In 1995, when volunteers came together in Missoula, Mont., to build a carousel to give the community a place for "good, old-fashioned fun," customers had to use old-fashioned methods, like telephone books, to find it.
The Internet was in its infancy, and a small business like A Carousel for Missoula didn't have to worry about how it showed up in search engines and social media. Now, if a small business isn't found when a customer searches on the map of their mobile phone or through the Web, they may never be discovered at all.
To combat this problem, Google is announcing Wednesday the launch of an aggressive new program to help small businesses get found online. Called "Let's Put Our Cities on the Map," Google has generated customized websites for virtually every town and city in the U.S. to enable local businesses to learn to improve the information that shows up on Google search, Google maps and Google+.
"People use Google for so many things, to find basic information," said Jessica Coulter, director of operations for A Carousel for Missoula, who attended a pilot of the program last October conducted by the Missoula Chamber of Commerce.
"People find us when they say 'What is there to do with kids in Missoula?' or 'What can you do in Missoula?' When they can find that information easily on Google, it helps promote our business."
In fact, studies show consumers are looking for more than just basic information when searching online or on maps, but also expect to find other information – such as business hours – and photos easily. According to research conducted by Google and research company Ipsos MediaCT, consumers are 38% more likely to visit and 29% more likely to consider purchasing from businesses with more complete listings.
"Small businesses have said that getting online is hard," said Soo Young Kim, head of marketing for Google's Get Your Business Online Program (www.gybo.com). In 2011, Google began conducting small business workshops in a number of cities. Let's Put Our Cities on the Map grew out of that program as a way to reach more small companies.
"We're using sophisticated technology on the back end to make it simple for small businesses to get online and create their listing," said Kim. "Google has created over 30,000 websites to provide every business in every city a fast, free and easy opportunity to help them get found."
Google is also working with local partners, such as Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), Chambers of Commerce, SCORE chapters, to conduct training programs to assist small businesses in person. Local organizations serving the small business community can sign up to team with Google to host events and workshops in their area.