Google Gets Heavy-Handed In Local Search

Yelp, FourSquare, Facebook, Twitter – they’re all great platforms and represent huge opportunities for you to market to your customer base. But the big dog is officially on the scene and he wants to make sure you’re aware of his presence. The big dog, of course, is Google.

It’s been hard not to notice the very calculated steps that Google has been taking over the past few months as it’s geared up its local and mobile properties, slowing trying to push everyone else out of its way. Well, unless you haven’t been watching. If not, here’s what you missed.

In April 2010, Google made its first big push toward local, introducing SMBs to Google Places. At the time, Google Places wasn’t much more than a rebranding of Google’s Local Business Center; however, it set Google up for a slew of new launches. To make sure business owners were aware of the new Places, Google held introductory webinars to show them how to use it, tell them what was changing, and explain why SMBs needed to be part of it. It seems to have worked. A few months ago, Google revealed that Google Places accounted for 50 million businesses. Not bad.

In August 2010, Google took some big steps in getting into the world of online reviews. After unsuccessfully trying to acquire Yelp, Google decided if you can’t buy ’em, beat em. That month Google removed Yelp reviews from Google Places and opened up the opportunity for SMBs to respond to reviews left on Google Places. I mean, who needs Yelp anyway?

Certainly not Google. Taking things up a notch, in November, Google introduced us to Google Hotpot, a service designed to make local recommendations more personal by recommending places based on your ratings and the Hotpot ratings of your friends. Unlike Yelp, reviewing locations on Hotpot required only a few clicks, seemingly helping Hotpot to target a more mainstream audience, not just the review-savvy folks who hang out on Yelp.

Of course, it hasn’t stopped there, and Google shows signs they’re only getting started. So far in 2011, Google has added a check-in option to its Latitude service (waves to FourSquare, Yelp, Facebook, etc.), integrated Google HotPot recommendations into the search results, given Google Places a mobile application and created a Groupon clone.

All indicators show that Google is serious about ruling the local search marketing the same way it’s taken over traditional search.  Google is highlighting local more in the SERPs, creating services around generating reviews, and offering SMBs more visibility and marketing power.  As a small business owner looking to market to your customers, you’d be wise to stay up to date on what’s Google doing and make sure that your business is widely represented on all of Google’s different local platforms.

It there a time investment associated with keeping up? Absolutely, but with Google’s power in the marketplace, you can’t afford not to keep up. Claim your Google Place listing, encourage users to leave reviews on Hotpot and Google Places, manage the reviews that come in, and take advantage of all the free marketing opportunities being offered up. It’s only going to get more competitive out there.


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

12 Reactions
  1. Lisa, Google is definitely doing a lot to improve product and service offerings to small businesses.

    I want to point out, however, that there are 2 ways of looking at the following statement:

    “After unsuccessfully trying to acquire Yelp, Google decided if you can’t buy ‘em, beat em. That month Google removed Yelp reviews from Google Places and opened up the opportunity for SMBs to respond to reviews left on Google Places.”

    Another way to look at Google’s move is this: maybe it’s just leveling the playing field and not giving Yelp an advantage that others don’t have.

    Also, there’s a long history between Yelp and Google about reviews. There’s a lot more to the story of Yelp reviews, as this statement by a Google spokesperson, as reported on TechCrunch a few months ago, indicates:

    “Regarding the presentation of Yelp review snippets, neither of us was happy with the data as it appeared, so we reclassified results from Yelp while we reviewed our options. This means that, for the time being, Yelp pages may not appear as review snippets in Place page results, though relevant results from Yelp will continue appear in the “more about this place” section, which shows pages about a given location. We are working with Yelp to more intelligently crawl and present results from their site.”

    – Anita

  2. Don’t forget that Google also has their Boost product aimed at making AdWords more accessible to SMBs. Google recognizes that the SMB market is large and wants to scoop up as much business as possible so that when an SMB gets big they will stick with the GOOG.

  3. I’ve heard recently that tagging your own site with microformats could help data from your site being automatically pulled into Google Place pages. Have you seen that yet? I’ve primarily seen the aggregator sites showing, and not the company’s own reviews from their site.

  4. Hey Lisa – great post thanks for pulling it all together…although I’m not sure Google is going to be able to nail it like the smaller guys are doing – I think that they will have to really continue to put a huge amount of resource and focus into the project if so!

    Nadia – We’ve had a go at this as well with no real success yet, although I read an article on this recently that confused me more! I think ultimately that Google will pay more attention to reviews that aren’t on your website as they’re too easy to fake.. and unless you are getting lots of reviews elsewhere Google won’t bother pulling from your own site… just my opinion! 🙂

  5. It’s turned into the wild west figuring out all this crazy stuff. I guess well keep just keeping up.

  6. Hi Lisa,

    I agree that Google is trying very hard to stay ahead of it’s competition, after all, they have to maintain their place and make sure that they are one step ahead of what others are offering and with the pace they are moving on, I am sure it wont be a problem for Google to hold it’s position and come up with new exciting tools for us in the coming years. Thanks for sharing!

    Riya Sam
    Training for

  7. There’s no doubt in my mind that Google will be the big winnner here and eventually engulf all competition. Basically the only firms who can compete are other search engines, so we’re basically only talking about Yahoo and Bing.

    Any other company working in the listing/directory/review sector has no chance unless Google decides to take them under their wing, a la Qype…

    The best they can hope for is not to get mauled and keep some semblance of independence, in a bid to lure the few of us who will always look past page one of Google when we search for stuff.

    It’s funny isn’t it. The internet is all about democracy and freedom, and yet it’s a tiny handful of companies that have cleared up online.

    Basically you have a bigger choice of cigarettes or beer than you do search engine nowadays…

    Enrico @ The English Effect

  8. I never liked Yelp…can not trust “”reviewers” who post hundreds and hundreds of reviews, I mean, who does that??…..oh yea, paid employees of Yelp.

  9. One of the biggest issues I see are that SMB’s still have not claimed their listings and all this buzz about new product and Yelp,Groupon,Facebook Places and other emerging social media sites is noise to them. Understanding that it is free and can help you with videos,photos,reviews and organic search listings is something that needs to receive more attention. 7 out of 10 SMB’s that I speak with had no knowledge of Places listings. I fear for SMB’s as Google loves the uninitiated spending on Adwords with just their own info to support them. SMB’s do not use half the features that they should and can get discouraged too easily. What do you think Lisa.

  10. Mike@TownandCountrySheetMetal

    As the owner of a heat and air business I can tell you that Google should be serious about local search. When I ask people how they find products and services today invariably they say the internet, just a few years ago it was the phone book. There has been a complete shift in consumer usage of these two products and Google knows it.

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