There’s been a lot of talk about the ‘free economy’ recently, with Google as the most-cited example. Aren’t we lucky to have as powerful a set of tools as Google Search, Google Earth, Google Maps, and all the other innovative Google offerings, for completely free?

Of course, Google isn’t operating at a loss: far from it. They make their money by providing services to the vast majority of us for nothing but charging a small percentage of people to place adverts on their pages. As you’ll know if you have ever set up a Google Adwords account, the charges can be minimal but multiplied by hundreds of thousands of millions of clicks, those charges make them a mighty profit.

It’s not as clear a division as ‘users get it free; businesses pay’ across the board, however. If you are a business owner, there are still some ways you can get some free and useful publicity from Google – mainly because they need you.

Have you visited Google Maps recently? If so, you may have noticed a new feature which allows you to enter a generic search term such as ‘supermarket’ or ‘coffee shop’ in the bar where you would normally enter an address.

The pioneers of easy search, who have already set up Google maps so that you can enter whatever’s easiest for you – full address, postcode, or street name – have added this step to make it that bit more intuitive. What could be easier than typing ‘launderette’ into a search bar, and seeing the locations of the nearest washeterias superimposed on the map?

But, even if it may seem that way sometimes, Google doesn’t know this information intuitively. It depending on its users to input the information for it – and that’s why it needs you. Take a click around, and you’ll see the depth of its ambitions; there is room for photos, customer reviews, links and a description of each business.

For a small business such as yours, this could be an invaluable marketing tool. As users turn to handheld devices such as phones and iPods, accessing the net on the go, it will become increasingly important to show up when that all-important phrase (language school, dry cleaner’s, café) is typed into a Google map showing your local area.

While the information can be input by anyone, it would serve you well to get in early and create your own listing: then you will have control over the images used and the precise description of your business (you won’t have any control of the reviews of course; the only way you can do that is by ensuring that you are providing consistently excellent service).

This you can do via the Google ‘Local Business Centre’ which you’ll find on It costs nothing, takes seconds (though it may involve an instantaneous automated phone call to ascertain that you are where you say you are) – and will bring you all the benefits of marketing on the mobile web while it is still free.