Google’s Local Search Land Grab

Attention, college students! You no longer need to donate plasma to get beer money. Quit your part-time job, buy a digital camera and a notebook, and walk down the street. Take pictures of every business you see. Then write down the address, hours of operation, method of payment, and a couple of other things. Oh, and be sure to get the contact information for the business.

Then go to the library, get on a computer (if you don’t have one at home), and put this information into a database. The ever-benevolent king of all Internet advertising will thank you for your efforts with $2 for every business you upload and another $8 once they confirm your information is correct.

If I were a college student, I would say this scenario sounds too good to be true. For a couple of afternoons worth of work, I could make enough money to hit the bar every weekend. Heck, forget class. There’s money to be made out on the streets, and I don’t even have to do anything illegal.

Evolution of Local Search

But, the scenario above is true. The Google Business Referral Representative program is now in full swing, and I’m sure the folks over at and have taken notice.

The evolution of local search is something that paid search marketers need to watch very closely. For a concise and informative recap of local search events, click here.

If you haven’t been asked to start a local campaign for your company or clients, I can almost guarantee that you’ll be delving into local search options in the near future. The landscape can be quite confusing – paid search, universal search, city guides, online mapping pages and, of course, the good old online yellow pages. Local search marketing starts to sound a lot more like traditional media buying.

Right now, potential local search providers are in “land grab” mode. The land they are after is not necessarily traffic just yet, but information. Historically, because of their huge sales force, the yellow pages have had the upper hand on this information. It’s been no secret that Google has wanted this information as well. After all, Google’s mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” We all know the unstated part of that mission statement is to make a pile of cash in the process. And there is a pile of cash to made in local search.

Digitizing of Information

The Google Business Referral Representative program marks a significant change in Google’s information-gathering procedure. Several years ago, we were led to believe that Google engineers could magically gather all information through digital means, if that information were just digitized. The problem is we obviously have analog roots, and digitizing information takes effort and capital.

Now, Google is paying the unwashed masses to do its legwork and gather all the information they can. There are also the mysterious black vans of the Google street view program. I’m assuming that the Google Business Referral Representative program is an extension of this program. Heck, the approach of using the common man (the Google content network) to extend Google’s brand has worked before. Why won’t it work this time?

The answer is, it probably will. With the information Google will gather from this program, if it is successful, will allow it to hire a much more nimble, remote sales force to hock its local products. No agency needed. Google will do all the work. Just give them a credit card, and they’ll do the rest. Heck, they already have all the information they need to get started, including a picture of your business.

The Winners and Losers

And, for the typical search engine user, it’s great that Google will have this information. As Kevin Ryan noted in his column last week, part of the problem with local search is semantics. Did you mean a Chinese restaurant with Dim Sum, or a Chinese Restaurant with Dim Sum and a patio for your canine companion? What if you could just look at a picture of the place and see. Oh, and I see they take American Express. Let’s go!

The losers of this program are the traditional IYPs, some of which get most of their traffic from Google and other search engines and have even signed multi-year agreements to sell Google products and services to their large clientele base. It will be interesting to see if those deals last with Google knocking at the proverbial door and inviting those customers – who historically have a limited marketing budget – away from the yellow pages and straight over to Google. From what I hear, the folks at the IYPs are already bracing for the storm. What they do next is what I’m waiting to see.

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