No longer just a search engine, Google has grown rapidly in recent years into a company that now offers a variety of tools and services, many of which are aimed squarely at small business owners. Some of Google’s most compelling services are free, making them even more tempting to small business owners on a tight budget.
But some critics say the cost of using Google products is a loss of your company’s privacy; the more you tie your company to Google’s products, the more Google knows about you, your customers, your bottom line, and more. The obvious question for a small business owner, then, is Which Google services should I use?
The incredible diversity of small businesses makes that a difficult question to answer; what makes sense for a 12-person company with $800,000 annual revenue may not make sense for a mom selling baby clothes from home. Nonetheless, in general terms, here are several search- and business-related Google products a small business owner should consider using.
Google products a small business should (probably) use
Google Analytics. Google Analytics is an exceptionally powerful Web metrics package that offers a great range and depth of information about who’s visiting your site and what they’re doing after they arrive. It offers more information, I think, than many small businesses need. It’s also free, which is music to anyone’s ears.
When Google launched Analytics, there were immediate concerns about allowing Google to see your site “naked,” warts and all. People asked, Do you really want to expose your site like that to the search engine that has such great impact on your online success? The suggestion was that Google might use the data to influence your natural search rankings, manipulate the cost of AdWords spending, or worse.
My opinion: I don’t believe those concerns are legitimate for the vast majority of small businesses. You’re kidding yourself if you think Google cares about the 103 unique visitors you had yesterday and which pages they visited. On the PPC side, if you’re spending $8/day on AdWords, Google doesn’t care which keywords bring the most traffic to your site. It’s nothing personal; they just have more important things to worry about.
While I recommend Google Analytics for most small businesses, the bigger you are, the more you spend on PPC, and so forth, the less likely I’d recommend it. You can probably afford a different metrics program that doesn’t share all your data with Google.
Google Maps/Local Business Center. If you’re interested in acquiring local search traffic, this is the biggest no-brainer on the list. Google wants to know who you are, where you are, and what you do… so sign up and tell them! Beyond your basic business data, you can also upload coupons and photos, which may help catch a searcher’s eye.
Bill Slawski, who writes often about local search at SEO by the Sea, suggests two reasons a small business should use Google Maps/Local Business Center: “The information used in Google’s local search comes from a lot of different sources, and can be inaccurate. Verification means having control over that information and making sure it’s correct. The second reason is more proactive: There are a lot of interesting local search patent applications pending from Google, involving things like driving directions and transit information guides and offline shopping services. Getting involved now may provide the chance to participate in some very interesting and innovative programs with Google in the future.”
Google Base This is Google’s hosted database platform, where you can upload just about any type of data imaginable and put it into Google’s system. Many local real estate agents and brokerages are using this heavily, and giving themselves a better shot at visibility when searchers make real estate queries on Google.com. If you have products or other structured data, this may be a good way to let Google know about it and potentially drive traffic to your site.
Google Website Optimizer. Optimizer is a tool that lets you test various combinations of content on your Web pages. It’s a free tool that lives inside the AdWords system, so you’ll need an account there to use it. What it does is bring the previously high-end mechanics of A/B testing and multivariate testing to small businesses. For example, if you’re not sure which “Add to Cart” button placement will spur more sales, Optimizer lets you run live tests on your Web site and reports the results when the test is over.
Pat Schaber, who blogs about small business marketing at LonelyMarketer.com, recommends Website Optimizer because it “gives companies the opportunity to find out what piece of content, image, or call to action convinces their audience to take that next step with them. If enough conversion data can be compiled, a small business can learn from the Optimizer results and use that highly converting text or image across other marketing mediums.”
Next week, I’ll look at four additional Google products that might be great additions to a small business’s Web and marketing strategy.
Matt McGee is the SEO Manager for Marchex, Inc., a search and media company offering search marketing services through its TrafficLeader subsidiary. The Small Is Beautiful column appears on Thursdays at Search Engine Land.