Small businesses in several cities have a new tool for attracting local customers online, and it doesn’t require any heavy lifting.
Google Boost rolled out this week in San Francisco, Chicago, and Houston — the same week that Microsoft announced its own search milestone: a single account to let you manage ads on both Bing and Yahoo!
Boost is the newest product in the Google Places portfolio. Places allow businesses to create free listings that appear on maps and in other search results. Boost is essentially the premium upgrade: It enables businesses to buy targeted, local ads that appear in Google.com and Google Maps results.
If your business isn’t in one of the launch cities, you’ll have to wait — Google has yet to announce plans to expand the offering, but presumably more metro areas will be added as the platform matures. Businesses outside the trial markets can request to be notified when Boost is made available in their area.
The service appears to appeal to the time-strapped business owner: All the advertiser needs to supply is a short business description, a web or Place page, business categories, and a budget. Voilà — an online ad campaign is born. Some businesses won’t even need to do that much: Boost can pre-populate suggested descriptions and categories based on information in an existing Place page.
Once live, the campaign effectively runs itself with no ongoing effort by the business. The system selects relevant keywords to trigger the ad, and Google says it will automatically optimize the campaign to squeeze value out of every dollar in the budget.
The launch of Boost comes as small businesses continue to put more of their advertising dollars into paid search, just not quite at the same brisk pace as before. Search engine marketing can be a more accessible advertising channel for small businesses working with tight budgets. The 12,000-plus businesses surveyed in a recent report by online marketing firm WebVisible spent an average of $2,327 apiece on search advertising in the third quarter of this year.
That’s a 6.4% bump from the previous quarter, and a 43% percent upswing over the same period in 2009. There’s still growth, for sure, but at a significantly slower rate than in the three previous quarters, when year-over-year search spending increased 159% (Q2 2010), 91% (Q1 2010) and 111% in (Q4 2009).
The same report shows Google’s competitors gaining ground in the SMB segment: Google’s share of spending has declined 8% since Q3 2009, while Bing, Yahoo!, and Ask each added between 2 to 4% during the same period.
WebVisible says it expects the combined Bing and Yahoo! to account for more than 40% of future search spending by its small business clients, though Microsoft itself acknowledged that advertisers should expect a learning curve as they transition to the new platform.
Meanwhile, a Google product in beta can sometimes seem like an ultra-exclusive club — even if you’re in one of Boost’s three test markets you’ll need to be invited on your Place page to participate.
Is your business a chosen one? Let us know in the comments.