Local – Two sides to every coin.

12 Sep

I read Himmelstein on G’s Local Biz Referral Program with interest. I find Marty’s musings very thought-provoking and much more deeper than 99% of local-search talk out there.

But I also feel the need to disagree (to a certain level) – some things touted as positives have a negative side to it.

First off, Google’s Business Referral Program is rather cunning – pay $10 to get a business hooked onto Google. Utilize college students (ie people with lots of free time and bad at valuing time vs money).

First off – $10 is a pittance. Think of the customer acquisition costs the cellphone companies go through. Heck, web hosting companies are paying $65 comissions for web hosting accounts that pay $10 a month. The program itself is skewed – you only get $2 when a businss referral is approved, and then $8 when the business itself verifies the information. All this trumpeting of ‘Google pays for referrals’, and the fine print shows that it ain’t no cake walk.

Next up – decentralization. Not a good idea imo. You need structure and organization when dealing with businesses. Imagine you are a popular pizza joint that serves a lot of college students. Suddenly you have a dozen students a day trying to get you signed up with Google. Is that going to make you happy or annoyed? And think of the college student – he goes to thei pizza joint, asks about Google Local, and the business owner angrily replies “I’ve already been asked”. Ants (to use that analogy) are so successful because they work in a very organized and intelligent manner. You can’t just unleash people with zero direction and expect to have everyone happy.

Continiung on – structured content. This is where I will admit that if anyone can understand data, it would be Google. But different people have different viewpoints on the same thing. Back to the dis-organization – without a succinct focus on what is acceptable (and what isn’t), you can be diluged with data you can’t deal with. With data providers, even categorization is a huge headache – identical businesses want themselves categorized differently. Throw in business-specific data and you have a huge headache dealing with it properly.

Further along – completeness. The demographic everyone talks about reaching to are students. Last time I checked (and I was a Student less than three years ago) – students are damn poor. Which means the areas they frequently operate in is relatively small. Furthermore, places with students are usually pretty well covered – what about places that don’t have an active student population? Even excluding students, the last mile is far easier to deal with around a university campus than most other places.

Lastly – updates. If there is anything difficult about business data, it is keeping it updated. What matters is what the businesses who do sign up with Google do in a year – do they remain involved, or don’t bother?

I don’t claim to have the solution to the problem of connecting offline businesses online. I also think Google’s plan could be a lot better.

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