Google’s War on Small Business

Ok, this is a bit of a divergence from the normal fare. It can also be filed under the enormous, ubiquitous banner of “frustrated rant against Google”.

Google obviously enjoys the love-hate relationship it has with its customers. It keeps them relevant, important, and in the forefront of the minds of all of us who use Google and depend on its services. Google owns internet search. Let there never be any question about that. Bing has made an impressive effort to wrangle away some of the search engine market share compared to other non-Google players, but even with the power of a name like Microsoft behind it, has only managed a paltry 12% dent in Google’s empire.

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So it goes without saying that figuring out Google’s game, and playing it well, is a critical part of business success in the modern age. Given Google’s prominence and virtual monopoly on obtaining information instantly, Google enjoys the unique position of both creating the game, and forcing everybody to conform to it – if said business has any care at all about being viable and competitive. As we all know, the two overarching pathways to internet exposure with regard to online marketing are organic (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC). Since Google owns both by a long shot, they determine the methods of entry into each.

PPC is simple, rather intuitive, and generates instant results – but requires anything from a small fortune to a large fortune paid directly to Google in order to be effective. Not much more can really be said about it from a functional standpoint. It is what it is.

The holy grail is in SEO strategy. A very simple synopsis of what any business hopes to accomplish, is to frontload traffic and exposure with an aggressive PPC effort; while building and growing their SEO, with the hopes of being able to greatly reduce or eliminate their PPC budget by eventually meeting and exceeding web traffic goals through organic results alone. Obviously easier said than done, because it isn’t in Google’s financial best interest for your SEO to be so successful you find it no longer necessary to fork over any more sweet, sweet cash to them. Moreover, Google isn’t small business friendly in any way whatsoever. With everything online being so geared toward “techie trends”, entertainment, and the latest news cycle of about 30 seconds; small local businesses get the shaft.

…it isn’t in Google’s financial best interest for your SEO to be so successful you find it no longer necessary to fork over any more sweet, sweet cash to them.

What do I mean by this?

Small business is the beating heart of the American economy. A typical small business operates within a defined geographic region, employs members of its home community, and is really only interested in penetrating their own market. A local painting business in Reno, NV for instance – isn’t interested in owning the nationwide search term “house painting” on Google; they are interested in owning the term within the geographic region in which they operate, in and around Reno. What does Google offer them as a resource? Google Maps.

g-bizYes – Google Maps is tied to the head scratching product Google Business, which is tied to the much maligned and despised product, Google Plus. Within Google Business, there exists “Local Pages” and “Brand Pages”. The benefits and uses of each depends on who you ask. But the consequences of using the wrong one, or setting it up incorrectly, or selecting the wrong category, or adding too much information, or adding too little information – can be dire, and can nuke a business within the context of local search. The only method in which a local small business can actually be found easily on Google, is to carefully jump through the endless and ever-changing hoops of compliance with these Google products.

Google has determined that every single local consumer in the country has one method in which they shop locally – they use their smartphone as they are out and about, and search for a local resource, and utilize Google Maps to access it. This is great if you are a coffee shop. If you are a service-oriented business (our painting company mentioned earlier), you want phone calls and in-home appointments – a map to your business location does you no good, because you don’t do business in your location. You provide services to the public in their location.

Think about it for a moment. There are incredibly important in-home services that we all need and use when necessary. We don’t care where they’re located. We care that they can keep an appointment, quote a fair price, do a good job, and treat ourselves and our property with respect. Plumbers, locksmiths, handymen, flooring installers, landscapers – these are vital services, and services that thrive on a local economy. What do they care if you’re able to find their office address on your smartphone while riding your bike? They want your phone call, and they want to visit you.

Back to Google – in order for any of these types of businesses to be found locally, they need a Google Business page, carefully built to meet all of the hard-to-find-a-straight-answer-on requirements to be located on Google Maps. Since Google performs a geolocation service on every search performed, it knows where you are. So a search in Reno for “house painters” will pull up a Google Business/Maps graph of Google Business/Maps compliant house painters in that local area. Being able to enjoy a prominent placement on that list is anybody’s guess. If 35 house painting companies are found, Google prominently displays 8-10 of them within the graph. No one knows for sure the ranking factors that are employed in order to generate the order of companies on the list. Some say it’s based strictly on geography – the ones literally closest to where you’re standing at the time of the search are the ones that rank higher. But this is not at all true in many cases. Furthermore, from my experience, if the name of the company doesn’t include the exact product or service being searched, it often won’t even make the list!

Not everyone is a twenty-something hipster looking to meet some friends at a local bar for a wine tasting before hitting the town, while shopping for the latest fashion on their smartphone.

Google has an unlimited supply of instant answers and resources if you’re interested in what Beyoncé had for dinner last night. If you want to shop online for ecommerce products, Google has you covered in many different ways. Even on mobile, no one is better than Google in determining what’s going on, what’s hip, and where the action is. But that’s not the extent of internet use. Not everyone is a twenty-something hipster looking to meet some friends at a local bar for a wine tasting before hitting the town, while shopping for the latest fashion on their smartphone. If you are, that’s great, and Google is your friend. However, a huge population of Google users consists of an older, more affluent demographic trying to connect with local services within their community. And it doesn’t seem that even Google itself has good answers for them, or for the local businesses that would like to connect with them as well. Google Business is a joke, and frankly, a nightmare to use and understand from a business owner perspective. Google has crossed the divide into trying to be all things to all people, and forgot who they were, and what they were good at along the way. Plenty of far superior local business solutions such as Yelp.com exist, and do a much better, more efficient job of locating the right businesses in the right location.

Thankfully, the excellent SEO blog Search Engine Land has some useful answers for optimizing one’s Google Business page, and hopefully being found in local search. Appeasing Google’s ever-changing demands and submitting to their standards is a complicated and awkward dance between local small business and the gigantic search engine company. And it doesn’t appear that it’s getting easier any time soon.


We want to hear from you! What is your experience with Google? Do you have any tips or insight to share? Please let us know in the comments below!

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