After several years of low-key alpha testing and on and off again rumors of launch, it appears that Google Print Local will finally go live as a public beta in the next few weeks. Though I am often critical of new Google launches (see for example, my critique of Google Sky and Google Print, amongst others), from everything I have heard about Google Print Local, this one seems like it could really have legs.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with this product, here’s the basic concept (note: I have only seen screenshots, I have not actually played with the product yet). Online local searches – while growing every year – still make up a small minority of all local business searches performed every year. The problem is that the majority of Americans simply don’t think of going online when they need to do a search for, say, a “San Francisco plumber.”
Google Print Local solves this problem by literally bringing the Internet offline. Print Local starts by algorithmically creating categorization of local businesses. For example, if you are a personal injury attorney, you would be categorized as “attorney – personal injury.” Each categorization is then sorted alphabetically for easy searching. Google then applies geo-targeting to the alphabetized categorization. For example, if you live in Atlanta, you would only see listings from Atlanta.
Google has hired local sales teams to sell to local businesses. Once they have a critical mass of advertisers, they then go ahead and create an actual print directory. Google’s usability team did extensive research on the look and feel of the directories and will be using bright colors to make the books stand out (most likely, both the cover and advertising pages will be bright yellow, I am told). Using CART-SORT (carrier route sorting) technology, they can then distribute categorized, alphabetized, geo-targeting local listings to all residents in the appropriate area.
As with all Google products, placement within a category is determined by how much an advertiser is willing to pay (and relevance, but of course monetization comes first!). Again, assume you are a lawyer, if you are willing to buy a full-page, full-color ad in your category, you are automatically placed in first position. Advertisers who only want bolded headlines and text links end up toward the back of the listings. And businesses who don’t advertise at all still show up (like organic search results), but after all the paid listings.
One of the neat innovations of this system is that even if a user tries a different categorization when doing their search, Google has used semantic clustering to direct the user back to the main category. For example, let’s say someone does a search for “lawyer” instead of “attorney.” The user would see a message that says “see listings under attorney.”
This is truly the ‘killer app’ that local advertisers have been waiting for. Think about it: algorithmic categorization, alphabetized sorting, geo-targeting, CART-SORT delivery and semantic clustering – all without even having to go online! It really makes finding a local business palpable for the majority of Americans.
To make sure that I wasn’t simply drinking the Google Kool-Aid like most bloggers, I decided to run this story by a few industry experts prior to publication to get their reaction to Google Print Local. Here’s some of the comments I got back:
Jordan Rohan, RBC Capital Markets: “Absolutely brilliant innovation by Google. Getting local advertisers into the consumers’ home just makes good business sense. Consumers can put the Print Local book right next to their phone and have instant-access to a well-organized guide to local businesses. I call it “Page to Call” technology. Google to $800?”
Charlene Li, Forrester: “As always, Google is one step ahead of the competition. No doubt Microsoft will be preparing a similar offering soon. I wonder how this could be made into a Facebook application? In any event, expect a 500 page report on this from Forrester soon.”
Steven Levy, Newsweek: “Wow! I was ‘starry-eyed’ when Google Sky came out, but Print Local totally ‘eclipses’ Sky. Cover story here we come!”
Valleywag Editor Owen Thomas: “Does this have anything to do with the Google Jet? No? Then I’m not interested.”
So I’m clearly not alone on this one. Google Print Local is going to change the way local businesses advertise and the way consumers connect with those businesses. Congrats Google – you have struck gold! What’s next for Google? Well, the obvious extensions of this project would Google Telephone Pole, Google DirectPak, and Google Side of a Building. Says Google Product Manager April Feuwel, “After the release of all this incredible products, you’d be a fool not to trust Google with all your local advertising campaigns. Also, I have a bridge in New York to sell you, are you interested?”
Disclaimer: In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this is an April Fool’s Day joke. Although Google Print Local (or it’s portable version, Google Print Local Mobile) is a great idea, it does not exist, yet. All the statements in this post, including the comments/opinions, are fictional. Happy April Fool’s Day!