This is the thirteenth installment of our Deep Dive into Local series. For the week ending Friday, November 20th, Mary Bowling, David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal shared their thoughts about the previous week in local. 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 look at how the role of Google Local at Google and where does it fit vis a vis Plus and search. Mary, having video difficulties, joins us via voice only.
Mike: I think it’s an interesting point, and why don’t we use that to segue into our deep-dive, which would be about the role of Local at Google, going forward? I think that the fact that they included local searches in the [quality] guidelines for the first time really speaks to their growing importance at Google. Then you add to that the idea that they’ve added an API to be able to add listings and update data, which is essentially a headless sort of [Google Local] thing. And — more than a rumor — Gary Illyes, in Dallas last week, basically announced that Google will be allowing direct editing through the [local] Knowledge Panel on the front page of Google.
All of these things are indicating an elevation of Local into the realm of search as a key search data point. And likewise, we’ve seen the release of the new Google Plus, which is essentially a refocusing as a platform into a collections, communities, content and curation move, basically jettisoning everything else that I found valuable there, and essentially distancing itself from Local, and Local distancing itself from it. In other words, I think that the way Google works is these are independent units, and it seems to me that the geo people at Google have distanced themselves from Plus, as well.
David: I think that was always a forced relationship, right? I mean, I think that none of it ever made any sense in terms of, “Oh, well. You need to create a brand page, and then a local page, and then you’ve got to connect the brand page to the local…” I mean, none of it, I think, was a very strategic rollout, from Google’s perspective.
Mike: An interesting sort of — I found that in the forum last week, there was a poor guy who — basically the phone number and address of his previous business is now a private residence. And somewhere along the line, he had created a Place page, which got converted into a Plus page, but then somewhere got de-authorized. So it still shows as a Plus page, but with his phone number and address. But because of the Plus page, nobody at Google will remove it. And Google says, “You got to be logged in to remove it yourself.” So Google created this page back in the era of Plus, like 2010, then moves it over to — or in Places, and moves it over to Plus, automatically turns into a Plus page, then de-authorizes it, and that data still sits there. And he’s told that he has to go back and find his Places login from 2010. So Google creates this incredible mishegash of — it’s just stupid, right?
Mary: It is, it really is. And it’s harder and harder to deal with support there all the time, in my opinion. The people are less able, or less willing to actually do things that need to be done to help people.
Mike: And I think some of it, I think it’s a little bit of both. I think one of the things I heard from Google was they were going to stop rapid authorization via support. A lot of times you could submit the card [for verification], and then if it didn’t come right away, like in a couple of days, you could call support and they would authorize you right away. They’re now saying they’re going to have to wait three weeks, whatever, before they can do that. So some of it is institutional, but some of it is, I think, this ripping apart from Plus has caused some underlying architectural issues that are surfacing.
Or we’ve seen reports of people being unable to remove photos, for example, that kind of stuff. And obviously, it’s sort of — Google is so weird. They built this, they made this stuff all tied together, and now they’re ripping it all apart and it’s like one step forward and four steps back. And it’s like, when do you even get back to the point where you got a useful product? One of the amazing things to me is the Knowledge Panel shows all this data, none of which the business really submits, other than hours and a couple of pictures. It’s like, what is the reason that the business owner has to go into this? Very little. There’s no compelling use case to the business owner. I find it just — obviously, they’ll fix that, maybe.
Mary: And Mike, what’s happening with reviews now, with this new Google Plus page? How does one leave reviews for businesses?
Mike: The new Google Plus is a beta, and it is not yet fully featured, although its core features are there, and its core features are communities and collections. So the first case for me, outside of reviews is does Plus — as is envisioned — have any use case for small business?
David: No. [laughter]
Mike: So it could, like Pinterest, in some limited arena, a very visual business creating collections with a —
David: A very visual business who caters exclusively to techies. That’s the only potential channel that I can think of.
Mike: Let’s assume — there are a lot of photographers there, there are a lot of visual people, but it assumes that the small business reach out to the world wide market, because there’s not enough scale at the local market. So the first issue with Plus is this lack of a use case for small businesses to engage in. Now we are seeing it’s full separation. So in terms of reviews, clearly that functionality is not in this iteration of the beta, and it indicates that even if it does show up at some point, it certainly indicates it’s low priority to Google.
Now, that being said, you can leave a review right from the Knowledge Panel. You can leave a review right from the front page, and you can leave a review from Apps, and that’s true on both mobile, now. They did roll out that functionality in the mobile browser where you can now leave reviews on the mobile browser, as well as Apps. So all of the critical local stuff is moving over, like I said, to Search, and that’s reviews as well.
David: I think you can still find your CID for Google Maps to populate a URL directly to your listing. Is that correct?
Mike: Yeah, in fact, now the API generates your CID to Google Maps.
David: There you go.
Mike: They changed the Google Places API. It no longer surfaces service area businesses. It only surfaces geo-businesses. But those geo-located businesses do get their map listing as a CID. And that CID — there’s a new tool from Pleper I saw today, that if you put your map CID it will generate the URL, which is a very weird hashed URL with — it uses the CID in hex, and that sort of stuff. It will generate that URL for you so that you go directly to the review box. So really what’s happening is Google — in this craziness — is driving people to Search and Maps, and getting to the review spot directly is a little harder than it was, but I think that will shake out, too.
David: I just want to make one quick point about — you had talked about, well, local for so long has been under all of these weird divisions, and it’s now been elevated to the Search division, at least in the context of the Knowledge Panel. And personally, I think a lot of that just has to do with the shift from desktop to mobile. It used to be Local wasn’t important enough. It was only one out of five, or one out six searches. Now it’s one out of two for Google’s long-term business.
And so I think it’s now, just by virtue of consumer behavior, has reached a point where Google has to start paying more attention to it. And to your point that it’s an odd contradiction that just at the time that it’s important for Google to pay attention to it, it’s already becoming less important for business owners to pay attention to it, because they control so little of it. So it’s a strange spot to be in.
Mary: And they don’t —
Mike: And the other thing is that the Search folks have not learned the lesson of Local, which is you can only get about 95% of it right, and the last 5% you need human intervention on. So they’re putting all this stuff into the Knowledge Panel that a small business can’t edit or touch. So we’re back to this whole thing where you’re trying to represent reality with an approximation, and you can get close to that with an algorithm but you can never get it perfect. And that lack of perfection really impacts real-world businesses, which is why we’re seeing not just the rumors but the statements that they will be editing directly in the Knowledge Panel.
So direct Knowledge Panel edit, if it gives the user access — for example, restaurants to be able to put an accurate menu URL in there, as opposed to going to an inaccurate one that’s being stored at whatever GoDaddy’s product is, it would be a huge benefit. But then that raises if they’re going to do direct editing in the Knowledge Panel — which makes sense — and provide support for that editing in some way, and curation —
Mary: Through AdWords.
David: Through AdWords.
Mike: Through AdWords, the question then is what happens to Google My Business, as a portal? Now, one of the things Google never has liked to do in the past is have to promote a product. And they always want it to be self-promoting. And Knowledge Panel editing would be self-promoting, whereas Google My Business requires a whole other marketing effort to get people, because it’s no longer part of Plus. You can’t say, “Go to Plus to find it,” you’ve got to go to Google.com/mybusiness to find it. Well, who’s going to find it right now? There are a few minor links, but there’s no real easy way to self-promote that. Although bizarre that they’d have two editing environments, Knowledge Panel and Google My Business, what…where does this leave us? Everybody … quiet.
Mary: I mean, as you said, they haven’t learned that 95% isn’t good enough when it comes to business data. And they also have not really learned that much about how messy local business is, and how many different types of things are going on out there in the real world.
Mike: And I think the people in Local, the original support team which is now gone, they all learned it. They learned it the hard way, with the rat’s nest that was the forum and the terrible problems that people were having. They learned it the hard way, but now they’ve got to relearn it. And as you pointed out before, David, there’s so little institutional carry over there that they’re probably going to relearn it the hard way. Google, are you listening? That last 5%’s important.
Mary: Yeah, if it’s your 5%, it’s critical.
Mike: Yeah, it’s quite amazing.
Mike: Have we said what we can about this?
David: Have we confused everyone to a sufficient extent?
Mike: Although an interesting point is, two people last week said, “What about Google Plus as a citation?” And people still don’t understand that data at Google is a feed, it’s a service, that the core database is critical to keep updated. And you can keep that updated directly through Google My Business, used to be through Plus. And that data then is shared with Search, it’s shared with Maps. It’s still shared, to a limited extent, with Plus. Now Plus, as a citation, is probably about as valuable as MySpace is as a citation at this point. But it is a citation, I suppose, although I doubt that it would ever have any — never had any significant value before, and I doubt that it would have any value now.
That being said, if you have a really popular post at Plus, that can show up in Search. So Plus is not a place for small businesses to play for the most part, as far as I can tell. There no longer is a use case there, which I think is really … it’s hard for SEOs, like you said Mary, I think two weeks ago. They’ve been having people post there, and now what? All of a sudden, one of their services is basically gone. And what do they do? They have to say, “Yeah, we have to move on.” And they haven’t quite done that yet. I mean, just the question that, is it a valuable citation? How do I handle it now? Well, that reflects a tremendous lack of understanding about Google’s handling it. Right?
So, I don’t know. It’s interesting, and we’ve talked about this again, where Facebook seems to be making steady, slow, consistent, predictable progress, while Google is ripping out the plumbing and putting in a new footer with mud in their front yard. Which is actually what’s happening at my house right now, total front yard, totally mud, new footer. We discovered we needed a new foundation. So instead of … I don’t know. So my house is just like Google’s right now, total freaking mess. With that, I guess we will say goodbye.
David: I think we should also wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.
Mike: There you go.
David: So, we’ll be probably taking next week off, and see you guys again in December.
Mike: Next week off, who takes it? Just because it’s Thanksgiving weekend? David, where are you going to be? Playing golf, probably.
David: I’ll be in a food coma on Friday morning next week, so…
Mike: All right. Thanks again for joining us.
David: Thanks guys.
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