Google Inc. GOOG -1.70% has repeatedly tried, and largely failed, to crack the market for local business advertising. As early as next month, the Internet company will try anew, as it trains its largest-ever assault on the roughly $20 billion market.
Google plans to have its newest small-business service—which at one point it was calling Business Builder—up and running as early as July, said a person familiar with the matter.
The project combines several products and services aimed at small businesses under a single banner. It is based on a mix of internally developed software and recently acquired technologies that the company hopes eventually will bring in billions of dollars a year in new revenue.
Central to the effort is Google+, the company’s social network, which it hopes consumers will use to interact with local businesses that now have special Web pages on the network. Those Google+ pages will draw traffic from the company’s Web-search engine. When shoppers visit these businesses, Google wants them to use their Internet-connected phones like a digital wallet, earning loyalty points and making payments at stores that sign up for Google’s new services.
In turn, Google is hoping stores and other businesses will use their new Google+ pages to communicate with customers, such as by showing them special offers. And it hopes to persuade them to sign up for other Google products.
The campaign to court local businesses, which is being led by Google executives including Senior Vice President Jeff Huber and Vice President Marissa Mayer, has required buying more than half a dozen companies since early 2011 at a cost of about half a billion dollars, according to Google securities filings and people familiar with the matter. Google hopes to weave some of these acquisitions together with its current products into a portfolio of tools that can serve the needs of local-business owners.
The company soon will begin unveiling the fruits of some of those deals, including services such as TalkBin, which lets customers send anonymous text messages to a store’s manager with complaints or compliments, and Punchd, a smartphone-based loyalty-rewards program, said the people familiar with the matter.
Google also plans to promote a year-old program called AdWords Express, which gives businesses a streamlined way to set up an ad campaign on Google’s search engine, potentially in a matter of minutes, these people said.
A Google spokesman declined to comment on any future initiatives.
Google’s Mr. Huber said in a statement: “Helping local business is a big part of our focus at Google, whether it is connecting shoppers with the right store nearby or helping merchants attract and retain customers. In local, our vision is not a one-size-fits-all product, but a range of flexible solutions that make the Web work for all local businesses.”
Internally, Google has assigned a group of employees to focus on developing smartphone apps related to local businesses, the people said. And the company has spent millions of dollars on a nationwide campaign called “Get Your Business Online.” The campaign includes multiday workshops at which Google helps local businesses set up their own website and a business listing on its search engine free of charge.
Google already has started testing some of its new services. Last year, it approached the San Francisco branch of housewares and furniture retailer Crate & Barrel to test the mobile-phone service TalkBin, according to store manager Tony Villegas. He said he has used TalkBin, which costs $25 a month per store, to direct customers to use their phones to text him about their shopping experience. When some people complained they “weren’t being serviced properly or greeted” at the store, he said, he trained his employees to correct the problems.