Google is using a range of strategies to engage local, small businesses and get them to claim and update their information through the Local Business Center (LBC). In a provocative new effort, Google has identified 100,000 “Favorite Places” based on “how many times Google users looked for more information about those businesses.” Right now this is US only but Google intends to expand the program to other geographies over time.
As a key part of the overall effort and promotion, Google has sent out physical window decals to these 100,000 businesses for them to display in their windows (bet that they will). Similar to many of the familiar “best of” or “winner of” stickers that one sees in local restaurant windows, these decals contain something extra: a QR barcode that links the physical sticker to the mobile version of the Place Page on Google associated with that business.
If users have smartphones, which also must have barcode scanning software installed, they can use them to retrieve the Place Page information on their handsets — as they’re standing in front of the business. There are several barcode reader apps for both the iPhone and Android handsets, as well as other smartphone platforms, that can be easily downloaded.
Users will be able to get a range of information about the business, whatever is contained on the Place Page:
- Hours of operation
- Cards accepted
- Brands carried
- Menus (if applicable)
- User-generated content
- Coupons/deals (if they exist)
They’ll also be able to “star” businesses for later recall or write reviews if they’re inclined.
The benefits of all this to both the user and to the business (potentially) are relatively self-evident. For example, local coupons created in the LBC and distributed via the SMB Place Page will show up when users scan the window stickers. Google hopes that this in part will promote the creation of more coupons by local businesses.
However there’s a learning curve here both for the businesses and for Americans, who don’t have lots of experience yet with QR codes. But Google will make an effort to educate both sides online and in the materials sent to the local businesses receiving this first wave of decals.
In its supporting online information and FAQs Google asks, “Want to become a Favorite Place on Google?” Step 1: Claim your listing on the LBC. Only LBC verified businesses will be considered. Thus, here’s another incentive to sign up for the LBC, as are Local Listing Ads.
I asked Google if the “Favorite Places” would be called out or identified somehow in search results. They said no — nor will it affect the local algorithm — but there will be a place or places online where people can discover these businesses; however it will be removed from the area of search results:
I (not they) made the case the consumers are fundamentally interested in this type of information; “best of” lists and favorites help jump start consumer research and local decision-making.
Beyond the effort to get more SMBs to sign up for the LBC, and whether or not this immediately succeeds, it’s a fascinating example of Google bringing its multiple assets to bear on a problem and another example of Google tying the PC to mobile and, in this instance, to the real world as well.