WisBusiness: Google works to boost small businesses’ web expertise

By Brian E. Clark

For WisBusiness.com

MADISON — Tim Cowling owns JSK Jewelers in Greenfield and is website savvy. But after attending a recent national jewelry show he figures few of the people in his line of work are making much use of the Internet for marketing purposes.

“A lot of them don’t even like to email,” said Cowling, who was attending a presentation Tuesday afternoon on Google’s efforts to get small Wisconsin businesses online by offering them free websites and other services.

The online search powerhouse – which has annual revenues of an estimated $30 billion – is using the capital city as one of its test sites for its Google Places Outreach Project, said Katy Morgan-Davies, the Madison-based local partnerships manager.

Madison is also home to a Google research and development center that is focused dealing with officials call “warehouse scale computing” as Internet usage shifts increasingly to small mobile devices.

But Morgan-Davies said Madison was picked because it has an entrepreneurial spirit, strong community identity and “lots of small businesses that we can get involved with and help attract customers.” Other test sites include Austin, Texas; Portland, Ore.; and San Diego.

The benefit to Google, Morgan-Davies said, is that the company will gain more data about businesses that are using and updating information on themselves at Google Places. And that will allow Google to improve its search results, theoretically attracting more advertisers to its website.

Morgan-Davies, a UW-Madison law school graduate, said members of her team have been meeting with owners and managers of area small businesses to help them claim their Google Places listing and figure out an Internet marketing strategy.

“Why we do that is because of the sheer importance of being online,” she said. Marketing options include search ads, group buying programs, mobile marketing, ad networks, affiliate marketing, social networking and online classifieds.

But Morgan-Davies said she is not trying to sell ads during those visits.

“We are not going in with our hands out,” she said. “It really is about teaching people what their Internet options are.”

Morgan-Davies said she tells reluctant business owners that it’s wise for businesses to “claim” their Google Places pages because Google has probably already created a page for them, without their knowledge, if they have been around for at least a year.

That means people are already able to leave online reviews about your company and its service, she said, noting that Google has created 50 million Places pages around the globe.

“If you don’t claim it, those reviews don’t go away,” she added. “You just don’t know what people are saying about you. That’s one of the things we emphasize.”

Morgan-Davies explained that one-fifth of all online searches have to do with locations of businesses, which she said is another good reason for business owners to claim and customize their Places page to make sure their company’s marketing is current.

“And 40 percent of mobile searches are location searches,” she said. “People are using their smartphones to find businesses when they are on the go.”

She said Places pages allow business owners to respond to reviews – both positive and negative – and even delete harmful comments by asking Google managers.

“But you won’t allow to cherry pick the fine stuff and delete everything else,” she said. “But we do have mechanisms in place to protect you as a business owner.

“So ask your best customers for reviews. Give them a link to your Places page.”

In response to a question, Morgan-Davies said nonprofits and schools could also use Places pages to get their messages out.

But she said Google’s efforts in Wisconsin are aimed at smaller companies that don’t have the money or expertise to create, monitor and analyze websites and their traffic.

Google is also sponsoring a series of “Get Your Business Online” workshops next week in Milwaukee to help state small businesses build and grow their online presence. WisBusiness.com is among the Wisconsin partners in this series of workshops. Learn more: http://www.wisconsingetonline.com/