This is our Deep Dive Into Local from June 26th, 2017. In our Deep Dive series, we take a closer look at one thing in local that caught our attention and deserves a longer discussion.
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Mike: Hi, Mike Blumenthal and Mary Bowling here for this week's Deep Dive in Local. We're going to be talking about Google Posts' relationship to search in general, to how a small business could leverage it, whether small businesses should be using it or not. I think it's an intriguing product from Google. For the first time ever, they've essentially allowed a small business to post directly to your branded Google search results. In that sense, it's unique and something that if Google had done with Google+ would've made Google+ an instant success.
Mike: Just a little summary, the product has been in tests nationally, internationally since early 2016. It was first rolled out as sort of a celebrity posting platform. It evolved into a small business posting platform, and we first saw it tested in March of 2016 with small businesses. Originally it posted directly into the search, right into the organic results. Now it's posting to the Knowledge Panel, which means that on mobile it is incredibly visible on a brand search. It is, in fact, on mobile, positioned above the address in the Knowledge Panel when you do a search.
The product is really simple to use, very intuitive. You need a minimum of 100 words, maximum of 300. They allow you to upload an image at least 250 by 250 up to a resolution of 750 by 750. And they then crop it square even though, again, we're now back to this issue where they're cropping it in a rectangle shape for showing on the desktop and for showing in some reviews. So you have to be really careful about your image.
In the version I tested two weeks ago, the images were showing square in the card. So they would have a little square image on the right side of the card. Now they're pushing the image across the whole top of the card. So it's rectangular in shape and it's kind of center weighted. So you have to be really careful about the image you use because otherwise, it may cut you off at the bridge of your nose or something.
One really nice thing about the product is that it includes a call-to-action. There's four or five calls to action that are built into the product where you can identify -- learn more, sign up, a few choices, book now. And also they support events. Now, the product is designed to only last seven days in terms of showing on the front page of search where it'll drift off and be available, but although on the desktop, it's not available any place. Interestingly the product isn't indexed yet, and there's no URL for it at this point.
Mary: So what I find interesting about this is that big brands understand the idea of branding, and getting their name out there, and being what people think of when they think of a specific product or service. But I think that a lot of the small businesses have never really tackled the concept of their brand. And that, for that reason, this probably puts them at a little bit of a disadvantage because big brands are using TV and radio to say, "Go look up our name. Go search for us on Google." But small businesses are not really getting that. That by telling people to search for them on Google, that they can present them with more and better information and that it will help the business. So again, I see this as something that helps big brands a lot more than it does little brands.
Mike: Although big brands currently with a design can't easily post to multiple locations. So really current design is strictly single location. Google did release a form so that large multi-location businesses can sign up for a test of the product in a multi-location world. So Google's obviously thinking about that problem, but I think it depends on a little bit how sophisticated the business is in terms of their branding and whether their image shows up.
But even a smaller company, and the ones that don't have a well-developed brands, they still see 30% of their total GMB volume around a brand search or around the Knowledge Panel, going to a direct search or maybe 25%. And so my theory is, one, that there is a part of the customer journey of new customers where they explore an idea, and then they dig in, and then they look at the specific companies to see how they're doing. So that's one way. It's part of the discovery process.
The other is the recovery side of it, but I think you're right. I think there's an opportunity here for the small business to promote their front page presence to their consumers through other advertising, through some sort of contest that would increase their brand searches as a percentage of their total GMB exposure and I think that would serve them well. I think that the frequency of brand search is one of those variables that Google uses to understand how important a business is in their local market. So I think it would tie in very well with offline advertising. Oh -- learn more about us on, search for us on Google.
Mary: Can you put, like, a coupon? Can you announce a sale? How commercial can you get on Google Posts?
Mike: You can be pretty commercial, and there's a call-to-action, and you can take them right to your website with a call-to-action. A call-to-action isn't as obvious as it was initially in some of the tests on the desktop, but a mobile call-to-action is very visible and can take you to wherever you want to take them. They could take them to a new Google My Business website. It's an open URL. You can take them to your website. You can take them to a form on your website.
One of the advantages I see, particularly in the restaurant industry, is a way, where there's so much scrambling to get that order link from Google and many independent restaurants are really annoyed about it. So even though they have a deal with Grubhub, they don't want Grubhub's link to show on their brand search in Google where they figure people are already willing to do business with them.
Mike: And basically giving up some huge percentage because Google has a relationship. So there's a massive...there's a big post in the forum where there's just a lot of anger from these guys. Well, for them, this allows them to put their order button or their menu up, above the order links that Google shows. So I think that for local small businesses, Posts might be...for restaurants, might be a real viable place to try to capture back some of their own volume.
Mary: Oh, yeah. Think of the ideal place to put your specials of the day.
Mike: Exactly, yes.
Mary: It would be in a post.
Mary: You could do it in five minutes, and you could get your consumers in the habit of looking at it.
Mike: Exactly. Interestingly, hotels did not get the feature. In other words, that's the only category. Well, hotels and bed and breakfasts did not get the feature. When you ask Google, "Why?" They say, "Oh, that Knowledge Panel's already too busy. We couldn't quite figure it out but we're working on it." I mean, hotels is the single most monetized search result in all of Google. They've monetized it early, hard, and heavy and I think that it would counteract the monetization as well.
So obviously it's a busy Knowledge Panel but it's busy because Google's making money on it, which really raises the question will it stay free, is it free? And I see ... David Mihms' opinion on that is that it's contrary to all their recent monetization efforts. I see initially that, given its simplicity and its obvious function, it's a way to bring small businesses into the GMB in a way that they understand already. Facebook has trained them how Posts work and what reach means, and all a business needs to do is go and post here, and they'll get some exposure. They can do a simple call-to-action that takes people back to their website.
So I think in that sense, Google really needs this product as a way to bring businesses back into My Business space where they then can pitch them on Ad Words Express or some other monetization, you know? One of the problems with the dashboard is it hasn't been sticky. It's a one and done. You go in and that's it. You don't come back.
Mike: And I think this is a product that offers a real attractive reason to come back. The reality is since Google can't see Facebook and since these aren't indexed, you can repost a summary of your Facebook post into this space with no issues. I think Google would love that information because it's a small business activity that Google isn't able to see and this allows them to see a broader range of activity.
Just two technical things about the post. One is the first 100 characters of the 300-word post show in search. So you want to really write that first sentence carefully. I think you also have to be very careful about the image. The post itself supports a square image that's minimum 250 by 250 but optimally 750 by 750. The problem, like most Google image work, is that they crop it to a horizontal aspect ratio for showing in the search results in the current version of it, which means that your image can be cropped.
Which means you have to spend, one, a lot of time taking the image, making sure it's good. And two, you need to be sure that it's center weighted so it looks good if they crop the middle section out of the square image. You want to be sure that it looks good when it's cropped. So a couple cautions there, but I see it as ... when you look at it in conjunction with a website, the new product they released last week, it's conceivable to me that right now Posts are not indexed. They are existent in a tab on mobile but there's no way to get to them directly from Google desktop. So if you share a post link with somebody, it just brings them back to your Knowledge Panel, not to the post itself.
Mary: So if someone wanted to start doing this quickly, what do you think would be the best ways for a small business to start using this to figure out how it works? The first thing I think of, of course, are coupons, or specials, something that changes a lot. Are there any other things that you can think of that would work for most small businesses that don't involve a lot of work?
Mike: Well, I think like any social posting environment, the business that figures out the engaging content is the winner here, in the long haul. So I think, for example, let's take Barbara Oliver. She is into the soft sell. She never says, "Buy now." She never says, "Today's special." She always says, "Learn more." So you have to come up with a posting technique that's consistent with your business but in her case, I see this potentially as a way to share the good news.
Her posts on Facebook that are very successful are engagement stories. Joe proposed to Mary while in a barrel going over Niagara Falls. It was very romantic. Those kinds of stories are very successful on Facebook and I think that they would be equally engaging here. So I think engagement. You have to think engagement. I think you have to think great photo and engagement. Whatever works for you.
If you're a kind of low-funnel, always coming up with a new deal, then that's what your business is. If on the other hand you're more of an educational seller and you're more focused on the experience, then I think you want to try to capture some of the experience.
Now, one thing about this, unlike any other Google product we've ever seen, this actually allows you to bring somebody back to your website. So if you're going to be doing that then, kind of from the search results easily in local brings you back to their website. It's not this distraction, it's very focused. You want to make sure you have a great landing page that loads quickly, that looks good, and that does the job you've assigned to it.
I see it as, kind of it's 100 words and if you're regularly posting on Facebook, it should be a no-brainer to take what you're doing there, plug it in here, test it, see how it's working, and then try -- if I were doing commerce driven, Buy Now-types of things, I still would limit them to some percentage of the total. Probably, 10%, 20%. I don't think I would lead with Buy Now myself, but that's my selling style. I think every business is different. And then watch it over time.
Now, the analytics are pretty lightweight. They show you total views of the post and then they show you interactions. Now, the interactions with the post really are more significant interactions. I think one of the nice things I like about Google is they do measure more meaningful things. And that's, engagement with the post would be either click on your link or a click to share the post with somebody else -- that type of engagements, but both are pretty significant.
I don't know if you know but Google is testing publicly a third feature, which is Chat With Business directly. We've seen this through Facebook, Microsoft, Bing, this kind of capability. I mean, Google is looking to turn...essentially if you look at a website and you look at Posts and you look at chat, they're looking to turn the brand search into a captive environment where they own the brand search.
Mary: Is this chat going to, like, appear in the local Knowledge Panel?
Mike: Directly in the local Knowledge Panel.
Mary: That makes good sense.
Mike: In tests now. Obviously, it's one more thing you've got to listen to. Although if 70% of your interactions could occur in this environment, it would be worth listening to, but there's a chicken and an egg problem. I got a couple of businesses into the test and they frequently would say, "Gee, do I really want one more place where I need to listen, you know?" But I see Google could leverage your brand search into this becoming a common consumer behavior and if that happens, you won't have a choice.
But when you look at those three things together -- websites, and then you look at the recent history of the Knowledge Panel where Google is adding new tabs for reviews, where they're looking to particularly in travel and restaurants, looking to bring you into the Knowledge Panel more deeply, I see this as very consistent with that and I see this as a very standard Google loss leader. "Gee, we'll give you this free, while we're gathering up all this data, while we're gathering up all these eyeballs, and then hopefully sell you the ad."
Mary: Right. Then we're going to find some way to monetize that.
Mike: Right, at huge scale. So if you think about who currently is leveraging a brand search, it's YP.com, it's Yelp, it's TripAdvisor, it's OpenTable. I mean, those are the people that are leveraging brand searches for profit successfully for some exposure right now. And I think they have the most to lose in this because their content, particularly somebody like YP is very thin, OpenTable has good reviews. Yelp has good reviews. So there is something to be said there but Google's working really hard.
I'm putting together a study to try to look at the rate of acceleration of reviews on the different services. It'll be interesting to see what happens. My sense is that the rate of Yelp reviews is dropping while OpenTable, and Google, and Trip Advisor, and Facebook are all gaining. That's my gut. I don't know if that hypothesis will bear out, but if that's the case, I think that the biggest loser in this could be Yelp, who doesn't have a review showing in the Knowledge Panel either, they only show their reviews in organic, unlike some others.
Mary: Facebook or, yeah.
Mike: Right, exactly. Right. So if the Knowledge Panel, which when you do a mobile search, this Knowledge Panel dominates the page, so the review, they use the post, the photos dominate the page. And I see that those people that have a branded search strategy leveraging organic for branded local businesses, those are the people that are going to be hurt if this takes off. When this takes off. I think it will take off.
Mary: And do you think that there's any benefit to small businesses if they don't have anything else to post to maybe post a good review of themselves from somewhere, a testimonial?
Mike: I hadn't thought of that. I'm not sure exactly yet what will do well. I think experimentation is the order of the day. I think you need to see what engages people.
Mike: Any other questions?
Mike: All righty. Well, with that we'll wrap up this Deep Dive in Local about Google Posts. Thanks for joining us. Bye.
Mary: Thank you, Mike. Bye bye.