Will Google Eliminate the Need for Small Business Websites?

    October 2, 2009
    Chris Crum

Google has people riled up with its latest local search effort Google Place Pages. Place Pages are a Google Maps feature launched last week, which serve the purpose of providing everything you want to know about a place (a city or a business) in one spot. For example, if you search for a specific restaurant, you should get web pages, directions, reviews, images, street view imagery, business hours, etc. Google lets businesses submit specific categories they want to include.

There is concern from some that Google is trying to eliminate the need for users to leave Google and even visit a small business’ web site. WebProNews reader Doug Stewart, who wonders if this is an "assault against the small business website," commented, "Google wants people to spend more time on Google. Yahoo wants people to spend more time on Yahoo. Facebook wants people to spend more time on Facebook. Several of these large online "media" [companies] are doing everything in their power to keep the eyeballs on their website (unless you pay them for an outbound link)."

Do you think Google’s Place Pages are good or bad for business? Tell us what you think.

Google has always claimed to do everything with the user’s experience in mind. Unfortunately for SEOs and webmasters, however, it also could mean that people have less reason to go to their sites.

To me, this would really depend on the information that the searcher is hoping to acquire. It’s going to be about finding the right balance of useful information and providing an incentive to still go to your site (if that is your goal). The Place Pages would certainly bring a new element to the online reputation management table. You’re going to want to keep an eye on what’s showing up on your Place Page, and address the situation accordingly. They can include user-generated content.

Place Page for Burdick Chocolate Cafe

Another concern that has been voiced about Place Pages, is that Google could start ranking them in natural search results – outside of Google Maps. In fact, Erick Schonfeld points out that this is already occurring for at least the Burdick Chocolate Cafe (the example Google used when it announced the feature).

Place Page for Burdick Chocolate Cafe in Search Results

This could theoretically reduce clicks to actual sites, but again, this would just emphasize the need to manage your reputation on your Place Page. Your site is likely to be easily located from the Place Page anyway.

Blogger Eric Fredline says Google’s Place Pages are "designed for optimization," but that something is missing. "For one, Google would need local merchant’s to define some sort of ‘conversion event’.  This is conceptually as easy as defining a new ‘block type’ that will appear on the landing page and be optimized," he says. "For example, a restaurant might view a phone call or an Open Table registration as a conversion event.  If it’s a phone call, I imagine the merchant could be encouraged to use Google Voice to provide a closed loop analysis of the conversion event."

"Perhaps more likely than having individual merchants doing this (at least in all cases) would be a small army of SEO and SEM experts doing it on the businesses’ behalf – but within a closed looped system managed by Google," he adds. "Google could potentially create a whole new eco-system."

Place Pages sponsored adsAnother interesting factor of Google’s Place Pages is the fact that they have sponsored results on them. This could raise more concerns, such as competing ads showing up on a business’ place page. In Google’s chocolate Cafe example, the Page is showing ads for chocolate companies like Godiva and Ghirardelli.

There are a lot of questions about the Pages, and answers will likely come in due time. In fact, Google Place Pages will be discussed in more than one panel at next week’s Search Marketing Expo, which WebProNews will be attending. We should have more information on it then. 

The Place Pages come with their own structured URL. The example Google gives is http://maps.google.com/places/us/cambridge/brattle-st/52/-burdick-chocolate-cafe. You can see how it is structured by places/country/city/street/address/business name. Google discusses the feature here.

Google says that while not all businesses have a place page yet, they will soon. Businesses can update their info through Google’s Local Business Center.

What is your take on the role of Google’s Place Pages? Share your thoughts.