Last Tuesday Google introduced Google Places, sort of. Google has had a Local Business Center, a place where business owners could register their businesses and provide additional information, for quite a long time. The renaming of the site is Google Places and there is a little bit of new functionality, but most of it’s not available unless you’re in certain rollout cities. Google Places is available at http://www.google.com/places.
That URL isn’t going to do you much good unless you’ve verified a place of business. And that’s where the first big change has come; if you run a business without a storefront or a formal office — say, you work from home — you can now register a business and keep your address private. And if you have a business where you go out into the community to provide a service, you can specify a geographic area that you serve. Great ideas for service businesses and consultants.
No matter what kind of business you have, you can also now get customized QR codes, which you can put in your own marketing material. A QR code is a sort-of bar code that can direct users who scan it with their cell phones to the mobile version of a business’ Place Page. You can learn more about QR codes at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR_Code. Your business may already have a QR code image if you were named one of Google’s Favorite Places. Google is sending out window decals to another 50,000 “Favorite Places” so you might be getting that in the mail too.
Google already had several useful features in place for its Google Local Business — there are stats reports showing what people are searching for when they find your listing, and the zip codes from which viewers are requesting driving directions. And more recently Google offered a way to post a “real-time” update on a Maps listing — a little tweet sized update that can also contain an URL if you like. It would be REAL handy if Google added its goo.gl URL shortener to the mix so you could track clickthroughs on your update. As it is you have to use your own bit.ly or something, and the reports are not integrated into Google Places.
Some of Google’s new Places offerings are available in only a few places. Google is now offering business photo shoots which is exactly what it sounds like — a business can request that Google come in and do a free photo shoot of its store. No word on where that’s available but it kind of blows my mind. Google is also offering the ability to pay $25 a month to get “Tags” for making Google Maps listings stand out. Tags are only available in five cities at the moment with five more on the way.
As a consumer I’m a little leery of advertising on Google Maps. As someone who has dealt with Yellow Pages sales reps and totaled up costs for line listings and tiny little black and white ads, I’m thrilled at the idea of paying 25 bucks a month to advertise in a medium where I can get quantifiable, trackable results. Google’s challenge is going to be to balance this revenue opportunity (I’m sure you can multiply my feelings by thousands and thousands of business owners) versus a good experience for searchers/consumers.