Jun. 14, 2010 – Google exec discusses key online initiatives for small businesses

How can small business owners, like dealers, better take advantage of the Internet? A Google executive answered just that question in a recent press conference.
John Hanke, Google’s vice president of product management, offered three pieces of advice for business owners:
1) Claim your online listing;
2) Engage in social communications; and
3) Experiment with online advertising.
Hanke spoke in May at a joint press conference with the Small Business Administration (SBA) to announce a series of videos, available at google.com/help/sba, designed to educate businesses about how to succeed online.
Besides the three pieces of advice, here are other takeaways from the program for dealers:

  • Build pages that are easy and simple to navigate.
  • Incorporate the best elements of sites you like into your site.
  • Brainstorm ways to show customers what you do well offline on your Web site. In an example from one of the videos, the president of a construction company notes, “A picture of our office or a phone listing in the phone book really doesn’t tell anything about our business.”
  • Upload high-quality photos and videos to show your unique offerings.
  • Utilize social networks to announce specials, deals and changes to your offerings. When trying to decide on a new soup for its menu, a restaurant featured in one video found success by promoting a free tasting and soliciting feedback via its Facebook page.
  • Research where your customers are (Facebook? Twitter?) and then engage them there.
  • Build a relationship with your customers by listening to what they are saying online. In an extreme example, Google points to a restaurant that chose its name based on feedback from its social networks. The same restaurant now uses its online following to host monthly “tweet ups” where in some cases more than 150 people gather at their location.
  • Produce original content specific to your offerings and industry.
  • Use free marketing to teach and engage your community. In one example from Google, an ice skating shop posted videos about how to find the right skates, how to sharpen skates and other topics in order to engage potential customers.
  • Ask your customers how you can help them learn more about you and what you offer.
  • Compliment your traditional advertising with paid advertising to reach consumers while they are in front of their computer. “Paid online advertising is highly efficient in that you spend as little time as is available to you and as little money as you want to start off with,” Gopi Kallayil, group product marketing manager at Google, says in one video.
  • Analyze your Web analytics account to determine how you can improve your site layout and attract new customers. (For a more extensive explanation of how to do this, see our blog post “Building a Web site that gets results” at insider.powersportsbusiness.com).
  • Claim your listing with Google Places (Google.com/places). “You can claim your place on Google. You can go there and register it,” Hanke said when he announced the collaboration with the SBA. “And once you take control of it as a business owner, you get to verify that all the information is correct, you can make sure the right phone number is there, it has the right opening and closing hours, that it’s accurate information about the products you sell.”
    As the videos point out, the Web can bring a lot of online leads without a huge investment. Shalini Agarwal, product manager for Google Maps, noted, “Over 80 percent of customers search for local information online. So, that’s a lot of people who could be potential business for you.”
    Google also produced a booklet on online success that is available through the SBA’s Development Centers. To learn more about the partnership and to see the video tutorials, go to google.com/help/sba. psb

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