Google Creates A New, Simplified Ad Unit For Local Business

In December 2007 Google promised to develop a radically simplified version of AdWords targeted at the mass of small businesses who could not or would not take the time to set up an AdWords campaign. The working name of the program was “Simple Ads.” It was semi-formally announced at the Google Local Markets Symposium, a partner meeting held at the Googleplex that I attended at the time. Eagerly I waited and waited to see how Google would diminish or eliminate the complexity of AdWords for local businesses.

There was an experiment with call-based lead generation in a distinct marketplace (“Google Merchant Search”). But that was discontinued.

Those “Simple Ads” never materialized publicly — until today. A version of the concept has now been introduced (in test form) as “Google Local Listing Ads.” Here are the high-level points as I understand them from a brief call with Google this evening:

  • These are new ad units that will appear both on (above the “10 Pack”) in local results and in Google Maps. They will not therefore compete with AdWords
  • They will not carry any creative, just business name and contact details — and a link/URL
  • The URL in the ad can be directed to Place Pages (confirming this earlier speculation from last week) or to a website
  • The ads are priced on a flat-fee basis (but prices vary by market and category). Google would not disclose the range, but I believe they begin at $20 per month and may go up to $200 or more dollars. But they’re experimenting with pricing. The first month is free.
  • To participate the business must have a verified presence in the Google LBC

In many respects, these ads bear a strong resemblance to a program that Yahoo has been running for several years, Local Featured Listings. Yahoo has reportedly had huge success with its enhanced listing product. But the company has not disclosed numbers for its higher-priced Featured Listings offering.

The new Google Local Listing Ads will be accessible under a new “Ads” tab in the LBC and will be a self-service product. The self-service comes in the form of claiming the business listing in the LBC. The ad unit is automatically created by Google, so there’s no work on the part of the small business, except to sign up and provide a credit card. It did not sound like Google was going to push these new units through resellers, as was implied with the earlier Simple Ads concept.

Here are two screenshots Google provided, showing placement of the new ad units on and in Google Maps:

Picture 253

Picture 254

Some time after I spoke with Google this evening I shared the news with a group of local SEO experts at dinner following Day 1 of SMX East. There was considerable debate among the group about whether local businesses would sign up for this program and how successful it would be. (Google is only offering it right now in San Francisco and San Diego as part of a limited test.) For context, there are 3+ million traditional yellow pages advertisers and 20+ million small businesses in the US. The vast majority of those businesses have fewer than four employees or no employees at all (sole proprietorships).

I believe the program has enormous potential, but it will depend on exposure and awareness. The flat pricing is right and the automated ad creation means zero work for the small business. However, at least in this early period, Google won’t be doing any promotion for the program — other than exposing me and others, who will certainly write about it. Mainstream news coverage may result, which may in turn trickle down to prospects.

What Google ought to do, however, when it’s ready, is run TV or take out a full-page ad in USAToday. To get proper attention for this Google needs to depart from its typical promotional methods in my opinion. Regardless, this program (though preceded by Yahoo), can be seen as a potentially dramatic development for Google and the local marketplace more generally. This will truly be the test of the conventional wisdom that a direct sales force is necessary to penetrate the local market.

Here’s the customary Google video explaining the program:

YouTube Preview Image

Postscript by Barry Schwartz: You can now see these ads in the Google AdWords listings. For example, a search on landscape design san diego returns these ads:

Local Ads in AdWords

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Google: Maps & Local | Google: Place Pages | Top News


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • semreportcard

    Great information, Greg. One of the biggest barriers to widespread adoption of PPC advertising in Google by small businesses has been ease of use. It is clear that Google Place pages are basically landing pages for small businesses that lack a professional web presence.

    I disagree with Google’s claim that the ads will not carry any creative. One of the unsettled issues with Google Maps right now is the practice of keyword stuffing the names of business listings.

    I would describe keyword-rich, geo-modified business listings as a form of creative in the ad. For example, what if a business legitimately changes their dba to Discount Rates Auto Insurance Chicago, LLC, with the accompanying website, I would consider this optimized marketing copy in the form of a business name.

  • ToddLeiser

    This could be significant, if the broad adoption occurs as you pondered in the post, but I see two more significant hurdles. Will merchants come back to the LBC for the reporting (a regular email from Google could help that) AND will the merchant be able to “translate” the consumer activity data into sales data. Arguably that is the same problem other media has, but there is the tangibility of a sales rep helping the rep “see” the results.

    I’m with you, tremendous potential, but it will take more time to gain traction than perhaps Google expects….Thoughts?

  • semreportcard

    Todd, the Local Listing Ads program will provide some conversion analytics, such as phone calls, clicks, and requests for driving directions (I assume in the LBC interface). Local Listing Ads also will offer free call tracking numbers with a short announcement such as “this caller brought to you by Google,” before each forwarded call.

    I believe this program is going to be huge and will directly challenge Google AdWords Resellers currently offering local search advertising platforms like ReachLocal and Yodle.

  • Shadab Malik

    You are right Greg. A TV Ad would be more beneficial since most of the sign ups would come from business owners without a web presence who are more likely to watch a TV ad than hit a web promotion.

    Google is now inevitable for the business owners WITH a website, this is just the start of Google’s expansion for those WITHOUT a website. The video say that the call will be received on a unique no. Does that mean Google will ask such biz owners to buy a separate no to track that?

  • Wickerpedia

    Greg you hit the nail on the head with your last sentence:

    “This will truly be the test of the conventional wisdom that a direct sales force is necessary to penetrate the local market.”

    Google keeps going back to the well on self-service even though the numbers are poor. Look at the LBL. It’s a FREE means to get your business exposure and yet adoption is very low (10 – 25%). Google’s local listing are still often fraught with error b/c they are a bunch of 3rd party bulk uploads and not actual claimed business. Yet Googlestill stands by the self-service model.

    Don’t even get me started on call tracking. Ever try to talk to a business owner about call tracking? They hate it. Yes it’s irrational but many simply can’t stand the idea. Now they want to put a pre-roll on it to make it slightly more annoying. Hmmmm.

    In the end SMBs aren’t marketers and don’t want to become ones. They are small business owners who have traditional mindsets that change VERY slowly. They will not self-service in the next 3-5 years.

  • ezaaron

    It looks great for local businesses. They do need to make the self service more friendly and less spam-prone, including the reviews piece of it. I believe that more and more businesses will want to be in control of their online marketing, and this is a good way for them to start seeing results.


  • Robert Blackwell

    As always your articles are very rich and informative thanks for the contributions. I was wanting  some feed back on a pattern of Google places abuse. What is your thoughts on the reviews that are being targeted from dirty marketing tactics for companies that are delibratly leaving negative reviews for a business to derank them?, Do you see a filter some time that will stop this corporate review espionage? | MICHIGAN INTERNET MARKETING AGENCY

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