This is our Deep Dive Into Local from February 7th, 2018. 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, welcome to Deep Dive with Mary Bowling. And this week we have Joel Headley. Before I introduce him, I just want to make a few announcements. And if you’re listening to this as a podcast, you can read the transcript of it at localu.org. If there are links related to this post, we will try to have them there as well. And then I think that my only other announcement is that April 12th, LocalU Advanced is coming to Austin. We’d love to see you there. There are currently early bird tickets available at localuadvanced.com. Most of you know Mary and I, you may or may not know Joel, you should if you don’t. But I’m going to let Joel go give us his origin story real quickly, in case you’re not familiar with it.
Joel: So, I’m currently at PatientPop and we do healthcare. We build a healthcare marketing platform that takes care of scheduling for doctors often working with SMBs. And I’m the Product Manager in charge of making sure we get the SEO right and the product correct. So that it can do well in search. Prior to this, I worked at Google for quite some time, almost as early as Mike got interested in Google. And I worked on what was then called Google Maps and the local business center, and ultimately, focused on many of the Geo initiatives within support, building out the phone and email support team for Google My Business.
And then, later on, I worked on an issue that’s related to schema and other knowledge engine products that we were putting out through search.
Mike: So Joel and I, were initially sort of frenemies as it were. I was an early critic of Google’s Map efforts. And Joel invited me to the mother ship I think and/or worked with me when I got invited there. So subsequent to that, we’ve become actual real friends, Joel is a frequent speaker at LocalU Advanced, as well. So today, we’re going to talk about Google Posts. Joel has had the opportunity to explore at scale with a large number of locations. And I think his findings are interesting. So Joel, why don’t you kick off by telling us how you use Google Posts, what your goals are for Google Posts, how it might be different for doing analysis the use of Google Posts, and how you’ve implemented it so far. And are you using the API? Are you doing it individually? Those sort of details.
Joel: Yes. So just a reminder, Google Posts is adding an image, a call to action, and some text onto your listing at Google. And they’ll appear for a branded search in your knowledge panel or when you’re clicking through to see your specific listing. We particularly, because we were focused on getting new patients into the door, we focus our efforts around getting people to book online. So all our posts are about half the CTA book or reserve and it’s what it used to be. So we’re trying to get people to schedule an appointment with the doctor.
Mike: As opposed to just a website visit, as opposed to a phone call, as opposed to just somebody engaging with your story or learning. You have a very specific KPI which is it’s more than a KPI it’s actually a conversion to an appointment?
Joel: That’s right. And I think there’s other CTAs. There’s only about four or five can CTAs including learn more, order, and a few things. But so you can’t just make up your own. But we happen to take advantage of the book online, kind of, CTA that they offer. So our goals with Google Posts, was I think Google today is doing a lot of things to encourage online scheduling. And I think we noticed that sometimes it’s hard to get into those very specific Google programs, where there’s a big blue button that says book online or make an appointment. And we want to be able to have that experience on listings without having to build some specific integration with Google.
And Google Posts really afforded us an opportunity to do that, where we could, essentially use the image as a big button. And even though the image itself doesn’t go to the website or that it just opens to Google Posts, below it, you’ll have the CTA book. So we’re using that image as a way to say, “Hey, here gives a little bit of information about the doctor and here’s a place where you can book online with them.” And hope we’re doing that similar experience. yes.
Mary: So a lot of businesses like that take appointments already have book buttons in their local knowledge panel. Is this at all connected to that? Can you get it, so they’ll both go to the same place?
Joel: Yes. You can put those links. There’s already default links that they provide to make an appointment. So you can put those links into the post as well. And actually, they’ll make appointment buttons get much higher click-through rate than the post themselves. So posts, it’s kind of this hierarchy, where the most are frequented click thing is the homepage or the web the authority page URL, right? The thing that says website on your listing. Then after that, you have the make appointment and the menu or services button or links. Those are about the same. And then finally, there’s the post’s CTA, which is much smaller.
Mike: And it sounds, basically, that’s the order they appear on the page as well. So one presumes that as they scan, they find something that’s attractive to them, they click. They don’t read all the way through.
Joel: Exactly. So if you can imagine that in our test, so the way we track this specifically is through URL parameters. So we’re just using UTM codes to figure out where people are coming from. So we have UTM codes on each of those individual parts, the authority page, the make an appointment link, the services link, and then finally, the post’s CTA.
Mike: So did you find that by doing this additional make an appointment link, did you find that detracted at all from your appointment link or from your homepage traffic?
Joel: So that probably is what seem the most exciting is that there seem to be an incremental in the traffic seem incremental. It didn’t seem we were cannibalizing traffic from the other sources. So we were adding traffic because of the post’s CTA.
Mike: So that makes some amount of sense because as you scan down that page, let’s assume they don’t make the decision. So first, there’s Google Reviews, and then there’s a website or maybe on mobile, maybe reviews are second. So having made that decision, but as they scan down the page, those stragglers make the decision further down the page, it wouldn’t detract from those who made the decision up the page so that, that, I mean I could come up with a story that explains that behavior is additive.
Joel: yes. And even right after we launched, I was able to measure the total number of appointments. We don’t have tracking from link to finished appointment completely. We don’t necessarily track that full funnel.
Mike: That’s Mike. For those of you listening to the podcast, that’s Mike wagging his finger at a consulting client who I’ve told to put in place that tracking but it will get there I suppose, so anyways.
Joel: But we were able to see an incremental gain and nearly 8% appointments across the platform, which is pretty amazing. You can take that to the bank. I mean you’re getting this incremental amount of traffic and ultimately online bookings to our practices and it’s very low effort. So if you imagine the entire listing, about 80% is doing the authority URL, the authority page, which is the main homepage that you put on.
And it’s about 7% to 8% are clicks on either the make an appointment or services or menu URL is what they call it in GMB. And they’re about the same 7.5% and then just over 1% is the post’s clicks. But it seems because those post’s clicks are very clearly, we very clearly say, “You want to make an appointment, this is what you do.” And very, all the texts, both in the image and in the content plus the CTAs our folks are invoking. We seem to get people actually completing the action as a result that is very….
Mike: Can you give us a sense of the scale that you’re doing this at?
Joel: Thousands of listings.
Mike: And are you using the API then to post or are you doing it manually?
Joel: No, no. We’re definitely using the API. So this was something pretty scrappy that PatientPop did. It was a pretty fun project. Google, I think Google released this on a Wednesday and we got this up and running on a Thursday, which was really fun. And we were able to make the post somewhat customized by just taking the information that you found on the listing, including the title, the category, and the place. And then creating templates around that content and being able to post unique content to every listing. It’s pretty fun.
Mike: Just using variables that are primarily in the listing…
Joel: That’s right.
Mike: …the doctor name or the practice name, etc. That’s cool, that’s very cool.
Mike: And so it’s built right into your platform. Cool. So you talked a little bit about images as a call to action within posts. Could you describe your experiments there?
Joel: yes. So we had some images, initially, we had images, some of them had zero text on them. And later on, we had images that had some text. We had images that had images of people and things like stethoscopes and stuff. And then we had images that were much more, not a single color but close to a single color background. So and we found that images that had, that were less complicated, that just had a single color or a single light color that looked like cool wallpapers but as opposed to an image that was like a person or a stethoscope, those seem to convert better. And then images that had text on the image, in this case, book an appointment now or something similar to that, those actually converted twice what an image without text on it compared to that.
So, the philosophy for me is that that image treat it like a button on your website, just a big clear button that someone wants to click-through and it’s very clear what they’re going to do and how they’re going to end up once they click that CTA.
Mike: Now, I noticed when I looked at your examples that some of them, the photographic ones were stock photography. Have you experimented with real people and you know, the real doctor, for example, as a background for that image?
Joel: We had that only because those are harder to do at scale. We don’t necessarily have great pictures of all of our providers. So we haven’t been able to do something like that. And but it’s worthwhile to try to figure that something like that out, at some point.
Mike: You know, different businesses have different goals for this. And it’d be interesting to see what type of images convert best. Obviously, your goal is strictly on appointment. And so what you’re saying is creating an image that’s like wallpaper that allows the text to be obvious so that the user knows really clearly in big bold font what they’re dealing with. So they click in, they then click the… It’s interesting though, it might even add an extra step for them but since it becomes cognitively more obvious, they make that decision to do that. That’s interesting.
Mary: So if I were in the space where I was getting appointments from online, I would be kind of concerned about Google inserting itself in between me and the customer with that booking because we’ve seen what’s going on with service area businesses, they’re having to pay for leads now. And I could easily see Google having doctors, and dentists and chiropractors pay for leads. So are you using a service that is partnered up with Google to make this happen or do you have your appointment system that you’re trying to drive customers to?
Joel: We have our own appointment system that we’re driving customers to. yes, so, which is a bit frustrating because you sign-in to Google My Business and they’re still saying, “Hey, sign up with another appointment system.” They don’t. And that’s where we recognize that we have our own already. But yes, so we’re driving people to essentially PatientPop wants to be a very business-to-business brand. And ultimately, we want our online booking to be the brand of whatever business has it. So as opposed to being one of those services that Google is promoting, we want people to say, “Hey, Dr. Salani has an appointment button. And this is Dr. Salani’s appointments. And I’m going to work it. I’m going to go to Dr. Salani.” So it’s very, hopefully, a very native experience to the website.
Mary: And I’m kind of thinking that one of the, you know, you have a specific book an appointment but a lot of people are not going to have that kind of call to action. They’re going to be trying to drive people to their website for some reason or another. Have you seen any examples of your appointment links driving people to the website? And have you seen any ranking improvements because more people are going to your website?
Joel: So I’m not going to tell you what the cause of the ranking improvement is but we did, I don’t know if it’s because people are going to the website but we have seen, we did a limited test around a single provider that wasn’t doing too well. And we wanted this provider to start ranking for its specific terms that were outside kind of categorical terms. So he did these heart stress tests, some other very specific kinds of tests related to his cardiology practice. And we noticed that focusing on those terms increased in rank. It helped him increase in ranking over time…
Mary: Focusing on those terms in the posts?
Joel: In the posts, in the post, in the text of the post. Yes.
Mike: That would be consistent with what we saw with my tests and Joey’s tests that if there are very long-tail phrases, where the ability to increase relevance isn’t up against so many headwinds then this is a signal that Google might recognize and help lift the boat for that long-tail phrase. My experience with it was it didn’t work well on head phrases, and it may require some amount of interaction for it to really work well. In other words, I’m not sure just the phrase itself but the phrase with click-throughs on the posts might be the actual trigger to this. It’s not totally clear yet. I think that if you’re going to experiment with this, I would suggest like Joel did here, long-tail phrases. And try to create an engaging click-through model so that people actually click-through it. I think that’s going to lead to these ranking gains in those areas. That would be my theory. I’m not saying it would always work.
Joel: yes. Even though these posts don’t appear in search, they’re clearly indexed. And there’s probably a little bit different understanding of what that means. They don’t appear in web organic but Google Search knows about them, it knows the content in the post, and it understands that content, right? And it associates it very specifically with the listing. So you can imagine it having an impact in organic web as a result.
Mike: yes. So I think of it as the entity in the knowledge graph being the entity that’s being ranked. And that every time Google finds some verified content that’s related to that entity, that they can have high confidence in, it gets associated with that entity but doesn’t necessarily (might or might not) match up in the organic index, right? So the question I would have though, is if they’re moving posts to the Google webpage product now, will posts start showing up in the index as part of that product or not?
Joel: yes. Well, it starts showing up in the…
Mike: Organic index?
Mike: Along with the webpage.
Mary: yes. I would think if you could boost relevance enough, it might.
Mike: It’s hard, you know it’s hard to know whether they view it internally as part of the organic page of the webpage or as just content associated with the entity in the knowledge graph. And whether it stays buried or it gets surfaced in by the scrapers. So I don’t know that. It’s an interesting question.
Mary: yes. And I have a friend who tells me that she kind of thinks of posts as amp for small businesses. That it’s a way for small businesses to get fast-loading content, newsy content out there on the web. So, you know, that kind of make sense to me.
Mike: Right. So, in terms of Google’s effort to increase immersion in the knowledge panel, I think it’s consistent with that where they’re bringing content in closer to the mother ship. They’re like web pages, like the new menu product from restaurants that’s all associated directly with the entity in the knowledge graph services at Google’s pleasure to viewers. And likely, as we’ve seen historically over the last two or three years, users have stopped at the knowledge panel and made the decision or stopped at the local search, done some exploration, and made the decision right then and there. And this is content, that one, helps them make that decision like Google Q&A.
Do you have top hats at Walmart? And two, helps Google understand the business better. So, all the things we’ve seen or not all things but many things we’ve seen over the past year, have had that sort of nature to it, where it’s increasing content for the user and increasing Google’s understanding of the business, and not showing up in the organic index, and being used for this immersive search experience. Would you, so Joel, again put you on the spot, but do you agree with that sort of analysis?
Joel: yes. I mean I think ultimately, we Google, I mean I remember I worked the menu ingestion very early before they started getting them directly through…
Mike: Oh, we have you to blame for that crappy system, where we have this old single platform scraped who knows when showing up.
Joel: So yes, single platform. And I think LocalU also was sending menu information. And yes, we would get it through a feed. And I think the reason why we were, when we did our initial test, users just loved it. They loved having that information there. They interacted with the information, they wanted to have that information present and at their fingertips. I think ultimately, if users aren’t going to react in a positive way, Google is going to chase after that, right? And so…
Mike: Income or no? No, if they can’t get them on the clicks, they’re going to get them on the clock. If they can’t get them to click an ad, they’re going to get them to stay at Google, and learn more, and contact the business directly from Google, right?
Joel: yes, yes. Actually, you’re right. I mean I think ultimately though, believe it or not, they really just simply, they do focus on the user experience and they want users to be happy when they’re playing, they’re on Google, right? And if delivering a menu or delivering content directly there makes users happier, they’ll see Google moving more towards that direction.
Mike: And can I add one thing, Mary?
Mike: This goes back to your question about inter…disintermediation of Google to say professionals. Now, one of the concerns obviously with plumbers is that Google becomes the brand that people trust as opposed to the local brand anytime that, you know, your any businesses confronting that reality then they have to objectively view the tool and set up systems to maintain long-term touch with that customer once they acquire that customer from Google. In other words, you can’t use Google like crack where you’re always getting a high, if you use Google as part of a bigger process funnel, where once Google gives you that customer maybe they made the appointment the first time, then you establish the long-term relationships with them.
You get their email address, their SMS number, you know, set them up for regular visits, whatever it is you need to learn how to own that customer. And I think part of the issue with say the locksmith industry in the past is they’ve treated the customers so badly they couldn’t own the customer. So I’m not sure that, you know, certainly, Google’s goal is to keep people there and to get them to make a decision there. And to some extent, they may lead to monetization of that act. But that doesn’t mean you still don’t have a shot to make that person your customer long haul.
Joel: yes. yes.
Mary: True. So, one of the questions I have is where the posts are living in your agency. Is that something your content team is dealing with? Your SEO team is dealing with? Or are you doing a fewer blog posts in order to do more Google posts? Or how are you operating that?
Mike: Great question.
Joel: yes. Our posts today are fully automated. So we’re pulling, we’ve had the content team develop a handful of unique pieces of content that can then be, that use just parameters to insert the business name, and the location, and maybe the category, for example. So each post can be unique, but we’re still using a template format to do that. So it’s all automated. So essentially lives with our engineering team, as a result. I think ultimately, we do do social media for other platforms. And it makes sense to build into our platform an ability for the business owner to post unique posts themselves for example. And so we’ll probably be launching something similar to that in the future, both kind of a paid option to get somebody help like posting as a service, and then allowing the practice to do it themselves. But ultimately today, it’s all automated.
Mike: Right. That automation is possible because the purpose and function is so focused, right? It has one goal. It isn’t touch all the other areas that posts could be used for brand building or education, or client engagement, all these other areas, which would require additional testing, right? Would your appointments drop if every other post were educational, for example?
Joel: Right. yes.
Mike: Those are big questions. Hopefully, Joel will come back in a couple of months with the answer to those. So Joel, you mentioned that forum story about Google Posts, maybe you could share that.
Joel: yes. This is after answering this question I thought, “Wow, this is why I’m on the forum. I wish I could find more questions like this.” But someone had posted that their store shares the name of some online store that has crummy customer service. And so they’re getting a review on their page that is actually for this online store, right? And they’re kind of pissed off. And I go to their listing, and I noticed they have a post up there, that says, that content of the post says, “Our store is not this store. Please help and pass it on.” And they have a nice image of their store. It’s a boutique. So they have like hangers of clothes, and jewelry, and stuff.
And I just said, “Let me see if I can get this review removed because it’s not for your store. But also a little hint, it’s probably better to have not an image of your internal store but actually a muted image that has clear text on the top.” And that’s probably going to gain people’s more attention. And she essentially changed it, and said, “We are this store. And we’re a brick and mortar boutique. If you’re looking for this online store, you can email that person. They have issues.” And she wrote out their support email address and…
Mike: This was in the image?
Joel: In the image for her post. And she responded. So far the traffic to the business is still quite high compared to what it was before. So I believe people are still searching for this online store instead of us however, the number of phone calls from my irate customers of the other store have lessened, too. So even though the traffic was still there, it looks like the post is doing its job of saying, “We’re not them,” right? So it looks like in these emergency situations, you can use posts. And I know Posts has launched and we have a lot of those hurricane issues in the Gulf Coast. And people were using that to say if they were still open, if they’re not open right now. So it can be a great communication platform. And I really…
Mike: One suggestion I have for somebody that came to me and said, “We’re 24/7 but the offices and staff during working hours we do it by phone. You know, Google gets upset if we change our hours. How do we deal with it?” And I suggested to them and they were happy with this solution to use Google Posts to communicate their 24/7 availability by, you know, for emergency towing, whatever it was. While their regular hours for walkin traffic be left within Google guidelines. It was a way to comply with guidelines while still communicating their 24/7 availability.
So I think Posts have some other unique usage like that when Google doesn’t quite have the structure, for example, appointments. It would be a great way to announce that you’re appointment-only business and you need to call, and make an appointment, because Google doesn’t really handle that very well.
Mary: yes or if you’re really a subcategory that Google doesn’t recognize as much, you could always explain your services there a little bit better.
Mike: yes. Although that might also not be appropriate for Google Q&A as a place for that kind of thing, but so any closing thoughts on Google Posts?
Joel: Well, you use them if you want. I think they’re effective in driving traffic. Again, have a simple background with clear text on the top. Use that image as a big button essentially and I think it drives conversions better.
Mike: How about you, Mary? Any closing pearls of wisdom here for our listeners?
Mary: No. But to me, it sounds like this one really is a gift from Google that we can use. And it’s easy enough to set it up and use it, that there’s really not too much of an excuse not to.
Mike: Exactly. And it’s real, it’s virtually real time and as soon as you post, it goes live. The one disadvantage to it is just the fact that most of the posts have to expire in a week and you have to repost them if they’re not events. But other than that, I would agree.
Mary: yes. But Google is reminding you that it’s time to post them, so.
Mike: Reminding you they are. I have my inbox is full of them. So your post is about to expire. Yes, I knew that. All right. Well, with that tidbit, I will say thank you Joel for joining us and sharing your experiences with Google Posts. It was informative, enjoyable. Thanks, Mary. We’ll talk to you next week.
Joel: Bye, Mike.
Mary: All right. Thank you.
Mike: So, we have a webinar coming up on Reviews with David Mihm, Joy Hawkins, Aaron Weiche. It will be airing on it’ll be live on February 13th and available at the LocalU blog for follow-up after that. And then just a reminder that April 12th, localuadvanced.com, great speaker line-up. Joel, and Mary, and myself, with David Mihm, Cindy Crum, Joy Hawkins, Ed Reese, Tim Reese, and many more, will be joining us for a wonderful day in Austin, night before gathering, so it should be a great day there as well. So join us for LocalU Advanced. If you’re in Austin and we’re also doing a small business event there on the day before, April 11th, join us for that as well. So thank you for joining us for the Deep Dive. And we will see you next week. Bye-bye.