about 10% of the available digital content geared toward local markets. “If you look at Main Street USA–the barber, the church, the synagogue and the sports shop–you might get the hours of service and address,” he said. “But wouldn’t it be great if you find out if you could get an Alex Rodriguez rookie card? If you knew it was in the shop and the costs, you could go down to the store and buy it. This is just an example of where we are today.”

LaSala admits that Google hasn’t done as good a job in serving the SMB market as it would like. Many of Google’s products don’t meet their needs. Citing a Webvisibility study, he said 40% of SMBs go to the Internet first when they look for local data, yet less than half spend less than 10% for online ads.

Aside from getting SMBs to provide more content in digital format, the biggest challenge has been to support them as advertisers. He suspects that while the features in AdWords drive success, they also hinder success, too.

While the AdWords’ platform lets businesses choose a host of advertising options, SMBs don’t have time to pick keywords, design ads, decide on budgets for cost-per-click (CPC) campaigns, and pick sites they want to advertise on. “It’s all these things the SMB doesn’t have time to do,” LaSala said.

LaSala admits there’s a gap between the design of the platform and the ability for them to carry out the campaign. Improving the gap might mean making Google Maps more intuitive or offering bundled services.

The study referenced should be WebVisible (Nielsen). Beyond this, I have a few things to say about these remarks:

“Wouldn’t it be great if you find out if you could get an Alex Rodriguez rookie card?” . . .  

This exists already at eBay and to some degree on Craigslist (and on a more limited scale on LocalPrice). Businesses do input this type of data themselves when they see a clear benefit. However, on a mass scale it’s going to be very difficult to get the kind of detail implied by the baseball card example. But third parties like Krillion, NearbyNow, Where2GetIt, ShopLocal, Shopatron (maybe Intuit) will provide versions of this type of inventory data to Google. Google had local inventory data from ShopLocal and StepUp (now part of Intuit) but stopped showing it a couple of years ago because it wasn’t comprehensive enough. You’ll see it again (if it isn’t already in there) at some point in the near term. 

Google will get increasingly rich data from third parties — as it historically has — in the coming months and years. Local is a marathon as most of the readers of this blog know. 

LaSala admits that Google hasn’t done as good a job in serving the SMB market as it would like. Many of Google’s products don’t meet their needs.

This has been a matter of discussion on this blog and elsewhere for at least three years. Google made a semi-public announcement in late 2007 (at the Google Local Markets Symposium) that it was working on a product it called “SimpleAds.” It was going to be a radically simplified product for SMBs and Google’s resellers that would require minimal input by the SMB and Google would manage and optimize the campaign — essentially automated campaign creation and management for SMBs. But the product hasn’t appeared. 

I had a conversation with Google’s Richard Holden roughly a year ago about why this might be and some of Google’s challenges around this product. But unless I want the hounds to come after me, I can’t discuss that discussion. 

Part of the problem, IMHO, is that Google resists conventional marketing. But with a few traditional media buys Google could raise awareness among SMBs about the Local Business Center and the value of contributing your information. It could also create a contest with a $$ value (free advertising or even a cash prize) if SMBs showed up and input their information. Quietly Google has been running a contest for students who devise marketing campaigns for, mostly, local businesses. That competition is now in its second year . So why not a contest aimed directly at SMBs?

Given that Google is spending millions to publicize its book scanning lawsuit settlement (compelled by the court), you’d think the company might be willing to do some traditional marketing to reach SMBs and raise their awareness of the LBC and the value of claiming and completing their listings. Google could even have some of the winning students involved in the global marketing competition do the campaign. 

It’s fairly easy to imagine: conventional radio, a few well-placed TV ad buys, full page ads in some metro dailies and online video. Maybe is requires a revamp of the LBC at some level to make that more intuitive. The point here is that Google has many creative options to directly reach SMBs and build awareness, which might or might not include conventional marketing. But its general resistance to doing so might be considered another “cultural weakness.” 

Beyond spending some money I don’t think it would be that hard to fulfill LaSala’s ambition of getting more and better data directly from the SMBs. Getting them to use AdWords is another story entirely, but that’s what the reseller channel is about.

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6 Responses to “So Google Wants More SMB Content?”

  1. David Mihm Says:

    Greg, I have had some discussions w/the Maps team that I can’t discuss as well, but I brought up the very same idea to them in terms of publicizing the LBC in OFFLINE media. I certainly hope they do it!

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    They’ve dabbled in advertising in isolated cases. But it’s really a no-brainer.

  3. earlpearl Says:

    The 1 map/3 pac/10 pac is so often found in organic search. While it is hard to pinpoint its usage, complaints and commentary found either inside Google groups for businesses and often publicized at Mike Blumenthal’s blog show how critical and oft accessed is information from the LBC.

    There are so many mistakes and problems. Google’s responsiveness is slow.

    They really should fix these and other holes before adding endless amts of more data, all of which will be subject to problems, spamming, and hijacking.

    Meanwhile, Greg, your reference to all the sources where detail and granularity are available is impressive and a strong reminder about the opportunities to reveal these items. Thanks.

  4. Joe Says:

    I agree with earlpearl, Mike’s blog has a great breakdown of the current issues in the Google LBC.

    Google really need to be more responsive to SMB owners if they really want to break into that market. At least chat and email support — Google Groups just won’t do.

    –Joe

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