This is our Deep Dive Into Local from October 23rd, 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. Welcome to Deep Dive in Local with Mary and Mike. We’re going to take a look at a topic I recently covered at a talk I gave in Spain to the yellow page operators. Take a look at this sort of year in Local for Google and what we both think it means in terms of what’s happening at Google.
So one of the things that’s amazing to me, Mary, about Google Local, is that over this year and this year alone they have released seven significant products into the GMB, related to the GMB, after years of seeing nothing in the GMB. I mean between 2008 and 2017 the only major feature they added…well they added and subtracted a few features like coupons.
Mary: Or TalkBin.
Mike: Or TalkBin, right, they added them and subtracted them, but the only other one that stuck around was Reviews from Google. They even added reviews from third parties and took those out. So for the first time we’re seeing rapid multiple developments of new features, many of which are free, some of which are not, into the GMB.
Mary: And some of them are features that we got a little taste of earlier in our local search lives like attributes. There was a time where we could go in there and put all kinds of custom attributes.
Mike: Yes, and even messaging. Messaging is not new for Google. They’ve tried it three or four times, but it seems that finally with the evolution of mobile driving users to local and Google’s reorganization under Alphabet and their greater sense of financial discipline, Google is focusing on local, putting ads essentially everywhere…
Mike: Everywhere, and using it as the second leg of their income at Google, pending whatever the next big thing is through Alphabet. So I mean local has become a primary sort of resource for them to build their ad business.
So these developments I’m seeing — first was the dramatic improvement in AdWords Express with the utilization of artificial intelligence and machine learning to allow them to deliver a truly do-it-yourself AdWords product that at the $300-$600 level can probably out-compete, or at least definitely compete with, regular AdWords campaigns at those levels. That’s one. The other is the roll out of the HSA, which is now fast and furious, but available through AdWords Express, which is a significant sort of focus on a vertical to allow quoting in it. But then the whole range of free products — the Google Posts, which they had been working on since last year, is the first time that Google allows a business to easily and readily — without the complication of Google Plus — easily and readily right to the front page of Google. Google web sites … oh, go ahead.
Mary: I was going to say that with Posts, that’s kind of an interesting play because it encourages small businesses to do things to promote brand searches. Because nobody is going to see that post unless they search for your brand online, and I think that’s a really big impetus and kind of helps pull the online and offline worlds together. That you should be doing things to encourage people to look for you online because they’re not going to see all this wonderful information about you.
Mike: Well, Posts are visible in the finder on keyword searches. But I do believe that it primarily should be approached as a branding exercise. Best practice in my mind is to use that as a storytelling tool to enhance your brand, and I think a good example of somebody who does that is Barbara Oliver. You know she developed her own technique to do it. She, for example, tells the stories of her customers getting engaged from their point of view. And instead of saying “I sell engagement rings,” she’s saying “John and Mary had this very romantic proposal in Central Park.” Creating a story that I think others can relate to. I think she uses it well. So I agree, although I do believe that people move from keyword searches, you know in sort of the idea of consideration until finally they move into brand searches and they explore a given brand in greater detail. You know, how many reviews does Barbara have or where does she have reviews? So I think they move from the high level down to the low level, and I think some users are doing brand searches at the end of that funnel and then making the decision right at Google. And Posts leads into that.
Mary: Right, and I don’t think it even has to be as complex as that. I mean you can put a coupon code in your post, and when somebody calls your call center you can tell them, “Do you know that if you search for X-Y-Z company online you’ll find a coupon for your local vendor?”
Mike: Well it’s a good idea and I think one of the areas where that is most likely to take place, which they haven’t implemented yet, is in large multi-location utilization of Posts. But just last week they released, which is another big development over this year, which is the continued upgrade of the API. Got up to 4.0 earlier in October, and in that they released the ability to post up to nine locations at once, which Google classifies internally as a small business versus the 10 and more where they indicated that they’re still working on a solution for that.
So, I see Posts and then tied in with the API where they move it just from the dashboard into the API. I see that as the kind of commitment we’re seeing. But then in addition we saw messaging, which I think — Phil did a good article from a dentist that had integrated it into a desktop view. So the people working at their computers at work could get the messages instead of futzing around with their cell phone. And Websites which is focused on — unlike the API, which is focused on enterprise and Posts, which is focused on developed businesses in the United States, I think, to some extent — Websites focuses on small businesses in the developing world, which have never had a web presence. And then messaging — and then HSA for example focuses on people in the service industry. Messaging focuses…it could be like the dentist but it also likely that single operator, that plumber that lives off his phone who is in the field and while he’s taking a break could respond to an inquiry.
So, we’re looking at a range of developments when for years we saw none in forward facing in the dashboard. Indicates several things to me: One is the strong commitment Google has to local, to the strong desire to increase AdWords. I see each of these products as targeting a different category of business but with the effort of getting fresh data and engaging those businesses in the dashboard. Used to be they’d come into the dashboard to set an attribute or category or business name and then they’d never come back, and I see with these massive communications efforts they’re making, I mean…
Mary: Yes. We’re, like you said earlier, we’re almost getting spammed by Google. If you have a bunch of clients in your dashboard that you are an admin or owner of, you’re getting e-mails every day.
Mike: Your post is about to expire. See your insights for the week. Oh, we have a new feature. Try Websites…
Mary: Post more photos. You got a review.
Mike: Right, and as you pointed out, the front page call to actions. If a business who has manager or ownership access does a query on that business name, up pops the mini dashboard, three calls to action drive people on the dashboard. So I see a lot of these free developments will stay free. I see them as targeting different market segments in an effort to bring them back into the GMB, both to keep the data fresh, which is a critical need for Google. Particularly in the Third World where basically people skipped over the web, right, and went to Facebook on apps. I see an existential issue there, but also every place they need that data and they need, one, to be able to sell things like HSA ads and AdWords Express more broadly, which they rolled out this year. So I see…and then when… you and I had this conversation earlier, but when you look back at the original vision of the business builder that was released…
Mary: 2012, I believe.
Mike: 2012 and it was sort of a leak to The Wall Street Journal I think from Marissa Mayer at the time. Some of these things were in that original vision of creating this sort of comprehensive environment for small business but things that we’ve yet to see in there are things like payments and delivery. So, a lot of people say … why isn’t Google charging for Posts? Or when are they going to charge for Posts? I don’t believe they are going to charge for Posts or messaging or websites. I think those are going to stay free. Or the API. Those are going to stay free, and I think Google currently is leveraging these to increase their AdWords Express and their HSA sales.
But I think going forward their monetization could very well be around the features that they noted in 2010 that would benefit from Google having a direct relationship with the business. An example of this is today… what are we? The third week in October. Google released this feature to allow businesses to easily tie in scheduling apps for salons, beauty, fitness areas. Third-party scheduling apps are now up. You can now go into the dashboard and easily tie those into your knowledge panel. Well, it makes all kinds of sense that if somebody’s scheduled with you that they might also just want to be able to pay you using Google Pay on their Android, for example. Thus bringing the features of Google Pay further along as a monetization strategy.
Mary: It seems to me that the mobile payment platforms that are most popular are the ones that are kind of platform agnostic and will work with everything. And Apple seems to be creating a lot of relationships whereas I’m not seeing that happening with Google.
Mike: Yes, but this could be the entree. That the relationship they’re creating is directly with the business, as opposed to Apple’s approach, which has been to create the relationship with the credit card companies and the banks, and then thus the businesses through the terminals. But Google’s approach is sort of bottom up as opposed to top down. We’ll see. I don’t know.
Mary: So, if you have a salon and you go in there and you want to do a booking thing, are there choices, static choices, that you’re given?
Mike: Yeah, 20 or so.
Mary: So Google’s kind of picking partners. Picking winners and losers, really.
Mike: It looked like there were a lot though, and it looked like there were 20 or so. And how many could there be in that space? So look, where originally in the first test last year there were very limited choices. This looks to be like a fully-expanded suite of choices. I don’t know all the implications of it, but it’s interesting.
Mary: I think one of the implications is that Google is going to be able to tell what’s going on with every one of these payment and scheduling platforms, and then come up with something that will replace all of them.
Mike: You know, again, that’s not been Google’s M.O. to some extent. They’ve tried that in the past. It hasn’t succeeded. They tried it with insurance compare and mortgage compare, and they got out of that business. And I think that AdWords is a strong short-term focus, and I believe that all these free tools are a way to increase AdWords sales. And I think, long haul, payments and deliveries are the up-sell that they’re looking to do this ground-up sort of adoption. Now I could be wrong. I mean obviously the future is the future. You know everybody’s got an opinion about it. Like a-holes, they all stink, mine like anybody else’s. But you know I mean I just found it fascinating when I went back like you did and looked at business builder, those were the two opportunities for income that I have not seen fully developed, which I’ve seen Google continue to test and refine, and which I see … in fact you saw this recent purchase relationship with Wal-Mart and Target. Those are about local buying and deliveries, and so I don’t think they’re going to monetize all aspects of that funnel but I think they’re going to monetize some. And like you said I think it’s going to be deliveries and payments. But we’ll see.
Mary: All right. We’ll see.
Mike: Yup. So anyways, it’s been an exciting year in local for Google, you know, with a lot of forward-facing products and I think one of the topics I’m going to be talking about at Local U is how to leverage these as an agency to benefit your customers and your agency.
Mary: Can’t wait to hear it.
Mike: All right well with that we’ll say goodbye, and we look forward to seeing you for next week’s Deep Dive. Thanks.