Google Favorite Places : QR Codes

Beginning last year, Google sent out window decals across the country to 100,000 of the most locally searched businesses. These decals, which have on them QR codes, can be read by the camera of smart phones phone like an Iphone, those that run on the Android operating system, etc. Upon scanning the QR Code, which may be placed in the store window, the person is taken to that place’s website. This nifty technology would be an appreciated step forward if not championed and controlled by Google. Let me say that Google is more benign as large corporations go, but their ambition always trumps any good intentions. This program, which could one day be essential to conduct business, promotes Google for free and reaffirms their position as the dominant search engine. In fact, one motivation behind Google’s scheme is to neutralize many aspects of online marketing, especially search engine optimization. This is how.

If this new technology takes, we cannot imagine that this will have no change on how Google’s search engine works, which has significantly wider implications. Indeed one part of the selection of these businesses was by how many times visitors searched for directions to this business on Google Maps. Should Google use the information from QR codes to influence the Local Search rankings, it would change search engine optimization as we know it.

That is if people use it. That is if restaurants’ participate. Certainly, Google’s hope for this pilot program was that they could track the scanning of these decals by customers in order to have their search engine better reflect real world consumer behavior. That’s not the important part. What’s important is that Google is trying to circumvent current search engine optimization practices. It’s admitting defeat in a sense. No matter how much the algorithm changes, resourceful firms have been able to stay one step ahead.

It comes back to an inherent flaw with search engines. Customer satisfaction does not necessarily coincide with customer behavior. A customer may only need to search for directions once to a restaurant that come to visit on numerous occasion and enjoy wholeheartedly. A customer might search repeatedly to find a Starbucks, when, through a local search, she might discover a local coffee shop that’s superior. Additionally, barely any customers, when doing a local search, actually blame the search engine if it points them to something they don’t like. Google is not being held accountable. That’s not why Google overtook Yahoo. No one makes sure they are fair.

And this doesn’t solve anything. This will side with the big guy and box out the little guy. It will reinforce current customer behaviors, not because they produce satisfaction, but because they are there. As it is now, restaurants can do well (or ignore) through local searches if they want to. Of course they may have to hire help. It gives everyone the opportunity to stake their claim in the online world. This sounds significantly better than the circular logic: we visited them because they came up first on Google because they are visited a lot because they came up first on Google. This undermines the online vision of many restaurants who take their online visitors very seriously.

One can only wish that QR codes are moved into the public sphere without the interests of a company tainting their use. Everyone benefits by being able to access a restaurant’s website easily. What isn’t good is when a company keeps tabs on customers, not for their own sake, but to widen their reach into our lives.