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Google Begins SMB Outreach For Digital Presence Management, Custom Listings Hub

The search initiative promises to put small businesses on the map — literally.

Recognizing that small businesses continue to struggle when it comes to promoting greater visibility on Google’s search engine, the tech mammoth has unveiled an initiative designed to better position businesses in all U.S cities for discovery across all its properties.

Dubbed “Let’s Put Our Cities on the Map,” the program has already created customized websites for 30,000 American towns and cities (according to the United States Census Bureau, as of 2011, there were just over 50,000).

Each site provides SMBs with a step-by-step guide to create a Google My Business listing. Local businesses can add photos, location information, and hours of operation to their business listing. The sites also offer tips on how to improve their business information so that it is better-suited to Google platforms — including its core search engine product, map, and Google+ social media network. It also gives businesses access to a diagnostic tool that shows them how their brands appear on Google Search and Google Maps. There’s even the option for businesses to nail down a website and domain name from Google partner Startlogic.

With the introduction of Let’s Put Our Cities on the Map, Google underscored the value of search engines in the discovery of local services. In a blog post outlining the new program, Soo Young Kim, Head of Marketing for Google’s Get Your Business Online team, noted that “four out of five people use search engines to find local information, like business hours and addresses.”

Google's Soo Young Kim
Google’s Soo Young Kim

Kim added, “Research shows that businesses with complete listings are twice as likely (PDF) to be considered reputable by customers. Consumers are 38 percent more likely to visit and 29 percent more likely to consider purchasing from businesses with complete listings. Yet only 37 percent of businesses (PDF) have claimed a local business listing on a search engine. That’s a lot of missed opportunities for small businesses.”

Missed opportunities indeed, and also a rather grand admission of past failure on Google’s part. To be fair, Google has been making efforts to help SMBs use its services for digital presence management over the last few years. This is the most hands on experience Google has yet offered. Those that visit Let’s Put Our Cities on the Map can use the service to find local in-person training workshops hosted by Google in partnership with local organizations, like Chambers of Commerce, Small Business Development Centers and SCORE chapters.

The release of this comprehensive search/discovery product reflects several things going on in the local business front.

For one thing, local market researcher BIA/Kelsey estimates that spending on local media by SMBs specifically will reach $50.4 billion by the end of this year, representing 35.8 percent of total local ad expenditures. SMBs will budget about $37.7 billion of their local media spend to traditional media and $12.4 billion to digital. In other words, a previously untapped market of SMB digital spending is starting to flow.

 Secondly, Google’s new small biz product demonstrates the mainstreaming of Digital Presence Management, a concept and discipline that encompasses the comprehensive organization of retailers’ omnichannel marketing operations that begins with ensuring that their vital information is seamless and discoverable across all interactive media channels.

As the globe’s primary search engine, Google has certainly perceived the opportunities and challenges coming from a range of digital marketing services providers, including Netsertive, Vendasta, Advice Interactive Group (which last week merged with rival UBL), and GeoMarketing’s parent company, Yext (More details about that relationship here.).

And while every business acknowledges the necessity of having updated, accurate, and highly visible information across Google’s platforms and products, there is also an increasing wariness of relying on it as a primary partner. But until Google starts charging for this new service, it’s safe to say that this represents a set of tools for which SMBs have been increasingly searching.