Part of Google's DNA is throwing stuff out there to see what sticks. That sort of corporate culture has led some to criticize the Mountain View, Calif., company.
"We're no more in the real estate business than we are in the restaurant business," Sam Sebastian, director of local and B2B Markets at Google, told BIA/Kelsey conference attendees Monday in San Diego. He was making that statement to emphasize the reasoning behind Place Pages for Google Maps, which initially emerged to support the real estate market. "Since we launched it, the conversion rates and quality of traffic for customers have increased," he said. "No evil plan. It's just a good destination. We're organizing information for small and medium business to continue to have a quality Web presence on Google."
Some real estate brokers or multiple listings services have approached Google to gain additional traffic, Sebastian says. They view the relationship similar to building a search engine optimization strategy. When Google first launched Google Base, no company distributed listings in the real estate category, but in the past four years many listings have surfaced, he says.
With foreclosures hitting an all-time high in the United States, it will become interesting to watch Google's future approach to listings, auctions and tools for the real estate market. "Out of the dust of what's happened in the last 18 to 24 months in the real estate market, there will be some innovative ideas, but I don't think they are out there now," Sebastian says.
Real estate focuses on location and local markets, as well as the intent of the person searching for information. Sebastian said Google has been hard at work building tools to identify local intent -- not just for people searching for content on PCs, but in the mobile arena, too.
One of Google's major challenges continues to be small-business support, Sebastian acknowledged, noting that "the whole SEM market grew up" around small and medium-sized companies.
Still, BIA/Kelsey estimates that between 40% and 50% of small businesses still don't have a Web site -- and Google doesn't have the "support" tools for small companies totally figured out, according to Sebastian. He said there's still a service component that's being worked out.
Sebastian said Google has major sales and support channels for local businesses, but mostly for large corporation that have a local presence.
Google's focus on building vertical search markets has led the company to assist Fortune 100 companies like General Electric and FedEx that want to engage online with consumers, but don't know how to take the first step and measure success. Many conversations Google has with C-level execs at these companies focus on building dashboards that can monitor these moves.
These companies have "upper funnel objectives," Sebastian said, but they find it difficult to determine ultimate online success if strategies don't connect to an actual sale once search advertising or marketing campaigns launch.
Sebastian pointed to Google Base, a database for structured data, as one way marketers can help Google index products and start conversations online. The backend tool helps Google index structured data, from real estate to auto listings, making it searchers to find content.
The tool bag has expanded from search to video on YouTube, Sebastian said. "When you look at how consumers consume media, it needs to be a balance with current levels of advertising," he says. "So if you have consumers consuming online to the tune of 70%, 80%, 90%, [it doesn't work if] the budgets are still wrapped up in traditional."