Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Google's Local Biz Referral Program

333 magnify
Excerpt: Himmelstein on G’s Local Biz Referral Program « Screenwerk
Marty Himmelstein is a local search expert who founded Long Hill Consulting.

Google’s recently announced Business Referral Program, where it pays individuals to submit information about local businesses, is important less for what it is than what it will be. It is a signpost not only of Google’s intent, but of their understanding of how the Internet will develop.

For while Google doesn’t make trends, they do have a keen eye for discerning them. Their patient execution of a plan based on their reading of the road ahead is nowhere more apparent than in local search. These trends have been remarked upon before, and at least some of Google’s advantage is that while others watch Google, Google’s attention is straight ahead. These trends include:

  • Decentralized collection of business content, from the edges in

    The centralized collection of business information was an artifact of the organization of the telephone network. This was fine for YP Publishers but less than ideal for either businesses or consumers. ... the Internet has made the contrivance of centralized content collection unnecessary.

  • The importance of community and neighborhood to local search: The fundamental role of a community in local search is to establish an environment of trust so that users can rely on the information they obtain from the system. Businesses exist in a network of customers, suppliers, municipal agencies, local media, hobbyists, and others with either a professional or avocational interest in establishing the trustworthiness of local information.

  • Completeness is key: One of the fundamental tenets of local search is for it to be useful it must be complete – if there is a shop on Main Street it will be in the database. Completeness is necessary to gain the trust of the two most important local search constituencies – consumers and local businesses. Google has built its dominance by layering advertising on top of the best natural search results in the business. They will tenaciously adhere to the same philosophy in local search.

Some Google competitors might take comfort in the apparently haphazard and unfinished feel of various Google offerings. A more appropriate response would be alarm. Google’s fledgling projects are part of an encompassing architecture measured not in a year or two but five or more.

Consider that the results of a typical Internet Yellow Pages search have barely improved in the last ten years.) It is inevitable that the Internet will displace other mediums as the starting point of practically all local advertising – including advertising destined for print, television and radio.

It will also take time for Google and others to demonstrate the value of local search in a way that makes sense to Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs), and other actors in the local search community. There’s still a lot of spadework to be done, and combined with the sheer size of the local search market, the extended adolescence of Google Base, Google Coop, the Business Referral Program, and other projects is closer to necessity than profligacy. The current value of the content in Google Base is of no consequence. Its function is to help Google build the next generation of Google Base, when content will matter.

Google’s ability to monetize local search doesn’t require they “own” business data and keep it behind a walled garden.

Google could easily decide the effort to build a direct relationship with businesses is more of a burden than an opportunity. They could leave that job to others, opting rather to provide tools and incentives that ensure the road for content between businesses and Google is easy to traverse.

My Take

The key to success in the local search market will be tapping into "community knowledge".

Getting small businesses involved in their Web presence is another. Most are too busy or too intimidated to create and manage their own Web presence and search optimization

Is Google's approach the best way to tap community knowledge and gain participation? Are they using the "wiki" way?

Tuesday September 11, 2007 - 11:52am (EDT)