Google Shoots Local Business – Lost Their Head?

Getting a haircut the other day at my neighborhood barber, I nearly fell off the chair when she said a man from Google had stopped by and photographed her small shop – inside and out.  Actually she said something like, “You’re on the Internet; see this company that came by and said people wanted to see photos of my shop on the web.”  This proprietor doesn’t have an e-mail, doesn’t realize her business listing already existed on Google, didn’t reach out to become a client, doesn’t have a Google advertising account, and was impressed they were doing this for free.  No strings attached.  Whoa – if I were the Yellow Pages, I might as well close down my business now.

Online yellow pages charge businesses $57-$199 per MONTH for listings, but Google’s traffic swamps them all – and it’s growing.   So the stakes are huge.

We’re all familiar with Google Maps and Street View – you can check out who parked in front of your home or what your neighbor’s backyard looks like.  Until recently, there was not much monetization in that business.  It was a huge logistical effort to drive down nearly every street in major cities and display the resulting database.  Free to users.

What’s happening now is the next logical step – going INSIDE businesses and shops to create an even more rich experience.

Given that there are 40,000+ barber shops in the US, how many does Google intend to photograph for free?  Even if a photographer could shoot 16 shops per day, that’s 2,500 man-days or about 10 man-years of effort, probably a $1m expense.  That works out to about $25 per shop.

Now, I am all for a company providing a free service – if the terms are clear and transparent.  But I am suspicious when a company doesn’t present any economic model that makes sense.

I could understand Google contacting my barber if their statistics system identified a large volume of users searching for barbers in my zip code.  But quite frankly, knowing the clientele of my barber, where I am one of the youngest clients, there ain’t a lot of online searches going on here.  Given that my barber did not reach out to Google, and the traffic volume has to be light, why spend the resources to approach this shop and shoot it for free? When she didn’t even ask for it?

What intrigued me was the two pages the Google photographer left behind.  You’d think Google would ask for a signed release, or at least leave behind a specific offer or price list.  Apparently not.

How will Google use these photos?  How can the owner get them removed?  What prevents these photos being used against the owner?  What if they show up promoting another shop?  None of this is explained.  Check out a scan of the pages here:

My favorite line is “Here’s what we [Google] think you should know about the shoot.”

If that isn’t a sign of an omniscient power with paternalistic tendencies, then I don’t know what is…

We are in an incredible age, where even people and companies “off the grid” are being mapped and cataloged.  As an Internet advertising fan, I have no doubt that Google will make sure my barber pays up – when a significant amount of her customers begin to contact her through a Google Voice system, or an e-mail, or electronic coupon.  I am impressed and humbled by the resources Google is willing to spend.  A truly long-term goal, indeed.  Who needs the Yellow Pages?

A couple online Yellow Pages companies:
$99 to $199 per MONTH for a guaranteed 25 clicks per month. and Verizon printed yellow pages.
$57-$172 per MONTH for a detailed online profile.

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2 Responses to Google Shoots Local Business – Lost Their Head?

  1. jack wolfson says:

    I agree with Ken about businesses wasting their hard earned dollars on “EXTINCT” Phone Directories. I sold merchants ads in the phone book from 09/01 until 09/09. I told them in August 2009 that I was doing them a disservice by putting them in a medium that had gone the way of the dinosaurs.
    TODAY – Direct Mail, Smart Phones, Internet, Electronic Billboards, Radio, TV, Newspapers make MUCH More Sense.
    The Smithsonian Museum is where “Your Fingers do the Walking” belongs

  2. Ken Hayes says:

    Update: Visiting my barber yesterday, she showed me an envelope and brochure from Google – an offer to establish an AdWords account and get a $100 credit. Is this connected to the photos taken above? Note that the barber shop does not have a website or even an e-mail account (!), so buying Adwords to drive traffic to a website would be a waste of money. Would’ve been better to send her an offer from Google Local to upgrade her listing.

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