It was at the very depths of the Great Recession. Early 2009, and in Las Vegas - well known as one of the hardest hit regions in the country. I found myself on a car lot. Having taken one of the only job available, I was trying to sell cars to customers that either didn’t exist or, when they did appear, had almost unequivocally trashed credit, and hence no buying options. To try and help my father-in-law, whose career had also recently been trashed, said he wanted to set me up with something new he was doing: a “Google listing.” At the time it was called Google Local Business or a Google Maps listing. Today it is called Google Places. It would be wrong of me to say I found the idea very exciting or expected the effort to be of much value, but anything was worth trying at this point and it certainly couldn’t make things much worse. So, I remember taking a call to my cell phone with some kind of automated "PIN code" and pretty much forgot about it after that.
One morning only a few weeks later something odd happened. I felt a vibration in my pocket, heard a sound and looked down to see a local number I did not recognize was calling my phone. I assumed it must be a wrong number but decided to answer anyway. I don’t even remember what exactly they were calling about. But what I do remember is that I was choked in confusion and taken aback that someone looking for the car dealership was calling me on my cell phone. How did they get my number? That same day my phone rang in the same manner about five more times. One call even involved the question “Yeah, do you got any black F250 4x4s with the crew cab . . . we’ll be down there about 5:30 to meet you.” The phone calls continued at a rate of anywhere from 2 to 10 times a day, every day thereafter
It was apparent by the end of that first day what was driving the sudden influx of phone calls: the local business listing on Google my father-in-law had set up for me. Using the techniques he had learned from his new job, the new listing, fully optimized, was now ranking #1 in Las Vegas under a number of searches. And like most people (and well over 90% of business owners at that time) I simply had no idea how powerful that could be. It is probably because the great novelty heralding the advent of the internet was the ability to connect with people, places, knowledge, information and customers WORLDWIDE that it took us so long to realize that this same immense power could be used to connect with someone we wouldn't have known otherwise right down the street. Including a car-buying customer. But here it was now happening and I saw it as an almost shocking reality. Every day people within a few miles of me were searching for my business on Google! I didn't know that. And since I was now the first to be found . . . I was getting the calls and what was at the time the prescious opportunity to earn their business. One customer, new to Las Vegas and having searched Google Earth, even asked if I owned the dealership . . .
Amidst Economic Depression Everywhere . . . A New Hope . . .
Unfortunately for me, however, the circumstances and economic climate at the time did not ultimately allow for me to find the success I needed off of the Google Places page.
To begin with, it was still the middle of the worst drought for auto sales in recent US history. Times being what they were, people were seeking most often to maintain the cars they already owned, not to buy new ones (if they were even able). Thus, nine out of every ten calls I received from Google Places were folks looking to make an appointment with dealerships service center. Something I had no opportunity to profit from as a salesman.
Further, it really wasn't clear whether or not I was even "allowed" to have such a listing for myself on Google in the dealerships eyes. At first no one else knew about it. Gradually, and naturally, a few people happened upon it while searching Google. (One fellow salesman begged to know "how can I get myself to show on Google like you!?!"). A couple of times I even received mail at the dealership from Google! - including a poster telling me me, congratulations!, I was "A Favorite Place on Google" with over 7,400 impressions in one month. At one point the calls stopped entirely and after investigation I discovered the listing was gone and nowhere to be found. I am fairly certain what happened was that the dealerships internet sales department had finally discovered it, were incensed that my listing outranked anything to do with their own "internet marketing" efforts, and reported it to Google as something unauthorized. Within a few weeks, however, a new listing was back up, now ranking even better than the first. Once again like clockwork my phone started ringing 2-10 times every day. But at that point it was too late. Car sales, and my association with it, were both going nowhere. In an attempt to "shake up" the dealership, the management, in genuine car-dealership-management fashion, fired 3/4 of the sales staff within the course of a few weeks and I was (not-too-unhappily) among them. It was once again time to find a new job. But I had been left with an indelible impression.
The impression was twofold. First, even though it had been several months it was still quite literally 'shocking' to experience the reality of how often, how regularly and how many people were searching Google for whatever information they needed all day, every single day, including local businesses, wherever they may be. The impression of that shocking reality never gets old actually. Since I started in this business (after leaving car sales) I have worked with every type of business imaginable - or at least an extremely varied array - and every time - every time - no matter what the business type or where in the world it is located once they've got the ranking in Google Places, the calls for business start to come in . . . just like they did for me at the dealership.
But that was the second indelible impression the experience at the dealership left with me, and has followed me ever after - hope. Hope. At the time, all around was misery, continuing loss and signs of a broken economy that is hard even to describe - buildings left unfinished, neighborhoods left un-built, bustling shopping centers now empty with boarded windows, house after house after house listed as foreclosed, and on the car lot little more more than emptiness day after day. And yet, it wasn't just that, wow, the internet, and more specifically Google (and in many ways Google is the internet) is really amazingly powerful. It was that in middle this barren wasteland of a world fallen apart . . . there was still potential business out there, looking for the person selling it, every single day. And they were using Google. Nothing else worked. But, by golly, this worked! I decided to follow my father-in-law into this "Google listing" business 'part time' at first and client after client after client, it was the same story . . .
It's pretty hard not to be enthusiastic about something that so consistently works so well. And it's pretty hard, for me at least, not to feel great happiness knowing I am not only providing services that really work, but that these services are genuinely helping people.
Awareness of the importance of Google Places has definitely increased since then and some things have indeed changed and evolved. Ranking is more competitive, and in the last year especially Google seems to have begun to place more and more emphasis on the websites that are associated with place pages, increasing the importance of traditional website optimization in order to show well locally in Google places. But the basic reality still remains and was demonstrated to me, yet again, just today before writing this.
If your Google Places listing is showing on page one, you will get new business.