Google's head of consumer marketing has nothing but nice things to say about Portland. “We chose Portland because it has the perfect demographic, in terms of entrepreneurs and technology," says Bernardo Hernandez. "It’s dense, it’s fun, it’s lively. There’s a real community dynamic. It’s a younger crowd. And the weather is really good for this time of the year.”
The weather is really good this time of year? Really?
Well I guess when Google chooses your city, you don't quibble with the details. Unfortunately, in this case Google's choice has more to do with marketing than with jobs. The Keepers of the Portal to All that is Known and Sometimes Made Up are expanding at warp speed in California, hiring across the board and paying top dollar to retain their best employees. They have a relatively minor presence in downtown Portland after their August 2010 acquisition of Instantiations and an electricity-devouring server farm in The Dalles, but their new foray into Portland has nothing to do with Java or electrons. It has to do with local search.
Google is launching a marketing campaign in Portland today to promote Hotpot, its new service for rating local businesses. The company will be hobnobbing with the Voodoo Donuts team this afternoon and handing out 20,000 tee shirts tonight at the Blazers game in the interest of getting people excited about using Hotpot to rate local businesses while helping business owners to connect with potential customers. All of which will theoretically improve everyone's online search results through the "wisdom of crowds" logic that is the foundation of the Google Algorithm. That last detail - improved search results - is presumably the difference between Google's service and rivals such as Yelp.
Hernandez says Google will be working with 250 Portland businesses selected for their popularity as search terms. A small team of liaisons will help these businesses to improve their visibility on the web by encouraging customers to review them - even putting up window stickers with embedded chips at the business to enable reviewers to contribute more conveniently. The company also plans to promote the campaign and its chosen Portland businesses on local billboards.
"Small businesses are struggling, and we believe this will be good not only for users but for small businesses too," says Hernandez. "We are going to be bringing a lot of money to the small business community in Portland."
Hey, can't argue with that. And while we're talking Google, for what it's worth, here is the most recent list of the company's top 10 search queries in Portland:
1. student assist
2. trimet trip planner
4. weather portland or
5. mississippi studios
6. inside pps
7. ikea portland
8. 95.5 the game
9. my pcc
10. providence health plan
It remains to be seen whether a window sticker with a computer chip inside it will help a local business make that list. But there's no disputing the business value of high visibility on the web, because that's where people go to get their questions answered - usually by Google.
Ben Jacklet is managing editor of Oregon Business.