Google Maps Bubble Ads and The SMB State of Mind

Awareness of Google’s new, aggressive & annoying Bubble ads has been creeping into the SMBs field of vision since their introduction 10 days ago. Articles have been posted at a number of sites (here, here & here) questioning their purpose. On Saturday alone, there were 4 posts in the Places Forum from SMBs specifically about Google advertising against a given place (herehere, here and here). And as you can imagine the posts were hostile and fearful.

Here is one of the posts:

It’s a bit disheartening to go to the trouble of creating a good Google Places business listing only to see an ad for a competitor prominently placed right smack in the middle of your map pin bubble – with a highlight color, to boot! :(

I understand this is probably How Google Wants it to Work. So how do you fight it? Does Google let you buy “Anti-Adwords” to prevent this from happening? Or do I just go for retaliation by buying Adwords that place my ad on my competitor’s listing?

If the ads were only on the side of the page with the listings I guess I could live with it, but right in the middle of my bubble – it just strikes me as mean.

I have been strongly opposed to the ads on broad social grounds and have not touched on the SMB perspective vis a vis these ads as much. Google has made it clear over the past 18 months that they perceive the Place Page and now the business’s Info Bubble their property to do with as they wish.

That’s the current reality. They own the sandbox and they can do what they want. But should they?

While in a business environment it may be true that Google needs to explore all options in an effort to increase their revenue, the question really is: Is advertising against specific local businesses the best way for them to increase local revenue over the long haul?

The answer that I would provide to Google is an unequivocal NO!

To a large extent, Google has made the previous local top advertising venue, the Yellow Pages, irrelevant. Part of that was Google’s better and more widely disseminated technology and part was Google’s ability to provide more return on advertising.

But another significant factor was the pent up resentment the SMBs felt towards the Yellow Pages. As soon as there was a perceived, viable alternative SMBs abandoned print YPs quickly to work with a friendlier and less manipulative Google. Sometimes the choice was rational (ie better returns) but often it was an emotional response based on years of abuse at the hands of the YP FUD (fear, uncertainty & doubt) selling techniques.

The print YPs had a monopoly for many years and faced revenue growth issues like Google does today. Their answer was to send out swarms of sales reps that would not worry about the real value nor return of the ads but would play on the emotional vulnerabilities of the small business person who reacted in horror as they saw competitors take out another ad in their space. The SMB felt compelled to respond.

The current Bubble Ad smacks of a similar FUD selling. Rather than a productive ad space that will generate positive returns, for most SMBs it will feel like the an ill designed attempt to extort them for money. And some, more driven by emotion than returns, will buy the ads. And for many, the resentment of Google will build, just like it did for the YPs.

Does Google really need to follow this path? And again, the answer that I would provide to Google would be another resounding NO.

Google could and should be providing tools and techniques that improve advertising returns and tracking information. Rather than feeling forced to take out ads to defend their good name, businesses should be motivated to take out ads that increase business and improve analytics, ads that create a bond with Google not a deep seated resentment based on Google’s ability to manipulate.

Here are a few suggestions (I am sure that you can think of more) for Google that might function as alternatives to the Bubble Ads that would increase Google’s income while providing real solutions to the SMBs:

If Google feels the need to sell that space in the bubble then bring back the Tags and allow the SMB to use the space for that.

Provide a meaningful coupon solution that has visibility.

Offer up a low cost call tracking mechanism that doesn’t muck up a listing and works across the internet.

Report out substantial local analytics (what ever happened to that Places analytics upgrade that briefly made its appearance last year?) that provide additional insigts.

Add additional transactional capabilities (like Hotel Booking) that disintermediate more expensive alternatives.

These are all solutions that would increase Google’s income and NOT be perceived as lame attempt to force advertising. I am sure that you can add more ideas that would be improvements over the bubble ads. What would they be?

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Maps Bubble Ads and The SMB State of Mind by

19 thoughts on “Google Maps Bubble Ads and The SMB State of Mind”

  1. You hit the nail on the head with the YP analogy. I think when one looks at the Google/SMB relationship from an even broader perspective, there is no doubt, corporate arrogance in play. One sees it in the general lack of customer service, double speak and an unwillingness to proactively resolve serious multi-platform issues that adversely affect SMB’s, both advertisers and non-advertisers alike. Where Google’s success was driven by user loyalty in these first two decades, their continued long term success will have to rely on customer loyalty. You need not look any further than Netflix to understand the importance of adhering to this concept. Here’s my point. I have clients who are large Google advertisers and over multiple US markets, PPC, Display, re-marketing, etc. Several of them have been experiencing long term place page issues that have directly and adversely affected their organic lead performance. An Example? The main number of one of their local listings in a major city happens to be their main competitor’s phone number and they are a non-destination service business relying almost 100% on the “phone call”. The parent company is very close to “pulling the plug” on ad spend company wide. I have communicated this to Google since June (over a 35 page email string). They have neither resolved the issue nor expressed concern over a potential lost advertiser. Yes Mike, you hit the nail on the head.

  2. I am so disgusted with Google places I am starting to increase my efforts on my Facebook places page instead, both in adding significantly more content coupled with an ad buy.

  3. @Jim
    I think that Google has gotten the Places Problem as driver of resentment meme and are in the process of upgrading their Places support. We shall see if it is soon enough.

    @Daniel
    I think you are not alone but I suppose spreading the wealth in your marketing is a healthy thing regardless of what Google does.

  4. Yes, the forum complaints are starting to roll in. Pity the poor SMB’s who don’t understand how G works and thinks their Place page is really theirs. Should be, but isn’t!

    Mike, your tag suggestion is a good one!

    To Google: I really don’t see that particular ad placement being very visible or lucrative. I don’t see that many consumers even doing Map search and clicking a business listing to even see those ads. (Most searchers I believe go from regular SERPs to Place page so don’t see those ads anyway) So I don’t see the money you’ll make on clicks. being worth the alienation and resentment.

    That is UNLESS the real goal is to force SMBs to take out ads to protect their own listing from competitor’s ads. But seriously, that’s not worth the hostility and bad will you are going to generate either.

  5. @Linda
    Given the reality that you point out, it becomes easy to call into question Google’s motives here.

    When you view in light of these sorts of comments: Over the weekend [Sept 12], I received a credible rumor from one of the larger companies I work with. Purportedly, they were contacted by their Google Ads rep and urged to purchase more advertising now, inadvance of some “big changes” planned to happen on October 1.

    their motives become even more suspect.

  6. Hey, the bubble ads are great…if you’re Bing.

    Obviously, Bing has had to fight the perception that it’s just Google’s little brother. Seems to me that unless Bing chases dollars in the same way, Google has just handed its up-and-coming rival a nice little USP–and perhaps (eventually) a bit of loyalty from people who are tired of having ads rammed down their throats.

    Thanks for the great post and insights (as always), Mike.

  7. Your Yellow Pages comparison is apt – YP previously enjoyed near monopolistic hold on local marketing, now occupied increasingly by Google.

    At least YP evolved rules over time to reduce annoying/irrelevant ads an eon ago, such as disallowing “heading jumping”. Now we have Heading Jumping 2.0 with these new Google Maps ads!

  8. @Phil
    Bing is operating under the “we’re number 2, we try harder mantra” and you are right that Google makes it easy for them to appear more business friendly.

    Their whole approach to the “local business portal” attempts to create a win/win for small business rather than the “give your information and we will pollute it” attitude of google. But until they have more market share it won’t much matter. Businesses will feel compelled to be doing business with google.

    @Chris
    It’s back to the future all over again. Although these ads are annoying, do you think anyone really reads them?

  9. This is completely unrelated, but it looks like a change was made to the location of the map embed code in Maps (now on the left side above Place page results). There is now also the option to show a full screen view of the map when viewing Place page results in Maps by clicking on the small arrow next to the link button.

  10. Oh, bless you, Mike, thank you for the link x

    I agree with Linda, most people don’t click through to the maps so won’t see the blessed things anyway.

    Re Bing, I entered my info with the UK local listing directory who runs it for them – it’s all rather different over here with both Yahoo and Bing. As expected, I got a call from them to confirm my listing information – which for most of the local directories is really an opportunity to try to badger you into upgrading to a paid listing. But, once I’d confirmed my details, the lady on the phone said ‘Thank you very much, goodbye’. I said ‘Excuse me? Hold on a second! Aren’t you going to try to sell me something? ‘Oh no, she said, we don’t do that’! And my listing duly appeared with no hassle.

    The thing that struck a chord with me in your suggestions list was the tracking phone number that doesn’t interfere with the listing. I keep being advised by ‘gurus’ that I need to use tracking phone numbers across my clients’ listings but I feel very uncomfortable changing a perfectly good and recognisable number for the client and their customers to one that will show how good I am at my job. It just don’t sit right! If Google can sort out the whole tracking issue and give good reporting, I will be a very happy bunny.

  11. Exactly – “Does Google let you buy “Anti-Adwords” to prevent this from happening?” Yeah this bubble ad has taken it a bit far. And as Linda stated most SMB’s have no idea what is going on.

    Mike – I like your ideas of how to monetize GP listings without crossing the advertising line. Call tracking, coupons, better upgraded analytics (they have upgraded analytics for GA now… why not for GP?) All great ideas.

    My number one upgrade would be paid support. I also think they could offer more robust page for an upgrades, like a micro blog, or daily news updates about sales/specials/menu changes. They could also add in a paid notification function for reviews posted to SMB’s and/or reviews posted around the web about the local business…. they catch this data already, why not make into a paid reputation management tool for SMB’s.

    I am really waiting to see how daily deals, places pages, & google + pages will all connect…? Maybe this will gives the micro blogging and coupon aspects you menetioned.

    BTW, Mike… I like how you don’t just rant, but also add ideas for improvement. I wish Google was more like Apple where they take ideas from their power users.

    Top contributers on GP (like you), should be consulted & polled. I know that is crazy talk, but it’s doable.

    All in all, I going to try to stay positive and hopeful GP decision makers are reading blog posts like this and will nab some good ideas to help improve GP listings.

  12. Google should place a disclaimer on EVERY page and snippet they display;
    We own this space and despite what we may imply, we will use it anyway we damn well like – trust us at your peril suckers!

  13. @Jo: Do not use a reseller that includes call tracking.

    You can do call tracking on your own. In the US check out http://callsource.com You can set up call tracking on your own. Here is why you should not use the resellers.

    1. While they use a phone service such as callsource….they do not give you precise results for the search phrase that generated the call. You simply don’t get what they tell you they provide.

    2. They mark up ppc ads at a very high rate. It essentially kills a PPC campaign. You are either going to lose high ppc rankings or pay through the nose…as the campaigns I ran or tracked seemed to mark up ppc by 2 times the cost of ads or more.

    3. Essentially a call tracking number means establishing a 2nd or 3rd temporary phone number. ****Problems||Problems||Beware*****

    If you limit a call tracking number to just ppc you are probably okay. If you run it into web documents you run the risk of google messing up the information on your Places Record. In any case…will you be stuck with lingering documents on the web with the temporary number long after you stopped using it. Big problem for any business.

    4. Nobodies analytics are perfect. If you are spending good time on analyzing results you are going to be as close to accurate as any service out there and well worth your weight in gold.

  14. Thanks for all that info, Dave :)

    Not sure how it all applies here in the UK but just know that it would mess up my other listings – that’s more than enough incentive not to do it :)

  15. Mike,

    Great analogy on YP’s. I find myself cursing Google a lot recently. (not provided) data for example.

    I love your point about call tracking. My clients are SMB’s that would gladly pay a small monthly fee for the ability to know if a call is coming from the Places page, Bing Local or Superpages without losing the LSO value that currently happens from NAP issues with multiple phone numbers.

    Most SMB’s don’t expect a free ride. They want fair value. They want insight about which mediums give them that value and which mediums don’t so they can reallocate their small marketing budget wisely.

    SMB’s want to have partners that show concerned interest in their company’s well being & viability. They will pay for those type of partnerships. I think you are correct that Google’s approach could use some adjusting.

  16. This is the hubris that will eventually bring Google down. It happens again and again. At DEC, Novell, etc. I was at Novell and saw it happen. Yes, this is good for Bing and maybe another future unknown player.

  17. I have seen a steady decline in conversions with my adwords since the ads started appearing in the business bubbles. I have also received more wrong numbers to our business looking for xyz business thinking they are calling them. Its been really frustrating trying to figure out what was happening until today when I found out this was going on. Its not fair that National companies are showing in local business listings and its even worse that my own ads are showing in other local business listings in the same industry. This was exactly what Yellow pages did and one of the reasons why I stopped using them. Google has a good thing going and if they really should be careful how far they go with this.

  18. My friend Eric from Everyday Flowers in Tustin CA has been tracking the wasteful clicks brought to his Adwords campaign via the Google Maps bubble ads: http://everydayflowers.blogspot.com/2012/01/googles-business-bubble-ads.html

    This program is making local florists who use Adwords look as bad as the deceptive national marketers. When the keywords in a competitor’s name are the same as your own business’, using negative KWs isn’t really an option.

    There should be an opt-out option from this new bubble program.

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