Google Escalates The Location War With Google Places

The Location War going on right now has many fronts (Foursquare, Twitter, search, mobile), but it is being funded by one thing: convincing local businesses to spend money on online advertising.

Google is escalating that war today by making a big push to become the de facto directory for local businesses on the Web.

Its Local Business Center is being renamed Google Places and it is introducing a whole bunch of new features including local search and map listings, realtime updates, custom QR codes and coupons, and even photo shoots for businesses.

While Geo startups like Foursquare, Gowalla, and even Twitter (and soon, Facebook?) are taking a social approach to local business listings, coupons, and offers, Google is approaching from the search side.

One out of every five searches is location related, but local search still represents a relatively small portion of Google’s revenues. Google wants local businesses to claim ther Places pages (4 million have already done so), update them and buy local search advertising.

For $25 a month, local businesses can buy “tags” which will turn up their listings in local searches, including on Google maps. They can print out custom QR codes (2D barcodes) which are readable by cell phones with cameras and QR readers and will pop up a mobile version of their Google Place page or a mobile coupon.

Businesses can also add realtime updates to their Places page (a feature that was switched on earlier this year), define the areas they serve, and even schedule a photo shoot for better pictures for their page.

Google Places is designed for one-off searches, and is powerful as a search tool a far as it goes. What is missing, however, is the social aspect. Why can’t businesses add their Twitter streams or Facebook pages? How do they establish an ongoing online relationship with customers? The location war is far from over.