In the first decade of the Web Age, local marketers got off easy. Whether a Main Street business sold hardware or haircuts, having a website was never a make-or-break proposition. If someone wanted your product, they’d notice you as they walked or drove by. If you sold something more rarified, such as fireplace mantles or Swedish massages, then other forms of marketing would probably do. That’s all about to change. On Sept. 21, Mountain View, Calif.-based Google Inc. launched a beta version of Google Local Canada (http://local.google.ca). Unlike the original Google — which handles 70% of all Web searches conducted in Canada — Google Local allows users to perform location-specific searches. Look for “barber shops” near “1 Yonge St., Toronto”, for instance, and you’ll be rewarded with hundreds of listings, including addresses, phone numbers and maps, starting with the closest barber shop Google Local could find. (It’s 600 metres away, in Union Station.)
“It’s going to push a whole new local market to take their Web presence more seriously,” says Gord Hotchkiss, president and CEO of Enquiro Search Solutions Inc. in Kelowna, B.C., a provider of search-engine optimization services. Companies don’t need their own Web presence to appear in Google Local’s listings, as long as they’re mentioned somewhere in its two sources of information: Google’s index of four billion Web pages, and the Yellow Pages. Still, owning a website offers the advantage of describing your product using terms people are likely to use in their searches rather than letting someone else define your offering.
Moreover, website owners can increase their visibility by purchasing localized Google AdWords. These short text ads, which link back to your website, appear alongside unpaid listings when a user enters a keyword you’ve sponsored. Google won’t divulge sales levels for AdWords, which are priced through auction. But search-engine marketing consultant Andrew Goodman, principal of Page Zero Media in Toronto, believes few Canadian firms have caught onto the opportunity to secure localized AdWords. Thus, he reasons, “Keywords should be a lot cheaper, because no bidding wars have been ignited.” Auction prices start at 5ÃÃ¢ for every time a user clicks on your AdWord.
Google won’t divulge traffic levels, either. But given Google Local’s many imperfections, months could pass before it achieves a critical mass of users, giving local marketers time to reconsider their Web ways. (A search for “Wi-fi coffee shops” in Toronto, for instance, turned up dozens of errant listings, including a PR agency that mentions Wi-Fi coffee shops on its website.) That Google Local will get better is inevitable. “I expect Google to improve on it,” says John Metzler of search-engine specialist Abalone Designs in Vancouver. “Just like they do with everything.”