Google announced today that it has added a few new features to its Local Business Center, the place where businesses can enter their information in order to show up on Google Maps.
New features include the ability to upload or edit photos that accompany business listings. Businesses can also now select what category they fall in to (restaurant, hotel, plumber, etc.) and list “custom attributes” specific to their category such as "service area" or "check out time". Businesses can also change or correct their location if they move. Interestingly, the new features include analytics that allow businesses to get a free look at the clicks they have generated on Google Maps.
That last feature is likely meant to be a teaser for the broader analytics offered in AdWords, which is precisely the point. Like many of the free website hosting products from Google and Yahoo!, and microsite offerings from vFlyer and and Smalltown, this could hook in more small businesses by giving them a free and easy way to create a web presence. From there they are hoped to evolve into online advertisers (whether it be search, display or upsells to premium ad features). And for businesses that already have a website, there are clear SEO benefits to providing more detailed business information.
Given the sheer size of the small business segment (25 million SMBs according to the Small Business Administration), expanding the addressable market of search marketers by bringing more businesses online will be a big opportunity.