Web-challenged small business owners, take note. Google unfurled the latest in its long line of freebie services last week, this time offering a so-called “dashboard” aimed squarely at local businesses suffering from a weak online presence and lack of web know-how.
The new service gives business owners a simple, if limited, way to track information about their customers. Drawing on its map and search data, Google produces metrics such as what zip code your customers are coming from and what words they’re searching for to find your business. Owners can use such information to help them make business decisions on, say, where to open up a second store or how to fine-tune the products or services they offer.
Google will likely use the information provided by small business owners to try to sell ads to them, but, still, the service is a novel idea that’s bound to appeal to many small companies, particularly those looking to expand locally.
Signing up for the service at Google’s “Local Business Center” also allows any business with a brick-and-mortar store or office to customize how their company is listed on Google’s search and map services. For example, a mom-and-pop eatery can beef up their listing to include a menu, hours of operation and pictures and video of what’s on offer. A business can also try to attract new customers by hawking printable promotional coupons on their listing.
Of course, for those small businesses looking to grow their online presence in a big way there’s no substitute for having a bona fide website. But for those just coming to grips with the marketing possibilities of the web, Google’s new service could just be the fast, cheap and easy introduction they need.