The Wall Street Journal reported this weekend that Google is planning to combine a number of its products (internally developed and acquired) into a suite of tools and services aimed at small business marketers:
Google plans to have its newest small-business service—which at one point it was calling Business Builder—up and running as early as July, said a person familiar with the matter. The project combines several products and services aimed at small businesses under a single banner. It is based on a mix of internally developed software and recently acquired technologies that the company hopes eventually will bring in billions of dollars a year in new revenue.
According to the WSJ the package would include:
- Google+ Local pages
- AdWords Express
- Google Offers
- Delivery (a new service that would enable stores to deliver products to homes)
- TalkBin (an SMS-based customer feedback tool; so far doesn’t enable review solicitation)
- Google Wallet (combination of online payment and smartphone-enabled payment at a POS)
- Punchd (in-store loyalty program)
In the past some of these “solutions” have been presented together. The following is a year-old screenshot from Google’s site aimed at SMBs. Boost is the product that became AdWords Express.
Over the past year Google has been making a big push with initiatives in multiple states to help SMBs to get online and develop mobile websites (in partnership with DudaMobile). Why are SMBs so important? Beyond the fact that they represent billions of additional dollars in potential ad revenues in the aggregate, more than 95 percent of businesses in the US qualify as “small businesses” (under 99 headcount).
The overwhelming majority of SMB have fewer than four employees. These very small businesses have been extremely difficult for Google to reach efficiently “at scale.” Most of them won’t “self-serve” through a product like AdWords. Consequently, the company cultivated a network of “resellers” and traditional media partners over the past 5 – 7 years. These companies resell AdWords to local businesses — with generally mixed results.
Google would, however, prefer to have as many direct relationships with local/SMB advertisers as it can. Yet the challenge for Google continues to be two-fold: marketing products and sales.
With the above mix that the WSJ describes, Google gets a bit closer to an SMB-friendly product suite. However it’s still missing a reputation tracking capability (other than Google Alerts) and a listings syndication component (think Yext, UBL, SinglePlatform). We’ll have to see what’s actually announced or presented. (Arguably the recently announced Yahoo Marketing Dashboard comes closer to matching SMB needs.)
The second and probably more challenging issue is sales and customer service. The cliche is that “local is sold not bought.”
Google has been experimenting with a small telesales force but it has also built an impressive multi-national customer care organization, which is substantially directed toward helping small business advertisers. However I can think of a few local SEOs who would dispute that Google has come all that far when it comes to customer service.