Video Deep Dive: Google Posts – What the data says about conversions
Mike Blumenthal


This is our Deep Dive Into Local from February 20th, 2019. 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. This week we have Joel Headley of PatientPop. Previously of Google My Business support and other things at Google, but long-time participant in local industry both from the inside and the outside. And last fall we did an interview with Joel where he discussed some of the work they were doing in automating posts and the benefits they were seeing. And we recently updated that research by virtue of presenting it at the LocalU event in Santa Monica. And I just wanted to summarize all that.

So, Joel, tell us about your original research in the posts last fall, how you did it, what you found, the benefits of it.

Joel: yes. So we have thousands of practices with profiles on Google. And we manage those profiles in part through the API, … Because in general these businesses are SMBs. We’re able to post to the business profile.

Mike: And so, just to explain it, as opposed to if they had more than 10 locations, you couldn’t post through the profile.

Joel: If they’re labeled a chain, we can’t post through the profile.

Mike: Just to note, chain is an internal Google language for companies that they think have 10 or more locations, right, or 9 or more locations, or whatever it is.

Joel: yes, yes. So the post here, we do this in an automated way. Essentially, we have a library of templates. You’ll see that the post is unique to this listing because it talks about women’s healthcare right in the middle of Santa Monica. So we’re actually pulling data directly from the listing, including the category, the listing title, and the location. You substitute these values into our templates and create these images, and upload these as posts.

Mike: So just to be clear, you grab those through the API with Google, or do you grab them through your internal system?

Joel: We just grab them through the…it keeps them all into one call when we’re grabbing it.

Mike: I got it.

Joel: With the, instead of making it back into our system. Essentially, their system is putting it into Google, so we’re just grabbing it back out when we’re making the call. It makes the script a little bit more compact.

And because our practices, we build websites for our practices that have booking widgets. We use the book CTA. One of the…

Mike: One up level here. In terms of your practices, I mean, for you the only important key performance indicator is a booking. Is that correct?

Joel: yes. We can’t measure bookings directly from phone calls, so we do measure phone calls also through call tracking. But, yes, essentially we’ll focus on generating, filling up the practice’s appointment schedule.

Mike: Right. And I just wanted to point that out because I think there are many other uses, your use cases, very specific.

Joel: Very specific, yes. There’s a…

Mike: You have to get them to your website to succeed at that.

Joel: If you think about doing a fence, or coupons, or whatever that means, there’s certainly different CTAs work. But in the context of healthcare, we’re really looking for appointments. It’s essentially an appointment-only business except for rare…some circumstances, like emergent care.

So we have, and we’ve noticed that this image “Book an appointment today,” it’s a simple color. It’s a very obvious CTA in the image. Of course you don’t click on the image to get conversion, but it really reinforces the conversion…

Mike: Message.

Joel: …message. And it actually, we see higher conversions when the images are simple. And I think the recommendation from last time we talked about this was to make your images button like. So that’s why we came up with a post that’s simple like this, that has this button-like image with their book CTA.

Mike: yes. So people, if they didn’t make the decision someplace else, or already, they’re making the decision when they hit that. If they didn’t click to the website, they see that. If they don’t see that, then they drop down to make an appointment. They may still make it there, but at least they know what you expect them to do, clearly.

Joel: That’s right. And these work better than the picture of the doctor, the picture of something that is a little bit more real-life from the practice.

Mike: yes. I guess it just tells you what…at that point in the funnel people are coming to Google with a very specific goal in mind, right?

Joel: yes. So as everybody I’m sure listening to this realizes making an appointment, or the post, was moved out of the visual space on the knowledge panel, or the business profile. In case of mobile, often they’re hidden behind the tab where you have to scroll to see it in other UIs. So it’s really off-screen at this point, and it’s hard to see. You still have this nice “make appointment” CTA, but you’re missing that post that you could have this on there.

So it’s essentially gone. And it may still exist, but they’re essentially gone.

Mike: yes, the other place, it is visible, like, on a brand search, it’s visible below the knowledge panel, below the website for the business, then it shows up, right? So it’s there, but it’s a scroll away.

Joel: yes, it’s below the fold.

Mike: Below the fold, correct.

Joel: So you have to do an extra click to get there. You have to go a tab, in many cases, or at least a scroll away.

So when you tab, you still see, again, these kind of posts that, again, this is customized experience for this particular practice, yet using templates to really scale this out to thousands of practices. But to get to that book CTA, you have to really click a few times more.

So as a result, we saw CTA drop from these booking links. And you have to take the knowledge panel. Imagine 100% of clicks to your website from the knowledge panel. It used to be 3% of clicks were being on this book CTA, where the majority of clicks were happening on the website. It moved from 3% down to 1%.

The other piece here is that when we talked to Google about this stuff, I forgot about this, when we talked to them about why are they moving things around and why are things changing, they said, “Well, it’s just an experiment. Just experimenting,” so…

Mike: And my standard line on that, right? I mean, everything Google does is an experiment. It may last a year, it may last two years, but it’s an experiment. And everything they do is expendable if they think they can do it better.

Joel: yes.

Mike: And they will expend it.

Joel: Absolutely. And, in fact, just as I was presenting this, I think the day before I presented this and a few days afterwards, I was seeing other businesses where they put posts back where it used to be. So they’re still moving things around. Things are still happening. I don’t know what’s going on. I talked to a few people and they’ve seen it, too. So it is moving around.

But what we did find… Sorry about that. I apologize.

So what we did find is that as… Okay. As we…when we originally had the book CTA would be close at the top. This CTA, the “make appointment” one, actually got a boost.

So there’s usually two URLs on here. One’s a make an appointment, the other is a products and services URL, or a menus URL, products and services in healthcare. We actually saw just by nature of having the big image that said, “Book an appointment today,” we actually saw more people, instead of going to the products/services URL, going to this make appointment URL. Not even the book URL is part of the post, but the make an appointment.

Mike: Do you think that was just a side effect of the additional information?

Joel: yes.

Mike: They scroll by it, but they still wanted to do it, and then they clicked.

Joel: yes. It seemed like it reinforced the primary action we were trying to drive, and so people went from usually equal products and services all the way to really going more towards the make an appointment. And we looked, in this case, at five million referrals.

Now, once these posts had been in the market for some time, and ultimately as I started moving them around, we saw that that dropped back down. So today, both the services, or menu URL, and the make an appointment URL are getting about 8% each, which is roughly equal… I know I said 7.5%. It’s roughly the same as it was before, and you’re getting the book CTA at 1%. So we’re not seeing a boost in incremental bookings the way we saw it last quarter, which is a little bit unfortunate.

However, , the fact is that the booking link is still getting 1% of clicks of the knowledge panel. So there is still a clear return on investment, it’s not nothing. So that said, if you’re in a situation where you’re managing hundreds and you have to post weekly as part of your agency business, and you’re not doing it without automation, it gets problematic. It’s probably hard to justify it.

However, if you’re able to set up a system, or simply encourage your customers to do this, , there is some ROI involved.

Mike: So curious in the…that was percentages. So we’ve got 1% and 8%, that’s 9%. Where’s the other 91%?

Joel: yes. So about…let’s see. So we get 8% on the make an appointment URL, which is this one in the middle. We get about 8% on the menu URL. I’m not sure why it’s not showing on this practice. And then we get the rest on the website.

Mike: I see. So that’s 17%, so that gives you…

Joel: 83%.

Mike: 83% clicks through the website. Now, is that up or down from what you were seeing before?

Joel: Well, this is share of everything that’s happening on the listing, so I wouldn’t compare the two. And all the referrals from Google are up.

Mike: I see.

Joel: Yes. And I think we talked about that. They’re probably up year-over-year, from January to January, about… I actually have it in a slide here, but I think it’s…

Mike: yes, I think you said 20% at some point, I think, give or take.

Joel: yes, it’s 20%. So year-over-year, we’re doing…in general, referrals from Google are higher, which is great. So we’re gonna keep investing and making sure those referrals come through with the best channel they can.

Mike: So obviously this is a very specific use case and one where you have to get them to the website to really succeed. I mean, a lot of businesses, like Barbara Oliver, like my client, I mean, if she gets a call, or driving direction that’s…, actually driving direction is the best, one of the better KPIs for her because it means somebody is coming to visit her and potentially buys something, right?

Joel: Sure.

Mike: Better than a phone call. It’s better than a form filled, it’s better than a message on Facebook. , the others are useful.

So her use case is to just send somebody to, , do that. So obviously we don’t have any data in those alternative use cases. Although Greg Gifford did say that he does oil changes for his car dealer. And he felt that…he didn’t have specific numbers before and after, but he felt that they were still a decent return on, again, a very specific use case, which is a coupon, right? Which we know people love coupons, so that’s useful.

But here the question becomes, , does a business have other use case to do this? If they do, how do you evaluate their ROI? , what… One interesting thing to bring in this discussion is over the last several weeks, and again yesterday and last couple days, at the local search forum people are noting that content from the posts are showing up as snippets in the three-pack, which more than implies, it helps us really to confirm that Google is using this information to expand their entity understanding, which doesn’t affect rank. Because anybody could affect how many search terms you show up for, right? You could show up for more search terms and do better on those search terms. So, I guess, secondarily it impacts, I guess…

Joel: yes, it would impact brand, right? But it’s just relevance, not a prominence signal.

Mike: Right, exactly. So there are other benefits here.

Joel: associated with your practice, right?

Mike: Right, yes.

Joel: Do you do not whitening, or do you do x or y? And you could use that as a…

Mike: Right. It would be interesting to follow whether or not those are particularly long-tail values, or whether they’re less long-tail values, right? How deep and how…. That would be an interesting experiment to see if you get any increasing conversions on some really long-tail, but valuable, service.

So clearly there’s a benefit to posts that are hard to measure. And I think the way Barbara uses them, which is purely educational, purely brand-building, right? She just wants to look good as much and as broadly as she can. So for her, she’s not looking for conversions through the posts, per se. I mean, somebody comes to her website, that’s a good thing. But she’s looking to just create the impression that she’s professional.

So for her, posts is a very important photographic forum where she can show her work, she can tell stories with it. So for her, it’s a different whole…it’s a horse of a different color, as they say in “Wizard of Oz.” Totally a horse of a different color. But much more difficult for her to evaluate ROI. I’m…

Joel: yes. I mean, I think that’s where couponing can come into play, right? If you have someone that shows…that gives a coupon code and that’s something you can track through your… What are they called? Point of…is it POS?

Mike: Mm-hmm.

Joel: So this… Then now you have a way to say, even if it’s getting third or fourth hand, getting that coupon code, it’s somehow coming, generating on this Google post that you put up, your unique code, which is another way to test this. We don’t have a lot of coupon-like experiences.

Mike: yes, give me a discount, , surgery. I’d love that.

Joel: yes, yes, yes. That’s always what people look for in the first time when somebody cuts them, “Can I get 10% off?” And you say, “Which 10%?” right?

But, yes, it’s not a huge… But I’d love to see this in other industries, to see how well those coupon codes can attract, again, different types of posts. What you’ll probably see coming out of us in the next six to eight months is more detail around what those relevance factors are. We’ll be testing the content in the post and switching it up a bit to add a little bit more long-tail key terms, like you’re talking about. And we’ll be able to see, are we getting… In general, can we look at the practice and see if there’s an uplift in certain number of service that are brought through the door.

Mike: That’d be interesting.

Joel: Which will be really interesting because we’ll be able to look at the types of appointments that the practice is looking at holistically. And even if they’re not coming directly from Google, are we seeing a change?

Mike: That’ll be interesting to see. The other soft value of posts is the fact that they feed those posts into your photo area, and they keep your photo area relatively fresh. So for many businesses, again, that are a more visual business, there’s more to share. Like in the jewelry case, example, she does custom jewelry, so there’s always an image that she wants to share. It’s a way for her… Or same in the restaurant, right, where if you do a particularly nice dish and you post about it, one, educates Google that you’re doing that dish so people can see that you have home-made French fries.

They look great, and then they move into the knowledge panel, which is no longer called the knowledge panel. It’s called the business listing, business profile. Business profile, there we go. Damn, , I don’t know. I’m still stuck in Google places listing, right? So, anyway. For everybody who hasn’t paid attention, Google’s changed the name once again. It’s now called the business profile.

But, so there’s a soft use there. , David’s point about imagery is that as Google’s AI improves and it does a better job of understanding images that, too, may expand relevance.

Mike: I mean, I know they’re asking questions about, as a user, they’re asking users questions about, “Which image do you like best? Which one tells you more about this place?” It’s a very broad question, but it gets right to the heart of what Google is trying to do, which is get images about your location that speak to a customer.

And I, admittedly, I don’t think the post images we’re putting out actually speak to customers in a way about describing the place. They’re really about conversion values. So you have to make that determination, what fits best for your business. But we try to put other types of images in other places, for sure.

Mike: How often do you…tangent. How often do you update images for practices?

Joel: We don’t have a regular cycle around that. We do it when they’re asking,

Mike: There’s another great experiment that I think I suggested to you that I would love to see is if we update, if you updated images…and before I go on, in the spirit of full disclosure, I have a consulting relationship with PatientPop, so, and I have had that for many years. So I’m not a totally unbiased observer here.

But I’d be curious to know, , comparing two groups, , do you see any, , one that you update images regularly, once a week, twice a week, add new images. , is there any noticeable uplifts that, , come from that? Uplifts to, , views of images, specifically, but also, potentially, uplifts to how often they show you, or whatever. Be an interesting experiment to…

Joel: Absolutely.

Mike: …to have. So do you have more slides here? I lost track of where we were on the slides.

Joel: I think this is it for the posts.

Mike: Is it?

Joel: yes.

Mike: Okay. So I guess one of the things that this strikes me as is that you still see the bulk of the clicks, you did before and you do now, coming through the website click, right? In other words, in the knowledge…in the business profile, knowledge panel. And so, , the takeaway from that, to me, is that they’re gonna be coming to either your local landing page, or it’s a multi-location, or they’re gonna be coming to you home page.

And it speaks to this issue that if, like in your case, the call to action and the KPI is so clear, it’s an appointment, then you really have to be sure that the page they’re landing on is really good and capable of doing that. I mean, it obviously goes without saying, but I think all too often you get there and it’s hard for somebody to take an action, right? It’s hard for them to make a phone call. It’s hard for them to get driving directions, hard for them to fill out this form. And those things should be front and center on your mobile site, right? And on your sub-site, but…

Joel: yes. I think this is kind of the data we were talking about before. I say 84%, those are essentially rounding differences. But 84%, 88% and 1%. So you get a sense of where people are coming in. It’s not their page, which means that home page better be the best home page it can be, right?

And when you do suck people in to, whether it’s a make appointment, a post CTA, or the products and services, in that new section, they should be describing what we think, I guess, customers would be trying to do if they click those links.

Mike: Right. yes, so the home page has this dual purpose. One is to convince them that you are the place they want, and the second being to get them to convert, right? So…

Joel: yes. It’s not dissimilar to what you would do with your website, right? If you have a website, you land on a home page, what’s your CTAs? What content do you want to first direct people to? This is your opportunity to have a, , a second arm of navigation to your website through your home page on Google, as you would like to say it. Right?

Mike: Right. Absolutely. All right. Any other things to add to this data research? I know you have more. We co-presented this data at Local U, but I’d like to reserve that for another session, if that’s okay with you?

Joel: Sounds good to me.

Mike: All right. Do you have anything to add in closing?

Joel: I mean, I think ultimately there’s plenty to invest in on Google platform for a small business. I think figuring out ways to…if you have a long list of customers, that you should be using the API to not just manage, but also to create content for your customers. And there’s clever ways to do that. And ultimately, as you do it, you can use…you can understand what click-through rates are based on your own website data and really optimize those things to work best for your audiences.

Mike: yes. To Google’s credit, I think starting, and whenever the API first came out, which was maybe late 2016, they have really, unlike in previous eras, where they would release something and then stop doing it, the API has had a very steady, tick-tock, minor update, major update twice a year, three times a year schedule and has become a trustworthy staple in most large partners’ quiver, right? That it really does…that for the first time in my dealing with Google, which has been now going on 12 years with local, this is the first time that, over the last three years, it’s actually been so regular that you can almost plan your business around it, almost.

Joel: yes. You can almost recreate all of GMB and then some features that you want to have, like, not just looking at quarterly, weekly monthly, plots of data. Like, you can almost do everything you would want to do in GMB in your own app and keep people at your own place if you’re developing an app.

And with my PatientPop, that’s really attractive. Also, I’m sure there’s other companies that we could gather up, who wants to be able to do similar things. They do have the Q&A API now, right, for example. But you can add the layers, and I think you’ve talked about this before, the layers of management that Google…. Like, “Have you read this? Have you actioned it? Have you taken an offline action? Have you followed up with this customer? Have you taken an online action?” Right?

And you really reinforce this partnership with your customer by creating…

Mike: yes, I think there’s a lot of opportunity. The problem I see from a market point of view is that some of that opportunity will be commodified in such a way that value is zero, unless your interface is super, right, that the context is amazing, right, that the feature itself will be… Kind of Google’s goal is to have everybody have whatever feature they want by this API, and thus everybody will have access to it. So things like post…

Joel: It should be a component of what you do, right?

Mike: What’s that?

Joel: It should be a component of what you do, not a re-expression of what can already be done.

Mike: Exactly. So I think it’s not a winner for everybody, if you don’t have a better, big plan to which to integrate it, for sure.

Well, all right. With that, I want to just thank you for joining us. And hopefully we’ll see you soon so we can talk about the rest of the research. Thanks again.

Joel: Thanks, Mike.

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