5 Google Products a Small Business (Probably) Shouldn’t Use

Filed in Google by Matt McGee on June 13, 2008 23 Comments

If you’re a small business owner, Google wants you. Lots of other Big Companies want you, too. But Google is as aggressive as anyone in courting small businesses … maybe more aggressive.

Google Products and Your Small Business

Consider the evidence:

Google logoGoogle offers a wide variety of products aimed at small business owners, and many of them are free — or very low-cost. But does that make these products and services a good idea? I’ve written before about Google products a small business should use (on SEL: part one and part two). But what’s the flip side? Which Google products are best avoided?

That’s a tough question to answer because small businesses come in a variety of sizes and have different needs from one industry to the next. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on Google products a small business owner should probably avoid.

Google Products/Services a Small Business Should Probably Not Use

1.) Google Apps
I expect many to disagree with me on this, so let’s get it out of the way first. Google Apps has developed substantially since it was introduced, but power office software users will tell you that Google Apps is very basic compared to offline software. The Web-based collaboration that Google Apps offers can be a real benefit to many small businesses. It’s convenient to have corporate documents available to anyone, anywhere via the Web. But that convenience has a flip side: security/privacy/trust.

Many businesses simply shouldn’t store sensitive company data, customer data, research, etc., on servers owned and maintained by Google (or anyone else). How would your customers or shareholders react to that? Does your industry even allow it? If you’re wondering how Google protects and handles your data, you can read the “Information Sharing” section of their privacy policy, which outlines the cases when Google might share your information with others.

Not all small businesses deal in sensitive data, so these concerns may be a moot point. But if I owned a business with sensitive customer data, intellectual property, etc., I wouldn’t use Google Apps to manage, store, or manipulate that data.

2.) AdSense
I use AdSense here on SBS. If your business is online content publishing, blogging, etc., AdSense can be a great way to earn money. That situation is not what I’m referring to right now. I’m referring to the use of AdSense on more traditional small business Web sites — small retailers, local insurance agencies, attorneys, and so forth. Don’t think it happens? Matt Bailey, founder of Site Logic Marketing and a frequent conference speaker, sees it regularly: “We see one of these types of sites in every site clinic.”

So, why not put AdSense on your company site to earn a couple extra bucks? Here’s Matt again: “To me, for an e-commerce or a B2B site, it shows a lack of clear direction and goals for the Web site. They’ll make some from AdSense, some from sales, and be miserable in the middle. There’s just no sense in promoting the competition on your Web site. The site owners need to figure out who they are and stick with it.”

AdSense is just fine for some small businesses, but not a good idea for most.

Google Checkout logo3.) Google Checkout
Google Checkout has a couple fairly compelling features for business owners, including its tight integration with AdWords and lower costs than PayPal. For shoppers, the benefit is that they give Google their credit card data once, and never have to fill it out again when they shop online and pay via Google Checkout. And that’s the rub: Google Checkout is more convenient for shoppers than for small business owners.

If you’re a small business owner, you have no control over the end of the checkout process — that happens on Google. You can’t upsell related items, and you don’t get to add the customer to your e-mail database for future communications. Google owns the customer, not you. And that’s why I don’t recommend Google Checkout to most small business retailers.

4.) Google Toolbar and Google Reader
These are two different products that are both very popular. Google Toolbar adds functionality to your Web browser, including letting you see the Google PageRank of every page you visit. That alone is reason enough to not use it — small business owners have more important things to worry about than green bars. Google Reader is an RSS feed reader with some cool functionality. But in both cases, each product can be replaced with non-Google products that are plenty adequate, if not better.

Why am I including them? Two words: Information sharing. This is a big concern of many webmasters, marketers, and business owners — the more you use Google products, the more Google knows about you. And that’s not always a good thing. Even if you have nothing to hide, how much do you want the company that gives you 70%, 80%, or more of your traffic to know about you? Here’s how Michael Gray, owner of Atlas Web Service, answers that question:

“If you are an established site with solid rankings that don’t have too much fluctuation (three years or more), there’s no need to give Google any more data. Google has enough good signals for you and they don’t need anymore. Google toolbar, Google reader, and Google analytics are all fine products, but don’t become dependent on them unless you need to.

“If you are a new site, a site with shaky or non-existent rankings, anything you can do to spoonfeed Google mutually corraborating signals of quality is a good thing. Additionally, if you are someone playing the social media game seriously in any way, you need to give in to the Google borg to get more data out of it.”

5.) Blogger
Small business owners continue to realize the power of a strong business blog. It puts a more human face on your business. It opens up conversations with customers. It’s a great SEO tool if your blog has great content and attracts links. Many small businesses can benefit from starting a company blog. Just don’t do it on Google’s Blogger platform. Why? Because it pales in comparison to WordPress, Movable Type, and other blog software platforms.

You can use your own domain with Blogger blogs, but the integration is clunky (and that’s being nice). If you don’t use your own domain, you’ll end up with a URL like yourname.blogspot.com; that’s not good, because blogspot.com is where you’ll find tens of thousands of spam blogs. You don’t want your business blog being associated with that domain. Even the commenting system on Blogger domains is more difficult than it should be.

Other blog platforms are much more suited for business blogs. WordPress, in particular, has a huge community of developers that constantly create new plug-ins that extend the software’s functionality. You can customize your WordPress blog in countless ways. It’s not perfect, and as the most popular blog software, it’s prone to occasional security breaches (I’ve been hacked twice in 2+ years of WordPress blogging). But it’s a much better choice than Blogger for a small business company blog.


I’ve tried to limit the discussion here to Google products that are relevant to online marketing. Google offers plenty of other products and services that may or may not be good for small businesses to use. Those are best discussed elsewhere.

It’s a bit dangerous to make blanket recommendations like this for small businesses, when small businesses come in so many different shapes and sizes. In fact, of the five Google products discussed above, Blogger is the only one that I’d say should probably never be used for business purposes. The others may make sense depending on your size, your needs, and your overall situation.

What matters most is that you research whatever product(s) you’re considering, whether they’re from Google or someone else. Look for reviews from other business owners using the products. And make the right decision for your small business.

Your Turn: Let me know if you agree or disagree with my choices. Where am I wrong? Where am I right? Why? Why not?

Comments (23)

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  1. Hey Matt,

    I don’t see the connection between using Google Reader as your RSS aggregator and Google’s knowledge about your business website.

    Online RSS readers are the easiest way for corporate folks to enter the world of RSS without having to worry about IT restrictions and firewalls, etc.

    Would put Netvibes in the same boat? Or is it just that you don’t like Google knowing your RSS reading habits?


  2. Matt McGee says:

    Hey Colin – like I said, it may be a moot point for some people. It’s a question of how much you want Google to know about you. With the toolbar and Reader, they can (and are) tracking everything you do. If you’re logged in to your Google account, then it’s all getting mashed together. If you’re using Google Analytics – even more data that can be used collaboratively.

    Let’s assume user behavior in Google Reader. Blogs that have lots of subscribers and posts that get lots of clocks get some benefit from positive user data. So what if you click on your competitor’s blog a lot and it helps them? What if you click on your own blog posts a lot and it looks like an attempt to artificially inflate your own popularity?

    Don’t get me wrong — I don’t think that scenario is likely to impact much of anything, but the larger point speaks to how much data Google needs about you, which is what Michael was talking about.

    I’m not anti-RSS at all. Why not use Bloglines? Let Ask.com know what you read and click on. They need all the help they can get. πŸ™‚

  3. Dan says:

    Wow…dissing Google! You don’t hear this everyday. I actually find it kind of refreshing. My favorite of your negatives is Google Apps. Basically it is useful only for collaboration purposes. For anything else it is junk. I didn’t think I did at first, but really, I agree with all your points. I don’t know if I’ll be giving up Reader anytime soon…but I’m sure gonna think about it!

  4. John says:

    The only things I use with Google is Google analytics and Google Docs, I stay away from all the things you mentioned. I think alot of people could learn alot from this post. Great job!

  5. Matt McGee says:

    Dan – I’m not dissing Google. I’m just being fair. πŸ™‚ I did two articles on Search Engine Land about Google products a small business probably should use, so it’s only fair to cover the flip side, too.

  6. Matt: Your advice regarding Google Checkout is good but it isn’t tecnhically 100% accurate.

    ‘If you’re a small business owner, you have no control over the end of the checkout process’

    This is technically true – once the customer clicks the Google Checkout button that’s it they’re on Google’s server but you don’t have to pass all responsibility to Google. Your cart/checkout can do everything first such register the customer on your site, upsell, set delivery prices before sending the customer to Google Checkout.

    Once the checkout process is complete – you can get data back from Google Checkout using their API and use this information to update your database and/or send your customer an email confirmation from your server with your branding.

  7. Matt McGee says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Phil. That’s good news to know. At the same time, I wonder how many small merchants would know how to use an API as you described?

  8. @Matt: Well that’s a good point Matt – the answer is ‘next to none’ and it’s hardly an easy thing to setup and I’d guess that most small web developers, of whom court the business of small online businesses, wouldn’t be able to set it up either.

    A good free (or cheap) shopping cart should have the Google Checkout API built in properly (I can’t think of examples but there must be some.)

  9. Perhaps I just don’t have my tin-foil hat on straight – I see the potential for these things to be misused, but Google has repeatedly referred to its “do no evil” doctrine when questioned about how it does actually use the data it collects.

    Personally, I’d be much more worried about the privacy concerns around Google Personalised Search.

  10. Matt McGee says:

    I would say two things in reply to that, Adwords Monitor:

    1) Google has also repeatedly, in the last couple months, gone out of their way to emphasize that “do no evil” is not a hard and fast corporate rule. Here are a couple:


    2) I really like the Googlers I’ve spent time with personally. Matt Cutts, Brian White, and Adam Lasnik are super guys. I trust them. I appreciate the work they’re doing. But what happens when they leave Google? What if the next generation isn’t like them?

    Don’t get me wrong. If you read the two articles I wrote about Google products you SHOULD use, I don’t buy into the whole “don’t use Google Analytics” thing at all. I’m not a conspiracy theorist in any way. Not a tinfoil hat kind of guy.

    But, I do think Google is becoming far too powerful and choose to not use certain products for that reason. Bloglines is a perfectly fine RSS reader. The Toolbar is completely unnecessary. I choose not to use them, and I recommend small business owners do the same. πŸ™‚

  11. Gayle Kesten says:

    Thanks for your insightful article. Thought you’d like to know it was the centerpiece of my blog on SmallBizResource.com.


    Thanks for looking out for the little guy!

    Gayle Kesten

  12. Mark says:

    I have to differ with your opinion of Blogger v WordPress, etc. I’ve found the integration with a personal server easier than WordPress, and the fact that Blogger based posts, whether within their blogspot domain, or on your own show up the fastest in Universal Search results is reason enough to give it a fair shot.

    http://www.maseratiofminneapolis.com/blog/ is Blogger based, but is tightly integrated into it’s parent website. This took about a day to migrate from the blogspot domain it was on for almost two years. The styling is waiting for the parent site’s refresh, but will be indistinguishable when finished.

  13. I disagree with the google aps part, its an intagral part of our company, from startup til now, the simple ability of us being able to edit our documents and share them with another makes its just amazing, plus its a lot more user friendly (maybe due to it simplicity) than office, not to mention much cheaper (free) that the office package. office takes up a lot of ram to run and its alot easier to open multiple tabs than programs.

  14. Matt McGee says:

    SMC – I think it’s great that you’re using Google Apps for your small biz. If it works for you, keep it up. Like I say in the post, different small businesses will have different needs/concerns.

    Mark – do you have some evidence to your statement about Blogger posts appearing faster in the SERPS than other posts? I’m curious to learn more. I’ve never heard that claim before. I’m familiar with WordPress blogs that get posts into the index in a matter of 5 minutes.

    Gayle – thank you. πŸ™‚

  15. Jesse says:

    I agree with the point that if you are an online retailer adsense may not be a wise choice.

    But if you are a local retailer who only serves a local or regional market there are opportunities to leverage adsense for customers outside your region.

    You could use geo-targetting to only display Adsense to customers outside of your market.

    For example let’s say I run a site which receives a large number of international visitors. And because of my business I am unable to serve international visitors. Geo-targetting adsense to these visitors is an great way to turn that traffic into revenue without sacrificing business opportunities.

  16. This is exactly the same smack talk that people have done about MicroSoft.

    Yes, Google is everywhere but by avoiding certain things, you are making your life more difficult than it has to be and I fail to see the purpose.

  17. I’m inclined to agree about the point made in the Google Toolbar section about PageRank. This feature is far too frequently overused and misconstrued. It doesn’t correlate as heavily with SEO success as people think. Small business owners should focus on generating good content, building links, and running high-conversion SEM campaigns long before PR will ever impact their bottom line…

  18. SEO Michael says:

    Good post…except I subscribe to this blog through Google Reader. I am definitely getting freaked about google’s little information gathering hobby.

  19. What do you think about a small business posting its own ads with adsense? Comments please.

  20. jacky says:

    I am in the process of planning an internet site for an established family business and really appreciate the insight and comments. Thanks for your great advice.

  21. I disagree with the google aps part, its an intagral part of our company, from startup til now, the simple ability of us being able to edit our documents and share them with another makes its just amazing, plus its a lot more user friendly (maybe due to it simplicity) than office, not to mention much cheaper (free) that the office package. office takes up a lot of ram to run and its alot easier to open multiple tabs than programs.

  22. Laura says:

    Good day! It’s now Q4 2010. With the changes and developments in the GoogleApps area, would you still recommending this for SMEs?

  23. Interesting arguments against some popular Google products. I noticed this article is from a few years back — have your views changed at all, especially regarding storing data on other peoples’ servers? Cloud computing is becoming an immensely popular money-saving process, especially with things like bookkeeping and CRM. So has this changed your views?

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