Google in October has significantly accelerated its local search and advertising plans as it seeks to rival location-based service efforts of Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter and Yelp.
In analyzing its search engine traffic, Google has found 40 percent of its U.S. traffic is local in nature. To address this high percentage, this month Google has:
- Appointed Marissa Mayer to run its geolocation services unit.
- Introduced a new design for how reviews are displayed on Place pages. This new design was added in Google Maps for Android Oct. 28.
- Added a location tab to the left-hand panel of its search results page on Google.com.
- Launched Google Boost, new online ad program that lets local business owners build online search ads from their Google Places account.
- Added photos for businesses Place pages to give consumers looking online for local restaurants, clothing or other wares an idea of what the shops offer.
- Launched Google Place Search, which aggregates information about places when users do a search for a local restaurant, landmark or business.
While these are separate announcements, they actually fit snugly together. Google Place Pages are essentially local business advertisements in themselves, offering searchers store info such as addresses, phone numbers, Website links, photos, reviews and ratings in one concise view.
Small businesses in Google’s Places program, formerly known as Google Local Business Center, may claim their Place page for fees, and call even more attention to products and services with Tags.
Google Boost is a new program to help business owners in San Francisco, Chicago and Houston (eventually, all over the country) create contextual search ads from Google Places. The ads appear in the typical “Sponsored Links” section of Google.com and Google Maps results pages.
Combined, these moves underscore an advancement in the company’s long-standing push to better connect local businesses with consumers, said industry analyst Greg Sterling, who follows Google’s local efforts closely on Search Engine Land.
The end goal is to get many more of the 7 million or 8 million small businesses in the United States advertising on Google AdWords, said Sterling.
Mobile momentum has only facilitated the local push. The emergence of Apple’s iPhone and the Android handsets have been driving forces in the burgeoning smartphone market.
Putting a smartphone with GPS capabilities in a user’s hands is like giving them a magic Yellow Pages with a built-in store locator. The combination of local, mobile and social tools through reviews and rating have made smartphones powerful vehicles for all kinds of local commerce.
Consumers can use the devices to find, learn more about and contact stores, all from the comfort of their cars or while walking city streets.
Googles Local Search Ambitions Lie in Serendipity
IDC analyst Hadley Reynolds said Google’s emphasis on mobile stems from its belief that mobile devices will replace PCs as the vehicle people will use most often for search in the future. Mobile will be where most advertising will take place over the next decade.
Indeed, Jonathan Rosenberg, senior vice president for product management at Google, said Google’s mobile search ads were operating at a $1 billion run-rate for the year.
With Google Place Search and Google Boost, Reynolds said, Google aims to pre-empt traffic that in the past has gone directly to Yelp, TripAdvisor, CitySearch or other local information providers.
Place Search includes links to Yelp, and those other local search specialists, so Google has clearly made some concessions as it seeks to charm consumers with quality results.
“Time will tell whether the local independents will be net richer or poorer because of Google’s new offering. Yelp and others have a vital competitive advantage over Google in owning the socially generated content – the review data – that adds the major value to the local listing,” Reynolds said.
“This is another area where Google’s failure to master the social Internet is forcing it to innovate around a fundamental problem. They need to take a leadership position this market, not slip and become a follower.”
Yelp and its ilk aren’t Google’s only rivals here. Foursquare’s check-ins provide great ad-hoc opportunities for, say, local Starbucks stores. Twitter is a microblog magnet for location-based promotions. Facebook Places is in the mix, too.
Google, and these other vendors have time to carve their own niches. The multibillion-dollar mobile advertising business has yet to be fully leveraged and is still evolving.
Moreover, Google is working to change and advance the local search game. Mayer will leverage her strong background in artificial intelligence to build the autonomous search engine Google CEO Eric Schmidt described.
Such technology would send users who opted into the service suggestions, alerts and promotions from, for example, stores participating in Google’s Places program, or even museums, theaters and other attractions and businesses.