Deep Dive Into Local series from Dec. 19, 2016. 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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Mary: With that, we’re going into the deep dive and talk a little bit more about Google My Business moving forward into 2017. Mike, what do you think is going on with this quick verification special. Who do you think is doing it? Why do you think it’s going on?
Mike: Well, the (Google) verification team apparently did it without a broad discussion across the various channels that impact Local, like support. Apparently it was heavily subscribed, high volume, more than they anticipated. My view of Google Local these days is they’re trying very hard to upgrade Google Local with more features and more meaningful reasons to come into it. For that to work, they have to have people coming into it to begin with. I see this as part of a funnel to encourage more businesses to actively engage with Google My Business, and to test — they’re always testing, and I think they want to test easier and quicker ways of getting authorization.
But, obviously, the reason they want people to come in the funnel, and one of the reasons is they’re upgrading the internal workings of Google My Business, is that they then have people that will buy Google AdWords Express or, in the case of service businesses, home service ads. I think Google sees future growth in Local through either self-serve or home service ads, both of which are fulfilled through Google AdWords Express, and I see this as part of their funnel. We talked about this a couple of weeks ago. Nobody’s tested it recently. I think there is artificial intelligence to it, and I think, at some point, if it hasn’t already, it could get quite good. At least good enough to take $100 or $150 a month from every business in the world!
Mike: That’s a nice up-sell, right?
Mary: Here’s what hits me when I think about artificial intelligence with AdWords, it just makes me think of ReachLocal and how the algorithm is set up to show you for your brand terms. Over time, that’s what the algorithm learns to do; your best success is when people search for your brand. Well, we already know that. So why are we paying for that? I question this idea of artificial intelligence being really good. I think artificial intelligence is going to be really good for taking money out of our pockets. But I don’t think it’s necessarily going to give you any business that you weren’t already going to get when somebody’s searching for your brand name just to get your phone number. And you’re paying five bucks giving your phone number.
Mike: Barbara Oliver is doing an AdWords Express campaign. They spend about $100 a month. They get about 90 to 110 visits a month out of it. I think 25% are brand-based searches. So, 75% are keyword-based searches. Conversion is low, it’s not really high — it could be better, for sure. She limits herself to 40 miles around her Buffalo location, which covers Buffalo and the surrounding suburbs certainly. That’s as cheap as it gets in terms of the visit to the website. But if it’s not converting, what good is it? I think Google has access to so much more data than ReachLocal ever had, and relevance is a critical factor in Google’s view of the world. Google has successfully over the years contributed a lot of traffic. In fact, for this next talk we have coming up in Nashville, I was doing a little research, a case study on Barbara’s site. What we’re seeing is that Google sends 60% of our total traffic. Some comes from Facebook. Some comes from Apple. But Google sends about 56% total traffic.
But I asked the question — you know, on Barbara’s site we track every click to call, every click for driving directions, which to me are better KPIs, and also clicks to the contact form through completed contact forms. We looked at every place I could find data that provided click-to-call information, her website, Google, whatever. We found that 98% of the people that took one of those three actions — click to call, driving directions, or fill out a contact form — 98% of them came from Google. So maybe Google represents 98% of the real conversions than the local site, which is a huge number. It means the Facebook people aren’t converting even though our traffic from Facebook is decent, she’s got a really good solid active Facebook presence. Yelp is half of 1% in terms of actual actions taken. So at the end of the day, Google is providing the bulk of the people who are interested in interacting with her. I think Google hasn’t told that story very well and hasn’t given people a good enough reason to come into the GMB to take advantage of that.
Mary: No, I think that … it seems like instead of Google actually going out and learning how small business owners think and how small businesses work, they sit up in their little ivory campus in Mountain View and make assumptions and then build things based on these assumptions.
Mike: Right, categories is a good example of that. Small businesses have no clue how sophisticated Google’s categorization process is. A small business goes to Google and says, “Oh, they don’t have my category, what am I supposed to do?” Well, you’re supposed to go out and build a really good website that includes your categorical information. You’re supposed to get reviews with that categorical information. You’re supposed to get links with that categorical information. Case in point, it would be simple enough for Google to have 4,000 categories, instead of 2,000, right?
Mary: And they used to! They used to have like 10,000 categories.
Mike: Now they have attributes, though, which does help, and maybe, if attributes get good enough, attributes may become that sub-level category they’re missing. But Google makes it really complicated for small businesses to understand and doesn’t do a good job of highlighting the benefits. I mean, 98% of conversions came from Google. That’s a pretty amazing number when I look at it.
Mary: It is, especially when you think about a stat I saw on some article in Forbes this past week that said 60% of very small businesses, meaning 5 or less people, still don’t have a website.
Mike: Right! Exactly. One guy wanted to know why his listing wasn’t showing up in Google. So I went to look. He didn’t have a website! People somehow bought into the myth that you can get by with a Facebook page. Google is really good at finding shoppers with intent that don’t know about you. If you want to play at that end of the funnel, then you have to play by Google’s rules, as obtuse as they are.
Mary: That’s true. And with this verification thing, the first I thought of when I saw that was, “Oh, the black hats are gonna be on the phone today,” because everybody who hasn’t managed to get their business verified and saw that as probably trying to take advantage of it. It could be a really good test of how good their verification unit is.
Mike: One of the things you see when you verify with Google is that they know a lot about a business. They know its location. They know how busy it is. They know how long it’s been in business. And they have signals like email and domain. They use geotagged photos. They have a pretty good system for allowing legitimate business owners to verify fairly easily, and it looks like they’re working on tests to make it even easier.
The problem is it doesn’t catch all the bad actors, but that’s the way big data works. It’s really good for the 90%, 95% that meet the criteria of the algorithm that’s written in these towers and kept in Mountain View. But at the other end you have the business that’s totally legit but can’t get mail at their address, or the other end where you have a shyster trying to get a business listing. They don’t always make those work that well. That’s how big data is. You have got to bring humans in, and without them, you can’t get to 100%. Even with them, obviously, Google doesn’t do 100%.
Mary: You have to have the intent of doing 100% before you can even approach it.
Mike: They don’t have that intent. Their intent is to be relevant, not to be accurate. And they view it differently. But by that same token, I would say that the things I’ve seen going on in 2016 in Google Local, the adding of the attributes, the upgrading of insights, the number of new features that they’ve been rolling out, the test with Google Posts, they seem to be moving with intentionality towards a place where there’s a reason for small businesses to come into the GMB on a regular basis. They’re actively alerting about reviews. They’re actively providing insights. They’re actively encouraging photos. They’re trying to find the glue that will hold together a process that allows small businesses across the board to engage with their product regularly, I think, as this conversation started, all with the goal of bringing people into the funnel of AdWords Express one way or another.
So my prediction for 2017, I don’t like to make predictions, I don’t make them that often, I think Google will continue on this trend, will find more reasons to engage small businesses with their dashboard on a regular basis.
Mary: I agree with that.
Mike: So, with that, should we call it wrap and wish everybody a Happy New Year’s and a Merry Christmas, ho-ho-ho, and Happy Hanukkah and whatever, Happy Kwanzaa, and who knows what else?
Mary: And let’s all go skiing.
Mike: And let’s all go skiing. There you have it. All right, have a great New Year’s. You probably won’t see us till next year. Thanks.