Google is a big company, and it earns most of its money with its cash cow, AdWords. But in several key markets, Google hasn’t yet fully realized its potential.

One of those: small, local businesses. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the rise of group buying online, it’s that local businesses are eager to acquire new customers, and will go to great lengths in an attempt to do so, sometimes to their own detriment.

While many small, local businesses advertise with AdWords, more don’t. There are plenty of reasons for this. One of the big ones: it’s somewhat complicated. Google AdWords may not be rocket science, but it isn’t as apple pie either. For someone running a small business, setting up, maintaining and profiting from AdWords campaigns can be a tall order.

If Google could somehow make the process even just a little simpler, it could benefit enormously. And that’s precisely what it is looking to do with Google Boost, “a new online advertising solution to help local businesses connect with
potential customers in their area.

Boost allows business owners who have signed up for Google Places to set up sponsored ad campaigns from within their Places account. And it seeks to eliminate long-term management of those campaigns by automating them. Google product manager Kiley McEvoy explains on the Google Lat Long Blog:

To create your ad, all that is required is a short business description, a web
or Place page, your business categories and a monthly budget. From there, our
system automatically sets up your ad campaign – figuring out the relevant
keywords that will trigger your ad to appear on Google and Google Maps, and how
to get the most out of the budget you allotted. You’ll only pay when a potential
customer actually clicks on your ad, and you can also view basic ad performance
data from your Google Places dashboard.

Boost is currently in beta in select U.S. cities, namely San Francisco, Houston and Chicago.

Will it work? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Making it easier for local business owners to buy search ads is something Google needs to do, but it’s not just about making it easy to buy ads. For business owners to keep spending on those ads, they’ll have to see results. The challenge, of course, is tying online clicks to offline sales. In many cases, this is relatively easy to do, but business owners don’t always know of or use the proper tools.

From this perspective, it seems that Google Boost might be a step in the right direction for Google, but Google will inevitably have to go further if it truly wants to build lifelong customer relationships with local business owners.