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.
Consider the evidence:
- They’re knocking on your doors to introduce you to Google Maps.
- They sent out signs to put in your front window.
- They offered you hosted business landing pages if you were a new AdWords advertiser.
- They partnered with Intuit to get access to millions of small business owners.
- etc., etc….
Google 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.
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.
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.
3.) 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.”
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?