It’s Google’s world. We’re just living in it. That was no more evident than on Monday at a Google “Grow Your Business” event in Santa Barbara when one of the bubbly, fresh-faced emissaries the Internet search giant has dispatched to cities across the country in order to help small businesses bolster their online presence suggested to Gina Nguyen, owner of The World of Magic Halloween store, that she Google the answer to one of her questions.
In choosing Santa Barbara for a site, Google’s Director of Small Business Engagement Scott Levitan said, “What we try to find is a place where you have a strong community of small businesses.” Santa Barbara was Google’s sixth stop in California, and Levitan said 13,000 businesses in the state have gone online as a result. At the Monday event in The Canary Hotel, Google employees offered business owners assistance with registering domain names, building websites, putting listings on Google Maps, and making their businesses more searchable.
Surprisingly, only 62 percent of California businesses have websites. Participants at Monday’s workshop — from financial consultants to pet groomers — came from throughout the 805, as Congressmember Lois Capps, who helped organize the event and stopped by for a cameo, advertised it throughout her district. Barbara Vohryzek of Governor Jerry Brown’s Office of Business and Economic Development said it is important that California’s businesses don’t lose out because a company in Illinois, for instance, has better “search engine optimization” and is listed first in a Google search. “What I like about this is how we get folks who don’t see themselves as having a nexus with the Internet to see outside the box,” she said, referring to people like mechanics, plumbers, or machinists.
An unscientific survey of Monday’s attendees found that the event was hardly filled with Luddites but that businesspeople still picked up important tips. Nguyen didn’t realize she could potentially use Google Maps to market herself in locations nationwide. Katie Stuart of Art Glass Santa Barbara said she “learned tons.” Her original website was lost in the shuffle when web-hosting company Godaddy.com was bought out by a private equity firm. Although she’d like to re-create a more sophisticated website eventually, she was able to build a quick-and-dirty replacement on Monday.