This is the 14th installment of our Deep Dive Into Local series. For the week ending Friday, December 4th, Mary Bowling and Mike Blumenthal shared their thoughts about the previous week in local. David Mihm is on sabbatical through April. The complete video is posted in the Local U forums (paywall). In the second half of that video, they take a deeper strategic and tactical dive into one interesting area that caught their attention during the week.
In this discussion, we continue to look at the role of Google Local at Google, whether Google+ holds any on-going value for business and why, once again, the idea of owning your own web equity should be reinforced.
Mike: ... which leads us to, I guess, our deep dive, which is that the changes we're seeing in the Knowledge Panel and the departures from Google implies to me that Google is, one, cutting back some of their costs in Maps by not building the stuff themselves, right? We always used to see Google as willing to just pour a pile of money into a given effort, fail or not. And now, we're seeing in local them partnering transaction activities in the Knowledge Panel, third party reviews on the Knowledge Panel, while they're still testing this HSA ad and not monetizing either one to any great extent.
And then, simultaneously, you're seeing departures from the Maps, some really significant players, Brian McClendon, that was last year, and then Manik Gupta just recently, going over to Uber. That all says to me that Google is scaling back their ambitions in Local, either as a function of cost control or some other thing. You're also seeing Local being more integrated into Search on the one hand and Support being integrated into AdWords on the other. So we are seeing some of the internal accounting functions, perhaps, taking place in this new Alphabet thing and the new CFO, where costs are being allocated differently.
One of the advantages of Local divorcing Plus and marrying Search is it'll have direct attention to Search, like we talked about two weeks ago. But I see this as an interesting development where they're partnering rather than building themselves.
Mary: Yeah, it is really interesting behavior for Google, but it seems to me like they bet the farm on Plus and used local businesses and the idea that local businesses could do a lot of things online that Google wanted to be involved in and then that the utter failure of that has maybe just made them completely shy away from Local and just say, "This is a Search function. We're just not going to go there anymore."
Mike: Yeah, and what Google doesn't seem to understand is the fact that they are breaking an implied contract with the small business person by these radical shifts, right? Small business person buys into whatever the Google Kool-Aid is that year, Places, Plus, whatever, and then Google just pulls a 180 and the contract that the small business owner at least perceived that they had with Google is literally crumpled up and thrown in the wastepaper basket. I think it creates a lot of ill will.
Mary: It makes a lot of people who were championing Google and all of the features that it was offering through that Plus interface, it makes them look like idiots, too. I have one big brand where they've been telling all of their local operators to do all these things with Plus, and then every time Google pulls something away from there, they're panicking. It's like "What do we tell these people now?" It's like "Well, you tell them that Google just is embarrassing everyone."
Mike: Right. Yeah, it references my Google+ FAQ that I did last week, just calling a spade a spade. The reality is Google has totally abandoned business in relation to Plus. And like I said, I think that businesses perceive that as a contractual violation. The reality is that Plus has never generated traffic directly. But it gave businesses a certain comfort zone and a place to hang their hat where they could see all of their results in a single place. That is shifting over the Knowledge Panel, which in reality has always been how businesses found Google, which is how consumers found businesses in the main Google search results.
And still, as I noted in some other article this last week that when you look at analytics, 85% of traffic to local businesses from the web is coming from Google. And when you look at Google Insights, whether you trust the data or not, a fair number of phone calls are coming to these local businesses from Google. So despite all of the consistent, steady effort that Facebook has made, Google has still managed to stay the place where business discovery takes place.
The problem is that on one hand, they violate the trust of the small business. On the other, they don't articulate a use case clearly [for how they continue to provide value through search]. And that lack of ability to describe what it is they really do for the small business really creates, I think, a problem. And it's not clear to me how Google is going to solve it.
Mary: Yeah, and they don't want to provide support for these things for the small business people trying to use quite difficult-to-use products, like we found out with Hangouts. Could they make that product any more complex or frustrating? No.
Mike: And now it's being ripped apart from Plus. So now, you now have to figure out where exactly you're doing it and how does it get publicized. And no, I agree. They take an interesting product like Hangouts. They match it up in an environment like Plus. Then they start ripping it out. And the same thing happened with Local, right? It's YouTube's being ripped out. Local is being ripped out. And what you get is Collections and Communities. I don't know. It's frustrating, but...
Mary: What do you have, LinkedIn Groups now on Google Plus? Is that what's going on? I don't know.
Mike: Yeah, there's a lot of spam going on there, too. I think businesses obviously should have seen the handwriting on the wall. We've watched this coming for the last two years -- first, the disappearance of Places Search and the disappearance of the various links, pulling out of the relationship. It's been clear it's coming. But we read the tea leaves. Most small businesses don't. So, small businesses all of the sudden are left with "Where do I send my customers for review links?"
Well, I wrote that article yesterday at GetFiveStars saying, "Here's a way to do it that works pretty well. And if you use a redirect, you can isolate yourself somewhat from the vagaries of Google, right? So then if Google changes the review link next week, which they're likely to do, since you're using a redirect, you can just go ahead and fix it. But you don't have to change your marketing materials, right? And which reminds me that in everything you do in this, you need to own it, right? You can't be doing a blog someplace else. You can't give up your website to Facebook. You can't even give up your review link to Google. You want to do it in a way where you own it. So we're doing a redirect on a review link is a critical idea where you own that.
And the same with your email address, right? The email address should be your domain. Whether Google provides that service or not is a decision you can make now, but you can change the decision in the future if you're using an email and a domain.
So it's like the old story that we've been telling at Local U about owning your digital assets and perhaps managing them through some of these parties but not giving them up to these parties, just reinforces that whole thing significantly more visibly now, right?
Mary: It most definitely does.
Mike: So, I think I'm going to dust off my mandala the WebEquity graphic and just...
Mary: Put it out there again.
Mike: Yes, put it out there again. It's like something we've been saying this for five years. It's more true now than ever.
Mary: It is. You can't trust any of them.
Mike: There you go. With that, I think we might draw this to a conclusion. So thank you for joining us for another week in Local. We'll say goodbye.