Google Favorite Places – Heard of It? Me Neither.

Being a up and coming digital marketing strategist, I’m always on the lookout for the latest and greatest in social media.  So today, while researching for a blog post on QR codes, I ran into a Google feature called “Favorite Places“.

Google’s description of the feature:

We’ve identified over 100,000 businesses in the U.S. as “Favorite Places on Google” based on Google users’ interaction with local business listings. Each business is receiving a window decal with a unique QR code that you scan with your phone to read reviews, star the business as your own favorite and more…

Interesting concept, but here’s the kicker:  the service launched in December of 2009.

So where are all the window decals?  I see the Yelp decals everywhere…but nothing from Google.  Turns out, a number of factors contributed to the demise, or possibly the slow start (that’s my optimistic side speaking), of this seemingly promising service.

Incorrect QR Codes

At launch, the QR code on the window decals that Google sent to the businesses to reward them for being such great places, was sending people to the wrong mobile websites.  QuickMark, the iPhone app that potential customers were using to scan the code, was generating incorrect URLs sending them to sites for completely different businesses. The iPhone app was subsequently updated, but it left a bad taste in business owners’ mouths.

Strike one.

The Rise in Popularity of Location-Based Social Networking

It’s no secret to anyone who’s read my blog, or knows me personally, that I love Foursquare.  It’s still an up and coming application, but it’s growing exponentially.  As of mid-August, there were 3 million users and as of January, they hit the 6 million user mark (check out this awesome infographic).  They grew 3,400% in 2010!  Not to mention other services coming about like Gowalla and Facebook places.

Although location-based social networks aren’t direct competitors, they do provide a vehicle for other users to offer quick tips and information about businesses, and businesses can create exclusive offers for customers.

One Word: Yelp

Over 15 million business reviews are on Yelp, with 41 million people visiting the site monthly. Yes, monthly (Another infographic).  Yelp has a mobile component, not as sophisticated as the Foursquares of the world, but definitely a worthy opponent to Favorite Places.

People trust Yelp, and unlike the bias in Google Favorite Places, which I detail below, every type of business is given a fair shake.

It ‘s Biased to Certain Types of Businesses

Favorite places received a lot of flack from businesses such as plumbers, roofers, and generally, businesses who don’t have much foot traffic to their office or store.

Why? Because according to Google:

The list was determined based on the popularity of a business’ Google Places listing, as determined by how many times Google users looked for more information about a business, requested driving directions to get there, and more. Google users “decided” based on their actions, and we sent the decals.

Because of this, businesses which typically don’t require customers to come into their office (hence eliminating the need for driving directions) ultimately receive a lower ranking.  Unlike Yelp, businesses aren’t rewarded for just high ratings, they’re rewarded for in-store visits.  Don’t have a store…you’re pretty much outta luck.

Yes, I know it’s called Google Favorite Places, but rewarding a business who has a store front with the exact same ratings as a business which does not is never a good thing.

———–

I’m interested to see how everything pans out with Google Favorite Places — I love the web interface of Favorite Places and think it could become a major player if Google changes it’s strategy.  Here’s my recipe for a better Favorite Places:

  • Remove the gimmicky QR code
  • Turn the focus away from “best reviewed businesses” and move it to an  “explore your city” service.
  • Add an “as seen on” layer.  As seen on “The Travel Channel”, “Food Network”….so on, so forth.
  • If they want an entire new direction, stick with only places like attractions, parks, etc. and take out the restaurants and retail stores.  This eliminates some of the biases of store front vs. non store front.
  • Create a compelling social media campaign to advertise the feature

And while you’re at it, make a few FourSquare badges to unlock.   I can never get enough of those. 🙂

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