Google April 20 retooled its Local Business Center as Google Places to better emphasize the connection of businesses to Place Pages.
Place Pages are Web pages that pop up on Google Maps and Google.com when users search for local businesses and click the "more info" button.
Through Google Places, businesses can add and edit information about their goods and services for free and get that information rendered on Place Pages for consumers to see.
This is great, free advertising for those small, local businesses, particularly those mom and pop shops that may not have money to run Google AdWords campaigns to put themselves out there.
But Google wants to capitalize on Places even more by offering Tags, which let businesses post call-outs in their Place Pages listings for $25 per user per month. Google explained Tags thus:
"Tags provide business owners with an opportunity to showcase an aspect of their Place Page that they think best reflects what they have to offer their customers. They can do this by highlighting a link to point customers directly to photos, videos, Website, coupons, directions, menu or reservations signup."
See Google's example screenshot here:
$25 per month buys businesses that little yellow icon, but that icon doesn't say much, does it? Where is the value add? I mentioned this to Carter Maslan, director of product management for local search at Google.
He told me:
"This gives an easy way for a business to stand up and say, "I have something to say to you that you should consider when you're looking at the results." It's a virtual sale sign."
Hmmm. But what are you selling with that nondescript icon? The answer is in the works. Google will soon let Google Places members post sales alerts or other promotions from their dashboards to their Tags in Place Pages. It's not unlike posting comments to Google Buzz.
Here is what this looks like from the Places dashboard when a small business owner types in a promo:
Here, highlighted by the red arrows on either side, is how the promotional post looks to the consumer:
Now that provides value in much the same way as someone walking sees a sale sign on a storefront window.
Indeed, Maslan told me: "The part I relate to is when you walk down to the place in the real world and see a sign that says, 'We just got merino sweaters in, or it's a two-for-one sale.' It's a way of identifying in the search results what is motivating to go to the business."
One big knock I have on Tags is that they are only available in Austin, Texas; Atlanta; Washington, D.C.; Houston; and San Jose, Calif. The feature will come to Chicago; San Diego; Seattle; Boulder, Colo.; and San Francisco soon.
Google is a Silicon Valley king, and the Tags aren't available in San Fran, its native city? That's unbelievable. How come New York or Boston aren't represented either? I'm sure they will be, but right now we have to consider the Tags launch a tad premature.
Over time, I expect it will yield great results, and the value to businesses can be tremendous. Who needs Yelp? Not Google.
Maslan and Google envision Place Pages being a leading resource for a business to understand how it is being found across Google properties and clients.
To wit, expect the company to fortify the analytics dashboard, which currently provides such statistics as how many times a listing has surfaced as a search result, the types of interactions with the content, the keywords that lead customers to the listing and the ZIP code where customers originate.
Expect Google to add more "great analytics to help them make good decisions," Maslan said.
Expect more closed loop analytics, where Google will tell SMBs: "Spend this and you get this."
I'm thinking Google could add more demographics signals, and perhaps what client searchers stumbled across their store, as well as what sort of device was used (desktop or smartphone).
The key to this ROI will be in improving Google's search quality, which has been an ongoing goal for the last 11 years.