Paul Brent, Financial Post
Published: June 2008
Google has proven to be such a dominant search that Microsoft Corp. has been forced to introduce a plan to pay consumers to search the Internet in an effort to gain more attention. The pay-for-search model may gain Microsoft some eyeballs, but it seems unlikely the scheme will topple Google from its lofty perch.
Because Google is perceived to be the search engine of choice for North American businesses and consumers, companies pay big bucks to Internet search experts, or search engine optimizers (SEO), to ensure their products and services appear at or near the top of its search list. “Winning search in the dot-com space is getting so competitive for major keywords like golf or shoes, It is hard to win. Said Scott Wilson, president of a Burlington, On., SEO consultancy. As Google’s power grows, getting its attention is getting more expensive, consultants say. “Search optimization is becoming more financially unreachable for small U.S. companies but Canadian companies can still compete,” Mr. Wilson argues. “Google.ca is the default in Canada and the search engine recognizes domestic web sites as Canadian. This means small to mid-sized companies here can seriously get into search and win some major keywords without having a six figure budget. Mr. Wilson’s company eMotion Picture Studios, counts U.S.-based Home Depot Supply among its clients. It works to ensure the contracting giants products and services rank high in Google's searches. The ultimate goal is to come up on the first 10 searches. A customized program from eMotion starts at $10,000 Mr. Wilson says he can “win” key search terms for Canadian clients far faster than for U.S. clients.
For small businesses to win the Internet search game, Mr. Wilson’s firm has stumbled on a free SEO option called Google local business center. Tied in with Google maps, it allows businesses to list their address and products or services into the search giants database. The only requirement is the firm setup a Gmail account. On Google maps main page, the user clicks “put your business on Google Maps,” and fills out all the forms provided.
Google then provides a pin number to activate the listing, or it mails a post card with an enclosed pin that must be used to prove that listing is for a real business at the address provided. “The nice thing is you can sign up for Google Local search without even having a website,” Mr. Wilson says, “You just open a Gmail account for free and get listed. For small business that can’t afford $12,000 for search engine optimization, this is a free and easy option.”
To illustrate how wide open the Google local search tool is, Mr. Wilson taps out a few examples on his computer. Searching out “tattoos Guelph,” yields three results, not surprising considering the Ontario town is full of university students much of the year. Searching “tattoos Oakville,” a city near Toronto, yields just one location, giving it premier placement in Google search, all for signing up with the Local Business Center service. The tactic is especially effective for companies that count heavily on customers being geographically nearby.
Another loophole is the ability to add a coupon to a small business listing. (The example Google gives is 10% of any medium pizza, free delivery.) “We don’t know if the coupon helps you stay on the first page or not,” Mr. Wilson says. “it’s getting harder and harder to rank on the first page….Google wants to get all the local businesses signed up and anyone who signs up early is getting top treatment,” he notes.