Google Spies Like Us

This week Google announced its Business Referral Program, which pays people for referring businesses to Google’s local directory. Now I’ll let you explore the details of this program for yourself, but the overall concept involves paying local reps, or Google spies, $10 for every business they successfully refer to Google Local.

Now at face value, I can see Google’s interest in building up its local directory in order to offer users the most complete local results possible no matter the location. After all, hasn’t Google always been about offering users the most complete and relevant search results possible. Why would local search be any different? And let’s face it, it’s no secret that the average mom and pop is not pursuing local search listings – be it Google, True Local, or any of the others – quite like they should.

But I’m not a “face value” kind of guy – especially when it comes to Google, if you know what I mean. Not to pick on Google, I guess you can say I have a tendency to question the motives of any large company, organization, government, politician, etc… After all, from what I’ve seen, this world is influenced much more by the almighty dollar than it is good intentions.

Speaking of the dollar – at $10 per refer; this is by no means a small undertaking on Google’s part. When you consider the number of local businesses currently not included in Google Local, this could get very expensive. So why is Google recruiting this legion of spies? Is Google really willing to spend this kind of money just for the sake of local search results? Of course not.

I’m not convinced that the reason for Google’s Business Referral Program is really all that unique at all. The way I see it, there are two reasons Google has done anything over the past few years – to establish itself as the dominant player and to serve ads. And don’t think that these two motives are exclusive of each other – the more dominant in any given space, the more ads Google can serve in that space.

As I’m sure you’ve heard me mention from time to time, the mobile web is maturing right before our eyes. And as new devices like the iPhone (or maybe the gPhone?) improve the mobile internet experience, it’s sure to experience a much broader adoption soon. And if Google is successful in getting Congress to deregulate the SMR spectrum, an ad supported business model could significantly lower the average user’s cell phone rates, and once again help establish Google as a dominant player in yet another space.

If/when this happens, the $10 investment that Google spent getting local businesses into its network is quickly recovered in the ad dollars that these same local businesses now spend to geo-target local ads to mobile web users right down the street.