Google Inc is expanding its local directory business using the same sort of disruptive tactics it has used in other areas: giving away something for which others charge.
Starting yesterday, Google was to let any business offer discount coupons to people who use its Google Maps service, which also acts as an online yellow pages.
A business will be able to upload information for coupons, including images, and Google will display a link to those coupons when the business name is displayed. Users can then print the coupons and take them to the merchant.
Companies including ValPak, CoolSavings and the Entertainment publishing unit of IAC/InterActiveCorp have been distributing coupons online for several years, charging merchants for the service.
Google has agreed to distribute coupons sold by ValPak, but no money changes hands between the companies, said Shailesh Rao, Google's director of local search.
Rao said Google saw coupons as content that it would place on the Internet free.
This is much the same as Google Base, a service that carries free classified ads and other information for individuals and companies.
Google is planning to allow businesses to buy ads that will appear on its search engine to point people to their coupons, just as it sells ads that drive traffic to Google Base items.
More broadly, Rao said Google's objective was to encourage local entrepreneurs to start using the Internet to promote their businesses, something that other Internet companies have found difficult.
A dry cleaner or pizza shop can create a coupon, he said, without going through the trouble of making its own Web page.