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.