All posts by Mike Blumenthal

Google Maps “Follow Posts” – a Revolution or Just More “S%!t” Thrown at the Wall?

Google Maps announced yesterday that searchers can now follow their favorite businesses and be alerted to offer and event Posts from that business. 

I have long believed that Google Posts is a solid investment of a business’s time as Posts show up in a brand search, in the local finder and on keyword searches in Google Maps. They provide the opportunity for a business to offer up coupons, events, education, brand story telling and more. 

Equally important is the fact that Google seems to parse the content of the Posts to increase their understanding of a business. Like reviews, Post content can have a small boost on your visibility. 

But is this new feature that actively notifies user of new posts via a follow in Google Maps revolutionary? I think not. 

Interesting yes, offers some potential yes, but revolutionary it isn’t. 

What is the Google use case?

A consumer loves a business so much that they go into Google Maps and they take the step of following a business to get notices of their offers and events. 

Well that’s not going to happen very often. I suppose if the consumer were a jazz fan and you as the jazz club owner regularly posted your events it might. But there is a big spread between might and will happen. 

What are the impediments?

Well firstly it’s only within Google Maps. Google Maps is popular but has nowhere near the reach of say Facebook or organic Google search. 

Also I don’t know about you but I use Google Maps for very utilitarian purposes. “Locate the nearest Tim Hortons” Or “show me how to get from here to there” or “show me a Tim Horton’s en-route to there”.  It is not where I go for updates about sales, events or offers and I don’t think most users of the product do either. 

Google Maps is not generally perceived as a business related communication tool or as a social network. So for consumers to use it this way would take an incredible rehabituation of the searcher. 

Who is going to do that? Google? The business? 

Google throws shit at the wall all the time and if there is uptake great, if not then, well it’s just another “honest effort” that didn’t make the cut. No skin off their nose. 

They assume if something is good users will just use it. They have rarely worked to actively educate (or in this case re-educate) customers to  embrace a new feature and take on new behaviors. So it’s unlikely that Google will work to do this retraining of searchers needed for broad adoption of this feature. 

The business could do it. That is, the business could incentivize the searcher to follow the business on Google Maps effectively retraining the searcher for the greater good and the business’ own good. 

But why would a business that is already using Facebook, or better yet email, for this task want to learn and implement a completely new “follow us on Google Maps” campaign? So it seems unlikely that businesses are going to do it. 

Oh some will. And just like Nearby Notifications (which was a very cool beacon feature to actively engage customers on premise with notifications that just got axed because of spam) many of those will abuse the feature. 

But you say, and I tend to agree, it would be perfect for that Tim Horton’s I love, to send me a discount as I am driving down the road with Google Maps open and in desperate need of the worlds best cheap cup of coffee. 

Yes perfect IF. Perfect if I could follow a brand and the brand could alert me. Perfect if the brand could do Posts. Both are non existent “perfects” in Google’s mobile local ecosystem. 

In the end the idea of following a business’ Post on Google Maps is a decent idea. It might just work for that incredibly active, local event space. And generally it’s one more way for a business to “project” their content into the Google search ecosystem. 

Interesting yes. Revolutionary no. Worth keeping an eye on? Yes. Worth changing your marketing workflow? Not now. Maybe never.

My money, if I had to bet, is against success. Fortunately this is not one of those epic Mihm-Blumenthal battles with a beer on the line and I don’t have to bet. I can wait and see. And change my mind if it suits me. 

Who knows? Maybe Google will create brand level for this sort of activity. Maybe Google will do what it takes to get consumer uptake of a feature like this. If they do great. 

In the meantime…

Check back in 9 months. 

How Does Reserve with Google Show in the Knowledge Panel ? Who the ‘f knows!

This is my third post in the “who the f knows” series.

Google has rarely been accused of great wordsmithing. But they have been accused of testing. In this case it appears that they are testing wordsmithing.

Seeing the schedule/book/make an appointment CTA in the 3 pack motivated me, like any rational local searcher,  to once again compare the click through destinations in each of the four iPhone environments to see what it looked like.

Go figure, even on something as simple as a CTA, Google manages to present four different displays and three different wordings in each case it shows.

Why present it one way to the user, when four ways can be created? Data science is a wonderful thing but I think that someone at Google forgot to put in any guard rails.

Of you think it is any different on Android. Think again. Well it is different but different in the same way. The Google App, Chrome and Google Maps are each different.

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Google Safari Knowledge Panel on the iPhone. Lets just cut to the chase and go for the booking.

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Google App on the iPhone. Google is content just allowing a user to see the schedule as the call to action.

 

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Google Chrome Browser Knowledge Panel on the iPhone. Google can’t seem decide between seeing the schedule and booking as the call to action.

 

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Google Maps Knowledge Panel on the iPhone. Note that there is no appointment call to action.

Google Maps Knowledge Panel on the iPhone

 

Mike B Around the Interwebs

I will be heading out on vacation on Friday so my production will be non existent for the next month or so.

But if you haven’t heard enough of me for the past few days here are some other tidbits I worked on across the interwebs:

Google and the On-SERP Experience: We’re Just Gettin’ Warmed Up – If you are an agency and are only going to read one thing today that makes you think about your future read my bi-weekly column with David Mihm.

Scoring Google as Your New Home page – an agency view with Mary Bowling and Andy Simpson

Deep Dive: What Drives Local Mobile SERP Images? with Mary Bowling.

Why I Love 1st-Party Reviews & Just Might Marry Them – This one is a little older (on the GatherUp blog) but I really think that folks should pay more attention to first party reviews. Ok, Ok, I get that its a conflict of interest for me to say so but I really think that every small business and SEO agency should wrap their head around them. And leverage the heck out of them. Why should Yelp or Google have all the fun and all the benefit?

 

When Does Reserve with Google Show? Only Google F’ing Knows

This is my second post in the “who the f knows” series.

And it relates to Google now showing the book or schedule button in the 3 pack. Or not showing as the case may be.

When your boss comes and sees you and asks why are your booking buttons not showing you can either say “who the f’ knows” or the current, more accurate variant “Only Google f’ing knows”.

On a tangental a note, these book buttons were first spotted in the SERPS by Sergey Alekov in February when Google released Reserve with Google in Canada. I don’t think they showed in the SERPS reliably at that point.

In fact they still don’t show in the SERPS reliably.

Over the past day or two I have spotted the following desktop and mobile variations involving or not involving the booking button as the case may be.

Mobile variants:

Desktop Variants

Reserve with Google Makes its Way into the 3- Pack SERP on Google

Transactions in Local Search via Google’s Reserve with Google tool have historically been limited to Knowledge Panel results.

It appears that this transactional capabilities being expanded or will be expanded to include embedding calls to action directly into the Local 3-Pack search results. And given Google’s obvious expansion of the Reserve with Google we can expect to see these sorts of results in many new verticals going forward.

Reserve with Google, Google’s back end tool that connects local listings to assorted booking tools but keeps the whole transaction process with-in the Google mothership, was first released last fall.

At that time, it was initially focused on Spas and Gyms that worked with a limited set of 12 scheduling apps.  In April of this year, restaurant booking using the Reserve app was added via OpenTable.

Subsequently Google expanded the number of scheduling app partners to now having 36 partners with an additional 33 partners “coming soon”.

Google has moved into new verticals with their reserve tool beyond those mentioned above. We know that Google is allowing for restaurant order take out via the Reserve with Google tool (or something very similar) using their “on-demand platform“.

 

We have also seen Google’s on demand tool showing up for Hotel bookings.

[Update] Tom Waddington pointed out that he has just stated seeing Reserve with Google showing up in the Garage Door category as well. Home services is an obvious area but one that I had not yet seen.

[Update] Sergey Alakov noted in August that Reserve With Google Expand[ed] to Attraction and Museum Ticket Purchase

The coming soon list includes Yelp, TA, Eventbrite, Thryve and CouresHorse to name but a few partners. So we can anticipate starting to see many, many more transaction types in the Knowledge Panel in areas perhaps as diverse as education, professional services, home stays and who knows what else

And if the above search is any indication, we will start seeing these transaction capabilities directly in the main local search results with ever increasing frequency as Google’s local search becomes ever more transactional in nature.

Continue reading Reserve with Google Makes its Way into the 3- Pack SERP on Google

Google My Business New Features: ‘Add Product Collection’ & ‘Branded Search Insights’ – The Bigger Picture

Last week we learned of both a new Google My Business feature (in beta), ‘Add Product Collection’ and new GMB Insight’s data, ‘Branded Searches’.

Both are interesting features individually but together, they are even more interesting.

The GMB Branded searches, reported at SEL by Barry Schwartz, is apparently being rolled out. As noted in the graphic published at SEL, it appears to be a count of “customers who find your listing when searching for a brand related to your business”. I take that to mean if I search for nike shoes bufflo ny and I see “Rick’s Sports and Apparel” then it would be counted as a ‘branded search” for Rick’s.

In typical Google fashion, though, they have muddied the waters as to exactly is being counted by providing this explanation in their help files:

  • Branded searches: A customer searched for a brand related to your business (e.g. a customer looking for fast food searched for “McDonald’s” and found your fast food restaurant listing). This category will only appear if your listing has appeared at least once for a branded search.

This is totally nonsensical as 1- this would duplicate direct searches and 2- a search for McDonald’s would return “your fast food restaurant listing”, it would return McDonald’s. I have asked for clarification from Google as to what it actually means, which very well could be a third definition.

The other product, still in beta, is a feature to “Add a Product Collection” that adds products to your mobile Knowledge Panel. It was first reported out by Nathan Schoell of DealerInspire. According to Nathan, if you are using the Product Collection feature then the Services tab in the KP disappears. He noticed the feature in Car Dealer categories and Auto Repair Shops.

The new feature was also reported by Cordell Crowley at the Local Search Forum where he saw the feature in the Florist category.

Image courtesy of the Local Search Forum
This mobile product tab shows both a Post Product post and the new Product Collection. Image courtesy of Local Search Forum.

When you step back and view these two developments from 10,000 feet several interesting possibilities arise. We know that Google in general and Google Local in particular is looking to vacuum up ever more granular data about the real world.
Continue reading Google My Business New Features: ‘Add Product Collection’ & ‘Branded Search Insights’ – The Bigger Picture

The Seasonality of Near Me Searches in Local

Near Me searches have generally been on the uptick since the advent of the iPhone. But there have been the occasional downturns that were misinterpreted as a break in the trend.

Now that we have more data, it appears that those downturns and subsequent peaks are seasonal lows and highs of a generally increasing  usage of the term in search.

If you search on “near me” using Google Trends for the US from 2004 to the present for all categories you can the annual July peak usage of the term:

Click to view larger. July has been the peak month each of the past 4 years for Near Me Searches.

Interestingly if you limit your Near Me trend results to just the Shopping category, you can see both an annual July and a December peak in the usage:

Click to view the shopping limited Near Me trend larger

Preparing Images for the (Coming?) Google Mobile Local Carousel

Last week, off and on, we started seeing the use of the image carousel in the mobile Local Finder.  This is a format that has long been present in the restaurant search results. The carousels have been seen off and on since then, showing up and then disappearing, only to show once again. When they did show they were not in all categories.

For example we saw them in most product driven categories like jewelry, cars and sporting goods but not in professional categories like lawyers and doctors.  We saw them in some services like plumbers and HVAC, Dog Grooming and Insect Control (Really? Yes really.) but not in Locksmith or Electricians or Salons. Clearly a test at a grand scale.

Will they become the new normal? As I have said before “Who the f knows?” but it seems likely to me that their use will expand. I am seeing them today on some devices but not all.

When “More Places” is selected the searcher is taken to the Mobile Finder

Mobile Local Finder with Carousel

Of course this made me curious about the aspect ratios and whether a vertical or horizontal image might be better for optimizing the outcome. Google has never made image management easy and this new display is no exception.

The black border indicates the crop of a horizontal image

In this case it doesn’t seem to matter whether you are using a vertical or horizontal image as long as the shot is in close AND the main content of the image is center weighted.

The carousel crops to a roughly 480 pixel wide by 240 pixel high view, a 2 to 1 aspect ratio. It will cut that from either vertical or horizontal images.

It cuts the same 2 wide to 1 high horizontal section out of the vertical image. The black border represents the area displayed in the carousel.

Both of these images worked reasonably well but the difficulties start coming in when you also want to optimize the image for the 3 pack on mobile, the Branded Mobile Knowledge Panel and all the many variations imposed by the desktop and Maps results.

The mobile pack results seems to be one area where you should focus. If the image looks good there AND in the carousel, it is reasonable to take your chances elsewhere.

In this image I have overlain  the original image with the crop for both the carousel (solid black line) AND the mobile 3 pack (dotted) so you can get a sense of what I mean by “center weighted”.

The solid black line represents the crop from the carousel, while the dotted line is the 3 pack crop.

It becomes an almost impossible task for an image to look perfect in every image environment that Google presents. You will see a totally different crop that shows for the Brand Knowledge panel in a mobile browser.

Adding text to the image makes the problem more obvious and a solution more difficult. That being said in many contexts, the text is a differntiator. Continue reading Preparing Images for the (Coming?) Google Mobile Local Carousel

Is Google Updating the Mobile Local Finder to the “Slider Style”

It appears that Google updating the mobile Local Finder to the “restaurant style” carousel slider type display.

Earlier in the day Phil Barnhart pointed out that he was seeing this new display on dog grooming. I started seeing it initially on Chrome on iPhone as well across  many categories and by the end of the day I am not seeing it on iPhone Safari as well. It would appear to be a full rollout. This view has long been seen in restaurants and bars.

The take away: make sure your first and all of your photos are good!

Google Reduced Post Visibility but Now Also Showing Them in Google Maps.

TLDR; Google has reduced the visibility of posts in both mobile and desktop search while simultaneously increasing their reach by now showing them (at least some of the time) in Google Maps.

At the end of September, Google upended the visibility of Posts on both the desktop and mobile. On the desktop posts have been moved to the bottom of the Knowledge Panel. These days that often means below the fold.

On mobile, Posts were moved from the Overview panel to the organic results belown the Knowledge Panel. The Posts tab remains in the mobile KP.

In both cases Posts have become quite a bit less visible to searchers. Nate Somsen of Big Leap kindly shared some analytics that clearly shows the significant drop in click though rates after this change. Nate noted that this past August they had just started seeing sizable gains by going to a Coupon post and while not all of those gains were lost, many were.

Certainly for businesses that need to get the consumer to their website to consider a Post successful this change will likely lead to a   significant traffic loss.

For businesses that have been using Posts primarily for branding and SERP control the impact will be less.

The good news in this is thatPosts are now also appearing in Google Maps on both desktop and mobile searches. Previously they were only visible in a browser via direct brand search or via the Local Finder. It seems unlikely that the increased reach will make up for the decreased visibility.

Oddly Posts are only visible in Maps when you click into a listing from a keyword search and they are not visible via branded searches in Maps.

Several readers asked me why Google made this change. We will never really know as we can’t see what Google sees. I am sure if you ask them they would say that it’s what the searchers preferred. If you ask a Google skeptic they would suggest that Google wanted to control user behaviors and not send them off site so quickly.

I don’t really know. And it could be that both are true. One speculative thought is that Google is freeing up space in the prime territory of the Knowledge Panel for an increased use of CTA around their Reserve with Google product. We have been seeing this in more and more tests.

Regardless, at least for the next few months this appears to be the new normal and while it makes posts somewhat less valuable I still see significant value in using them.

Reference Screen shots of Post positioning before and after the change:

I wanted to share, mostly for my memory, screen shots that demonstrated the change.

Continue reading Google Reduced Post Visibility but Now Also Showing Them in Google Maps.