Does Google Helpouts Indicate a New Direction For Local Transactions?

Will Google Helpouts replace the Business Listing Places Page G+Local Page G+ Page for Local as the transaction platform for local commerce?

What is Helpouts you ask? It is a (not so) secret Google project that turns Hangouts into a commerce platform/marketplace  ”that enables individuals and small and large businesses to buy and sell services via live video”.  According to TechCrunch who broke the story last week about the product:

With the capacity to connect merchants and consumers on both an immediate and scheduled basis, .. the platform will allow sellers to .. take advantage of reputation management, scheduling and payment features, while offering robust search and discovery tools for consumers.

Google has also apparently partnered with a number of brands during internal testing, including One Medical Group, Sears, Weight Watchers and Alliance Frances, for example. At launch, the platform will also reportedly include an array of individual merchants and instructors as well, from yoga gurus to fitness teachers — all of whom will be able to offer both free and paid services to consumers via Helpouts.

According to our sources, with Helpouts, Google is looking to remove some of the barriers that have traditionally stood in the way of the seamless delivery of live services. For example, using Helpouts, a Spanish tutor from Argentina could offer language training to students in Japan, while a Yoga instructor in New York would be able to provide classes to a stay-at-home mom in Wyoming and an appliance repair shop could walk a customer through fixing a broken fan in their laptop — with an Internet connection being the only requirement.

Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 9.15.51 AM

Does this product indicate a totally new direction for Google in local? By leveraging their Hangouts product and going after the trainer, consulting, support niche with a marketplace, they are able to refine and develop local tools like scheduling in a market that is underserved while using technology where they have a technical lead (Hangouts). As Ted Paff of Customer Lobby, pointed out, this learning on the part of Google could lead to their very disruptive engagement in a number service businesses that need low cost scheduling and easy to use CRM. This would all be happening on top of G+ and not the local business page.

Who knows if that is the direction it will take. What we do know is that Google is abandoning the idea of the local business landing page as the center of a local transactional environment.

Having followed Local for many years, I had always assumed that the local business page would be become the transaction platform for local business. That Google (and ultimately Bing, Yahoo, Yelp and the YPs) would figure out a way to insert themselves in an on-going way into the sales process of the many small businesses in the world.

Google has clearly given up on that idea with the near complete redirection of users away from the business’s local page on Google + and moving what transactional successes they have had with Hotels (first seen in Places in 2010) and to a lesser extent restaurants (with the integration of Opentable)  to the front page.

Over the past few months Google has persistently and methodically not only debranded their local product, terminated Places search, end of lifed the +Local app for the iPhone,  removed access to the G+Page for local businesses in a number of ways but they have also integrated more and more of the local business data onto the front page of Google.

From the perspective of the small business, this change is likely a net positive. Few, if any people made it their Places page. Google, in pushing most of the local data fully out to the front page, increases the likelihood that it will be seen by more people and it is from that highly visible home page of Google that calls, visits and new customers will come.

Certainly a small business should continue to claim their business and possibly engage with Google’s paid products via the new Places for Business Dashboard, now primarily a platform to sell Adwords Express and to facilitate a business’s entry into the social world of G+.

But they will need to rethink exactly how they interact with their business page. The idea of actively promoting the G+Local page via external activities becomes even less viable than even a few weeks ago. Certainly this should put a nail in the idea of link building to it.  And the importance of the idea of “optimizing” the page should decline.

The real questions for SMBs regarding G+ is whether the social engagement of G+ will help long haul with marketing, customer relations and search standing. Clearly a product like Helpouts would be a no brainer for the trainer or consultant looking to expand their reach. The issue of whether a plumber, lawyer or spa is helped by actively publishing on G+ is a more difficult question.

For the industry at large, Google’s move away from the business listing as the focus of their local efforts raises all sorts of interesting questions. Did the project not scale well? Were they unable to engage enough businesses to make that focus worthwhile? Did the product provide too little value for way too much work? Was the product not integrated enough into the daily life of the businesses?

Clearly this isn’t the end of local as we know it. In many ways it is both a maturation and step into the future.

 

 

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Does Google Helpouts Indicate a New Direction For Local Transactions? by

13 thoughts on “Does Google Helpouts Indicate a New Direction For Local Transactions?”

  1. WOW! Several months ago I was asked – Where do you see local searching / Google+ Local in the next 3 – 12 months?

    Helpouts fall right in line with my prediction – I envision a highly integrated platform that shortens the conversion funnel for users. People will be able to convert without having to leave Google.com, a payment system will at some point be integrated into the local platform (New Places Dashboard) and we will see more integration that are far beyond my future trip at this time.

    I do not think that local is becoming less important. It is simply becoming more highly integrated in the flow of a searcher, making it more important. Google is trying to make things more seemless – less clicking, navigating to different pages and moving the user around the web. Afterall, how many times will someone move before they just go nuts and not convert?

    As you stated – “Helpouts will change the way many service and support business functions can operate.” I look forward to the possiblities that this platform will open for local and international business.

    Let the constant evolution continue!

    Greate write up! :) Happy Friday!

  2. The google local experience has been frustrating in recent months, to say the least.

    That’s not only from the business end, but also as a user.

    This helpouts product will probably be an interesting addition for some businesses, but for now I think I’ll lump it into the “too little value for way too much work” category.

    It’s not easy to expect the local experience will get any better when it constantly feels like a construction project.

  3. This is in line with your post a couple days ago about the interface changes – the review pop-up and the carousel.
    These all result in less people landing on Google+ local pages.
    Interesting to see how it fits with this new development.

  4. @Scott
    Yes the many changes of at Google of late as to how they handle local data is to do just that, shorten the distance from the searcher to the answer. What they haven’t done now or historically is put in place a great way to convert that searcher or even to have decent analytics about them.

    They have had many opportunities over the past to do so but have never really pushed the idea. Why, I am not sure. Hopefully Helpouts is a solid foundation towards meaningful and valuable SMB tools rather than just another idea that ends up in the trash bin (Talkbin, Punchd, etc etc)

  5. @Chris

    I think that the worse of local’s most serious problems for SMBs have passed (or it will shortly) as Google moves everyone over to the new Dashboard. It is easy to use, relatively bug free, offers a simple path to Google’s social world and most importantly pushes (what little) data that Google’s allows a business to enter out the listing in real time. Those improvements, coupled with real support, should make local a relatively functional and easy to understand environment.

    In doing so, Google has also removed nearly ALL opportunities for gaming the system from within the Dashboard and implemented pretty severe penalties for those that try.

    Once those realities become apparent, attitudes toward Google local will slowly change.

    As to users, my personal opinion is that they hardly notice. Perhaps to a fault.

    Google’s struggle on that front is to become a trusted and go to source for local data. While they have great breadth (better than any competitor), they are lacking depth. Their challenge will be to build out that depth in reviews, meaningful content, videos, imagery etc across all industries.

  6. Yes, giving Adwords advertisers the ability to drive folks to immediate support and face to face interactions from the front page of Google would be a powerful combination.

    Bing, asleep at the wheel with Skype, might respond but seem incapable of coming up with the idea themselves. Yahoo just doesn’t have the technology, scale or reach at this point to do so.

  7. Agree with Chris, I find Google Local a little frustrating also, Google Places Google+ and Google Local have become an ongoing confusion. Like most SMB’s I just want to manage a simple page / dashboard and allow customers to comment & rate products and services. Hopefully once Google has finished tinkering we’ll have a simple format that makes sense and stays put.

  8. @Daniel
    Google local has been frustrating. Most of that is due to bugs, poor marketing and complexity on the part of Google.

    The fact that there is only one page going forward…. a G+ Page for local that is managed in one place, the Places for Business Dashboard, will make it both more understandable and more manageable. Once a listing is in the new dashboard it becomes obvious how to interact with Plus or not. Updates occur quickly and unlike, the old dashboard, it is mostly bug free.

    Not everyone has the new dashboard yet and because there is so much conflicting advice about the old dashboard and the new dashboard folks haven’t really had a chance to understand that the new environment is both comprehensible and usable. That understanding will seep in over time and the frustration level will drop.

    That being said it is important to understand that you are not managing a page (and never have) you are providing data to Google for use in their canonical local record. They will show that data wherever and whenever they choose. That concept in and of itself might be difficult to understand and somewhat disconcerting as well.

  9. At first glance I’m skeptical about something like this really taking hold and becoming an effective platform, but then again that is how a lot of Google’s services have first looked. As you say this may be the natural progression for Google’s new emphasis on Local. I’m not sure if a majority of web goers are ready for this kind of transaction process… but give it… what… three months? and we’ll all wonder how we ever lived without it.

  10. Do I smell a screen-share feature on a Google platform? Sign me up. I’m curious to hear what the business model for Helpouts looks like.

  11. @Kerry I guess you have never activated your Google+ profile nor used the Hangouts or Hangouts On Air feature? It always had a screenshare feature + more.

    Mike, I encourage you to share with your readers/commenters the exisiting Google+ Hangouts features and Helpout is just extending it.
    https://www.google.com/+/learnmore/hangouts/onair.html

    Hope this helps.

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