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Google Places. That's the new name of Google's Local Business Center. The search giant has rolled out a host of new features for local advertisers, including a mobile dimension that could help push QR codes into the mainstream.
Google says four million businesses have already claimed their physical location on the service, which displays relevant information from the web, including photos, reviews, facts, as well as real-time updates and occasionally, offers from the business itself. All that remains, along with a host of newly rolled-out features that are already available, or about to be, in major US metro areas:
New ad products: For $25
per month, businesses in select metro regions can make their listings stand out
on Google.com and Google Maps with Tags.
Service areas: Displays which geographic areas a business serves. If the business lacks a storefront or office, the address can now be private.
Photos: Businesses in select cities can request a free photo shoot of their interior, which Google will use to supplement existing photos on Place Pages. Businesses can sign up for the free service here.
Customized QR codes: US businesses can download a unique QR code from their dashboard page. Google suggests using these on business cards and marketing materials. When customers can scan them with certain smartphones, they're taken to the mobile version of the business' Place Page.
Favorite Places: Round two of Google's Favorite Places program include mailing window decals to 50,000 US businesses. The decals contain QR codes that, again, take smartphones to the relevant Place Page.
Local's big. Mobile's big, and the two are inextricably entertwined. Google Places, in incorporating mobile web pages and QR codes as de facto elements of its local marketing initiatives, is sending a strong message to marketers and consumers alike. Smart phones have been around a long time, but America is hardly Japan - a country that has a QR code on the back of every can of soda pop and on every packet of tissues and matches. And customers know what they are and what to do with them.
Over here, we're nowhere near that level of mobile adoption, even if smartphones are rapidly overtaking "dumb" mobile devices as the standard. Google can't change mobile overnight, but it's big enough and influential enough to introduce "hidden" mobile features, such as QR codes, to the broader public and smaller marketers alike.