My Big Question About Google’s Favorite Places

There’s been buzz the last couple of weeks about Google’s Favorite Places campaign in which they are sending posters to just 100,000 US businesses with the suggestion that the business owner display their poster in a prominent place. The purpose? People can stand in front of the poster and use their cell phone to scan a bar code on it that takes the user to the business’ Google Place Page. You can see the language of the letter being sent out here at Mike Blumenthal’s blog.

So, here’s my big question: if you’re already at the place of business, why would you need to look at their Place Page?

-To ask for directions? No, you’re already there.
-To look at the place on a map? No, you’re already there.
-To look at a StreetView shot of the map? Why would you need to? You’re already there.
-To get the phone number or address? Presumably not, since you’re already in direct contact with the business by being there.
- To see hours of operation? By standing in front of the business, you can see if they are open or closed, right?
- To see which buses go there? Well..maybe, if you’re trying to direct a friend who has no car to come at once and meet you at the business.
- To see photos or video of the business? Likely not, as you are already looking at ‘the real thing’ just by standing there.
- To look for a coupon? I doubt it, really, because if you are like most people, you’ve never heard of Google Coupons.
- To see AdWords ads, what category the business is in, or perhaps, what citations it has? Come on. I don’t think so.

So…what are we left with? If standing in front of a business and scanning the Favorite Places poster is yielding you information that will already be obvious to you just by dint of standing there…what does a Google Place Page offer that would make you engage in this scanning behavior?

I can think of just one thing and that is reviews. In fact, the Google Favorite Places letter indicates that this is one of the reasons someone would put up the poster. I almost always find it necessary to envision real-life scenarios in order to understand the application of local-oriented products. I want to understand how you and I would use them. So, here is the only scenario I can think of in which someone would bother scanning a poster hung, perhaps, in the front window of a shop. Let’s say you are looking for a place to eat on a big city street with many restaurants. You could walk up and down the whole street scanning each poster to look at the user reviews that have been left in order to pick your place to dine.

Will this happen? Not with Google only sending out 100,000 posters nationwide. Chances are, you’d be lucky if even one of the restaurants on a busy city street has been awarded this poster of obscure merit. Now, if Google had sent out posters to every business in the country, maybe adoption of this activity would be widespread enough that walking past store fronts and scanning posters in order to access user reviews would become habit-forming. I don’t know.

Help me out here. The more I think about this poster idea, the more confused I become about both the scenario of usage and the value of implementation. And then I start thinking about how Google has this huge glitch that’s been ongoing for years now in which they often don’t count reviews left through their own Google Reviews portion of Maps. You’ll see the total number of reviews added up in the A-J column of Maps, comprised of user reviews from TripAdvisor, Frommers, Dine.com, JudysBook, etc., but the reviews left directly through Maps aren’t taken account of. Sometimes they are. Why? I don’t know.

All I can think is that it’s really kind of weird that a company (Google) is making a big effort to drive traffic to pages that really only offer one type of content you can’t get just by standing in front of the business and that this content is the portion of Maps that is perhaps the most neglected and poorly understood: user reviews. What is the point? Can anybody tell me?

13 Responses to “My Big Question About Google’s Favorite Places”

  1. on 11 Dec 2009 at 3:36 pm Mike Blumenthal

    I think that you need to view the promotion from Google’s point of view.

    My guess is that they wanted to raise awareness of the value of the LBC to the current participants, increase the chance of additional businesses and consumers becoming aware of the product and they wanted to do so cheaply.

    I estimate that this promotion cost them $250-350,000. For that they get
    -lots of on-line press about the LBC
    -Some offline press about the LBC
    -Probably 50,000 posters hung up somewhere where others,both businesses and consumers can see for a long time to come

    They are giving a nice recognition to those folks that have been both active in the LBC and have benefited from…ie their supporters. They are more likely to sing its praises than most.

    In addition they are gathering early data on the penetration and behavior of those use cell phones to use QR codes.

    All in all a pretty good deal if you ask me.

  2. on 11 Dec 2009 at 4:06 pm Stever

    It’s certainly;y about raising awareness about Google Maps in general.

    As for its uses, I think your right on the reviews side pf things, reading them, or the business owner saying “Hey, got a mobile phone? Scan this then leave a review please.”.

    Another use is for quickly saving a business location to your My Maps and favorites.

    100,000 is a pretty small number considering all the businesses listed in Maps. But this is just a test run. Google will analyze the data they collect, see how people are actually using the bar codes, then maybe roll something out to everyone else. If and when Google finds that usefull.

  3. on 11 Dec 2009 at 4:36 pm Mike Ramsey

    Both of you guys hit this spot on. After you mentioned this to me Mike in your post I realized that it is self promotion in a large since.

    They are sending 100,000 invitations to the MOST VISITED and MOST POPULAR businesses across the US. Imagine the amount of people that are going to walk by, or take notice to these flyers. I think it will ultimately be to promote more people to use maps in general. If they can keep consumers visiting, they can sell local listing ad space.

    It also is a great way for pushing smart phones and applications which benefits Google in a large way if people are getting use to Maps as their IYP and review source.

    Great post Miriam and I liked the point made that reviews are the the biggest reason to visit. And Stever, your my maps idea is a good application.

  4. on 11 Dec 2009 at 5:28 pm Mark Bossert

    This is a post that had me puzzler working overtime. Good stuff. Is this (in effect) an advertising awareness experiment… can Google thru the posters and participation of the business owners so honored create much more awareness and use of the LBC — like Mike said “on the cheap?”

    They seem to be very good at getting user participation in order to increase effectiveness of their offerings – the map data points being a superb example of that. Scary smart that.

  5. on 11 Dec 2009 at 5:41 pm admin

    Mike,

    Yes, this point you make is a good one:

    “In addition they are gathering early data on the penetration and behavior of those use cell phones to use QR codes.”

    I can see the value in this for Google, but I am not seeing strong value for me (the person who might encounter such a poster out on the street). Having already found and arrived at the business, haven’t I really already made my decision to go there…whether this is a restaurant, a lawyer’s office or a public library? It seems a stretch to me to envision a scenario in which this benefits the user in a meaningful way. It seems artificial.

    So, while I’m giving kudos to the business owners who received this poster, and I can certainly see how this benefits Google in terms of publicity, I am still unconvinced of its merit for the user.

    Thank you for stopping by!
    Miriam

  6. on 11 Dec 2009 at 5:45 pm admin

    Steve -
    I like this idea for the business owner:

    “Scan this then leave a review please.”

    Yes, that’s a really good point and could make getting instant reviews at the time of service a lot easier, if the customer is game.

    Could you elucidate for me, Steve, your favoriting/MyMaps scenario. I really don’t make use of those functions beyond playing around with them. Once I know where a business is, I’m not likely to forget it. How do you use this function yourself? To remember phone numbers you frequently call for certain types of businesses…maybe doctors or something like that? I’d like to know as maybe this would start to draw a picture of some genuine benefit to the general public.

    So nice of you to leave a comment, Steve!
    Miriam

  7. on 11 Dec 2009 at 5:52 pm admin

    Mike R.,
    I agree with the trend of your predictions about greater use = greater opportunities for Google to sell ad space. Definitely!

    I think all 3 of you fellows are right that this needs to be viewed in the light of good self promotion for Google, but the civic-minded person in me wants that to include benefit for the public, too.

    Now, I’ll tell you, Mike…if Google could somehow upload real-time store inventories to retail stores (a la Milo but it would have to be more complete) and I could scan something on the front of the store that would tell me what was in the store, I’d go for that! Avoiding wandering around crowded stores that don’t have what I need would certainly save time in my life. Some type of really useful data like this being part of Place Pages would provide all the reason I’d need to view Place Pages as a truly helpful end destination, worth taking out a cell phone for before walking into a business. As it is, right now, there just isn’t much content there that would cause me to do this. But, that could change.

    Thanks so much for letting me know your thoughts on this!
    Miriam

  8. on 11 Dec 2009 at 7:17 pm earlpearl

    Nice writing Miriam. Quite funny. I have to agree with above comments. I’m sure its mostly about self promotion.

    I did 3 searches in suburban areas near me; plumbers, dentists and bike shops. I looked at 29 records in G Maps (1 dup record) 12 were claimed by the owner. 17 weren’t claimed. I suspect that the majority of businesses haven’t claimed their records and the majority of small businesses don’t advertise with PPC.

    Its a huge market for Google to access.

    Every business owner knows about Google. They might not have a website. More likely they aren’t advertising with Google. They might have no idea about how to try and impact G Maps rankings.

    They see those posters. They get a sense that the business is being frequently visited by searchers using Google. They might just want to work their way into the Google world, and ultimately start advertising.

    While their appeared to be a fair number of plumbers and dentists advertising, there were only 2 PPC ads for bike shops. Of the 2 ads, one was from a bike shop and the other from yellow pages. Contrary to my reasoning above and that of other commentators, the bike shop that was advertising hadn’t claimed its listing.

    Regardless, once you’ve claimed a listing Google continues to make you aware of PPC opportunities. Sooner or later they make hook you.

    I’m sure its about self promotion.

  9. on 12 Dec 2009 at 2:32 pm admin

    Hi Mark,
    Yes, Google can be pretty smart, eh? Thanks for taking the time to comment.
    Miriam

  10. on 12 Dec 2009 at 2:38 pm admin

    Hi Dave,
    Great description of people coming into contact with the posters, and it seems you agree with the consensus here that this is a self-promotional effort on Google’s part. That seems clearer and clearer.

    So strange to think of the bike shop having PPC but an unclaimed listing. Yet, I’m just not surprised. It feels to me like finding a claimed listing is remarkable when I’m searching for local things. True, we live in a bit of a backwater compared to SF or NYC or Washington DC. But still, there are simply scads of businesses in the nearest major towns, and my sense is that the majority of them are out of the local loop.

    It will be interesting to see if this effort on Google’s part does raise awareness. 100,000 businesses still seems pretty minor, but if they can use the user behavior to implement next campaigns on a wider sale, we shall see…

    Thanks so much for stopping by, Dave!
    Miriam

  11. on 14 Dec 2009 at 11:51 am David Mihm

    Well, I’m obviously very late to the game here after getting back from the Kelsey show last week…

    I think that Mike and Stever hit 99% of what I wanted to say, but the other thing I’d add is just a general comfort level with mobile usage is going to help Google in the long run wrt ad dollars. Something akin to what Yelp is doing where someone can scan in the QR code, see a place of business, but that the ad served on the mobile device might be for the business across the street? Additionally it might get more business owners to upload coupons, inventory, etc. as you guys have already pointed out…

  12. on 15 Dec 2009 at 4:41 pm John Tuggle

    Great post Miriam!

    I did just get one of these in the mail. So here’s my question. I run my business out of my house, so if I stick it on the wall, I’ll be the only one to see it!

    Not really useful for me, but it seems like they want the business owner to update their listing by the wording on the card.

    Although it did make me feel good that Google sent me a card that said I’m one of their favorite places!

  13. on 16 Dec 2009 at 1:29 pm admin

    Hey, John!
    Congratulations on the poster, but I certainly see your dilemma. I guess your best bet would be to hang the poster in your teaching studio as a sort of award. And, by the way, we could include a little screenshot on your website. Richly deserved, John!
    Miriam

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