Google tells Bradenton businesses to beef profiles or they'll be gone
BRADENTON -- Google is begging Bradenton area businesses to use its free, online business resources.
But if they don't, Google is going to unplug them from the map-based system most people use to find shops, restaurants and services.
Since early summer, Google employees have been fanning out across the nation to teach business people to better use Google Maps, the free business listings that pop up in Google searches and some of the company's less-known search engine optimization tricks.
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More than 50 Manatee County business people got their own seminars Friday when Google came to town to speak to members of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce. The first thing they learned is that the free Google listings they have been taking for granted might soon disappear.
"If you have not managed your Google page, Google will start removing it the first of next year," said Steve Miller, a Google Maps employee tasked with spreading the word throughout Florida.
During two, two-hour seminars held at the chamber's offices in Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch, Miller not only told his audiences how to stay on Google, but how to move their businesses up to the top of the search engine lists. Terry Thompson, president of Bradenton internet marketing and design company Webtivity, said these lessons have become more critical as consumers have migrated to using mobile devices to find the goods and services they need.
"They just go right to their map," Thompson said.
According to its Get Your Business Online website, Google lists 3,420 Bradenton businesses.
Miller said Google's education effort is part of a strategy to get more businesses to use its free and paid online services. He said the company missed out on becoming the biggest player in web business information several years ago when it was unable strike a deal to buy Facebook. Facebook reported in April that it hosts more than 40 million active business pages.
Miller concedes that Google will likely not match Facebook in that arena. At the same time, Google remains the most widely used search engine, making it by default the arbiter of which businesses get seen.
While that may sound ominous, some chamber members attending the seminars said that they have a cozy relationship with Google. Jordan Chancey, a real estate broker associate with the Bradenton office of Leslie Wells Realty, said his company places its property listings on its Google+ page. Having a significant presence there and in local Google real estate searches raises his company's profile for potential clients. "I think there's a comfort there," Chancey said.
Google claims that businesses with complete online profiles, including addresses, hours of operation, photos and contact information, are twice as likely to be considered reputable by consumers.
Carey Martin, the office administrator for the chamber and one of the organizers of Friday's seminars, said her organization also keeps its Google profile current.
"Google's there when we need it," she said.
Brick-and-mortar businesses with storefronts generally make it into Google's business listings through work of Google employees. Google Maps personnel gather information about businesses while they're in the field generating images for Google Maps' Street View function. That information is turned into listings.
But, that information is typically incomplete. Miller encouraged business owners and decision makers to use either the Google My Business page to get their companies into Search, Maps and Google+ for the first time, or its gybo.com site to add information to their profiles.
He also gave a primer on how to better position company websites. He said adding photos and key words to websites that describe what a business does and where it is located can help it get it to the top of searches. That's especially important now, since Google recently cut the number of business search results shown on the screen from seven to three.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter@MattAtBradenton.