More Thoughts on Google’s Business Referral Push

Following up on Michael Taylor’s excellent post this morning on Google’s new quasi-sales force, I’ve been thinking more about what it could mean and how it fits into similar Google initiatives.

First, it seems that it would tie together nicely with moves Google has made in the past year to get businesses to contribute and verify information about themselves in Google Maps (see enhancements to its Local Business center).

Combine this with the consumer review feature recently added to Google Maps, and this move should serve to deepen the company’s data with richer content and photos. More information works toward greater user appeal and usability, while deeper data are in line with good SEO.

This meanwhile works generally toward the Webification trend we see growing in the local search space (mentioned last week and in progress for a larger report), which Google has already engaged in the form of free Web site hosting to bring more SMEs online (explained by Google’s head of product development Dan Rubinstein at last year’s ILM ’06 conference).

How well Google pushes the program and how well users adopt and contribute to the effort will ultimately determine its success. One issue here is the uneven quality across the broad base of “contractors” to which this offer will appeal.

Taylor’s breakdown of the likely annual take for these contractors was about $2,400, which can be attractive to part timers, retirees and the segment of people out there who are engaged in their communities and attracted to this level of compensation (this reminds me of AOL’s bubble-era community leaders, whom the company brought on board to lead discussion groups and other things for minimal pay).

It’s clearly not enough for professional-level sales reps, even at a factor of 10, but then again, that probably isn’t the quality level Google expects. Rather, the company might not know what to expect and this will largely be experimental — like many other moves that have become characteristic of the deep-pocketed search giant. These moves are germinated all over the company, and also formally siloed into Google Labs and its much-talked about “20 percent time” program.

This can also be compared in some ways to the efforts of hyper-local Web site platform Mini-Cities, which is likewise leaning on the “power of the people” to act as de-facto local sales reps, though the jury is still out on the sustainability of this model.

You have to give Google credit for experimenting. We’ll see if it can pull this one off.

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Related: Elsewhere in the world of Google experimentation, the company is working on a user-generated viral video to promote Gmail.

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