A few weeks ago, Google quietly announced that it would be extending its popular "Local" service to Australia. While many of us are familar with Google Maps as a great way to look at an online street directory, or peer down on our neighbourhoods via "satellite" view, its no secret that Google Maps is really about the future of Localised search, particularly for commercial products and services.
Now your business can put itself on the map, free of charge, through Google Local Search.
The Google Search Engine shot to prominence due to the perception that it provided the most accurate keyword search, and the top three listings on the results page were so good at providing accurate living information. The real genius of Google is how they turned Searching into a hugely profitable business; through their inexpensive, text based, easy for mums-and-dads-to-purchase advertisments, known as AdWords.
With the creation of Google Adwords we were all able to advertise our products and services against any keyword or compilation of keywords we liked. The last twist that shot their share price to hundreds of US dollars was that the keyword advertising was a constant living breathing auction. If I wanted to pay $2 for my position at number one, and my direct competitor wanted it more, they could pay $2.50 for position number one. The price per click for keywords continues today to be spiking higher and higher.
Google Maps is the next generation of ground breaking search. Instead of going to the search engine to find a product or service by text (including listings from all over the world), why not go to the map of your location and then search that area for what you want. Instead of going to Google and typing 'Thai Restaurant in Wollongong" and getting various results, Google Maps is now allowing Australian companies to submit their company name, address and blurb about what products and services you offer the market. Then, when people search on the map for Thai restaurants, little icons appear, and text bubbles with phone numbers and email addresses also come up.
The change means that Search is now based on the maps engine.
To put ourselves on the map, 2 weeks ago we signed up with Google Local Search Australia and asked that our company name, address and blurb would be added to the Google Australian Maps.
To confirm we were where we said we were, Google promised to send us a postcard with an authorisation code in it. Our card turned up on Monday and with our pin number we could complete a simple a 4 step process to activate our Internetrix company listing against our address location. After activating our Maps reference, we now have to wait as Google stipulates that there is a couple of weeks between map updates, so we're not quite on the map yet.
This initiative from Google bring new pressures to the Yellow Pages and traditional, local directory based advertising tools. Microsoft and Yahoo both have extensive and impressive mapping products, but Whereis, the home-grown mapping tool owned by the same company that owns the Yellow Pages, Sensis, is very poor.
The new focus on Google Maps comes as no surprise however, as on Australia Day it was well reported that the Google Maps was busy with an aircraft circling Sydney updating the quality of the photos. By running their own aircraft, instead of buying "satellite" photography from others, the pictures are such high quality that they show the seagulls on Bondi Beach amongst a range of other attractive birds and wildlife.
Signing up to get your company listed on Google Maps is straight forward. Simply go here and then sign up for an account. Once you have an account you can create your company blurb and address listing, then wait for the postcard in the mail which provides the verification details. It's new, powerful and well worth getting in on. Most new tools from Google end up being winners.
The big question going forward is likely to be - how long will this remain free? We don't know, and with companies spending thousands per year for Yellow Pages ads, its also pretty clear there's value to be gained by Google offering a compelling alternative. As long as Microsoft and Yahoo keep competing, the only likely losers here will be Sensis and their sub-standard, restrictive, proprietory products, which we for one won't miss. Additionally, with their focus on Cost Per Click and auction based advertising, its likely that it will still remain free to be listed and a part of these systems, with the price coming in if you decide you want something a little more fancy or prominent... just like in the paper directories business.
To sign up with Google for free and start the process of getting listed come to the Google Maps Australia Local Business Centre right here.
The Google Maps Local business centre is here with a more detailed tutorial.