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The Google Local Business Referral program has been commented about heavily in the last 24 hours.

I’ve known about this program for a while, and being heavily involved in local search, I think it’s being severely misunderstood. It’s not about a sales force – it’s about local business content and customer awareness.

One of the challenges about local search is up-to-date accurate content.

I was asked at Search Engine Strategies San Jose last year: “What do you think the tipping point is for local search?”. Some of the answers were around having 1 million listings, others were about how many advertisers Google had, my answer was, and remains the same:

The tipping point of local search is all about the quantity and integrity of data. The day I can go to a local search engine and receive information that’s as accurate, as fast, and more useful than opening the Yellow Pages, is the day local search will have truly arrived.

Google is targeting college students with this initiative, not sales reps.

The second challenge in online advertising is customer awareness.

If you ask the companies why they are not advertising on the web, the most common answer is ‘We don’t trust it’. However, trust is usually a cover for some other issue. If you follow-up that question with ‘Why don’t you trust it?’. The most common answer is:

We don’t understand it.

It’s not about trust, it’s not about awareness and understanding.

If you look at the typical buying cycle – the very first stage is awareness.

In fact, I believe so much in the fact that awareness plays a critical role in online advertising, that I’m speaking at an RHD Seminar, ‘Introduction to the Web‘ seminar this Thursday (which Yahoo is attending and giving a fun Swag Quiz Presentation afterwards); and then following it with another Awareness Seminar in Vegas later this year.

Collect the Content – Raise the Awareness – Local Search will Arrive

Consumers still have challenges with local search. Often numbers are outdated, the listings are inaccurate, or the listings don’t exist for a business.

To layer on top of that the difficulty for a business to actually give their information to every local search engine. Business’s don’t know, and don’t have the time to submit a Google, Yahoo, Superpages, Yelp, Truelocal, Local.com, Switchboard, etc, etc listing.

There is a reason why programs such as Register Local exist. Register Local is a single point of data distribution for local businesses. Submit it once – view it everywhere.

Local search will arrive someday. However, it will take feet-on-the-street sales reps, content collection programs, and awareness raising for both businesses and consumers for that day to arrive.

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