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Google Boost: Paid Search for the Masses?

  |  February 10, 2011   |  Comments

Can Google Boost woo small businesses that shied away from AdWords?

I think we can all agree that Google has cornered the market on paid search; however, one thing stands in the way of its total domination: local. With over $29 billion in revenue, Google has certainly grown into the paid search leader, yet its revenue derives from a relatively small number of customers (estimated at around 1 million businesses). With over 24 million businesses in the U.S. (Small Business Administration, Office of Advocacy), Google is clearly upping the ante to attract more businesses to purchase paid search.

Google's latest effort to woo more businesses is a "set it, and forget it" style of ad product called Google Boost. It targets businesses that have shied away from the traditional Google AdWords product because of its relative complexity and the time required to manage paid search campaigns. As you may recall, I mentioned a test of Google Boost in my November column. Well, Google Boost is now available nationwide for a select group of categories.

Google has had a history of uneven results in trying to capture the SMB (small to mid-sized businesses) marketplace. First attempts included providing incentives for SMBs to try paid search with the AdWords platform. Next, Google partnered with companies that sell ad products to local businesses, like publishers of print Yellow Pages and newspapers, in an effort to increase market share. And while SMB trials of paid search have increased with this setup, one very undesirable trend has also increased: the "churn," or cancellation rate, of such programs. Google Boost is an attempt to recreate the subscription-based model that SMBs have purchased for years.

Here is a quick recap on how Google Boost works. A business can add Boost to its verified listing(s) on its Google Places page, resulting in advertisements for the business on Google and Google Maps (including mobile devices). The business needs to set up a monthly budget (set at preselected levels) and select relevant categories, and, based on those categories, Google determines the search keywords that trigger the ads. Google is being fairly tight-lipped about the categories for which Boost is available; while Google says Boost is available for "select" categories, businesses essentially need to register before they can determine if the desired categories are available.

The content of an actual Boost ad includes:

  • Business name
  • Business address and phone number (as specified in the Google Places account)
  • Short business description (Google automatically generates an editable description based on a business' Google Places listing)
  • Snippet from the Places page detailing the average star rating and the number of reviews
  • Link to the business' Places page or website


Boost ads appear within search results on Google, Google Maps, and mobile devices, and they can be easily identified by the blue pin/marker, which corresponds to a location on the map. Google appears to be optimizing the page positioning of Boost ads, as I have observed them appearing above or next to Google search results and in various positions on Google Maps. What remains to be seen or fully understood is how Boost ads will coexist with traditional AdWords ads and if one platform possesses an advantage in terms of position or price performance. Like any new product, Google appears to be working through many details, including Boost page positioning and actual ad rollout. In fact, I have seen Boost ads appearing in inconsistent positions and formats, particularly a blue pin on one ad and on the other a blue pin buried under a red Google Maps pin.


From a results-measurement standpoint, Google has developed a highly-simplified dashboard that provides:

  • Impressions (how many times ads appear)
  • Actions (how many times users click on ads)
  • Cost during a specific time period
  • Top search keywords and the number of actions/impressions per keyword
  • Ad content

Initial Thoughts

It is estimated that only 4 to 5 percent of businesses have actually claimed their Google Places pages since the November launch. So the fact that businesses can only use Boost with verified Places pages encourages SMBs to claim and verify their listings, which is a step forward toward improving the accuracy of local listings.

Google has promoted Boost via coupons that enable advertisers to test the product in a low-risk manner. My early prediction is that Boost will surely move the needle; the question is, "How far?" Because SMBs are so busy with the day-to-day operations of their businesses, advertising is typically "sold" to this target audience - even a simplified, self-service product offering like Boost will often have limited impact. That is probably why Google is rumored to be testing the selling of Boost via a call center - a process that will walk SMBs through the product benefits and that will assist with getting interested advertisers on board.

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Gregg Stewart

Gregg Stewart is founder and president of 3rd Act Marketing, a full-service marketing agency and consultancy, specializing in digital solutions, headquartered in Connecticut. 3rd Act supports businesses and agencies of all sizes, including Fortune 500 companies. With more than 20 years experience, Stewart applies his successful tenured career in interactive advertising and local search to the ongoing development of digital and mobile solutions for his clients' online-marketing campaigns. Through his strategic counsel, national and local brands become better equipped to target and reach niche consumers for increased leads and sales. In addition to his ClickZ columns, additional columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive. In 2013, Stewart was recognized with the ClickZ Hall of Fame award.

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