Google Boosts Local Business Services

Google has taken a big step forward in providing local businesses a way to

reach out to customers by beefing up Google Local Business, now known as "Google Places." The search giant hopes that the stronger offering draws more local businesses to use Google to promote their services.

Having used Google Places myself for my side job at a ski shop here in Reading, Pennsylvania, these changes are pretty exciting. For many small businesses -- especially new ones like ours -- the quickest way to get on the map and attract customers is through the Internet. (See also "Google Buzz: A Visual Tour.")

Service and home-based businesses will benefit through the ability to define service areas, allowing customers to more accurately find businesses that serve them. Additionally, home-based businesses that don't want to make their home addresses public can hide them from the listing if they so desire.

In select cities, the company is offering free photo shoots of the interior to supplement the exterior photos already on the Places pages of the business. While the company says a business owner could do this themselves, the Google photographers will come with panoramic and fish-eye lenses to photograph the business, something the business owner may not have.

qr code
Finally, the company is taking advantage of QR code technology, giving Places pages users the opportunity to print out their own QR code to post in their windows (here, try the ski shop's on the right). A customer can scan this, which then would take them to a mobile version of the Places web page.

The company had started to use these in a "Favorite Places" campaign it launched last December to 100,000 of the most searched for businesses nationwide on Google: it has now expanded that to an additional 50,000 businesses on top of offering the service to all who choose to use it.

Google's latest changes to Places follow some others that have been introduced over the past few months, including the ability to post real-time updates -- useful for promotions, sales, and the like - and coupons, which the business owner can even format for the mobile phone.

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