All posts by Mike Blumenthal

Google Rolling Out Questions & Answers

Update: See my post 11 Tips to Optimize the New Google Questions & Answers to help plan your approach.

Google has announced and started to roll out Questions & Answers, a crowd sourced and business sourced Q & A product for local Knowledge Panels places listings. Tim Capper has a great summary as well that is worth the read.

Essentially the product is designed to allow Google to offer additional FAQ type content via the Knowledge Panel that answers consumers most frequent and “long tail” questions about a Place.

The product is initially rolling out on Android Google Maps only. At some point in the near future it will be available on all mobile browsers as well.

Here is Google’s description of the product that was provided during a preview of the product:

Questions and Answers allow business owners to answer questions directly from potential customers. Merchants can also anticipate FAQ’s by adding commonly asked questions and their answers.

Merchants and other users can both thumb up content to boost its ranking and flag content that is incorrect or spam.

Users have many place-specific questions that are going unanswered right now. By allowing them to ask the business owner and each other, we can help them make decisions more quickly.

Example questions our users have about places:

  • “What dishes should I try?”
  • “What should I definitely do/see?”
  • “How much seating is there for large groups or special events?”
  • “Is there space to park a baby stroller?”
  • “What’s the lighting like inside?”
  • “Is delivery or take-out offered?”
  • “Which credit cards are accepted?”
  • “Is this a good date night restaurant?”
  • “Are service animals allowed?”
  • “Can I bring my kids here?”
  • “Where should I look for parking?”
  • “Do I need reservations for a Friday night?”
  • “Are there coupons?”

What does it look like?

Great in concept for Google and perhaps the consumer, but the devil is for sure in the details as to whether it will be good for the business.

Google has said that moderation will be much like reviews in being mostly automated with some human curation. If the product fails the failure is likely to be in the moderation and more importantly, spam moderation details.

If antagonistic competitors figure out the moderation rules, I see it as very likely that passive aggressive negative information could easily be posted. Will staff in India be able to understand the subtlety?

And of course there is always the “lets turn everything into an ugly promotional tool” mindset that many have that could pollute the waters with incredibly spammy content.

As the product is currently designed (it feels given the very limited release and limited interfaces more like a beta,) it puts the difficult task of monitoring directly on the shoulder of the business owner. They need to continually goto their Android Maps app and check to see if the questions are meaningful and if they need to answer the question or whether the consumer answer is adequate.

Posts and Websites “felt” very business friendly. This on the other hand will feel like a poke in the eye to most businesses. Being required to regularly go back and check the crowd sourced status of a listing due to fear of the “crowd” might be off base, is one more task that appears to offer little of value to the business and will take additional (and very limited)time.

Like reviews, I don’t doubt though that effectively embraced and managed it can help a business. I am just not sure most of them will see it that way.

On a more strategic level for Google, this product is one more piece of content that will be residing within the Knowledge Panel for the business… first NAP and photos, then reviews, reviews from the web, then Posts and now “Places Q & A”.

Like Google Destinations in the travel industry, it is an effort to create ever more granular content that will keep consumers within Google’s subtly “walled garden” and further limit the likelihood of their visiting your website.

Short haul it could increase conversions, if properly handled, and that would be a good thing… until the gate keeper starts charging more for the privilege or sends the traffic elsewhere.

Here is a FAQ with details that we know about Questions & Answers (assembled with the help of the many TCs in Google’s My Business Forum).

Q: Places? That sounds like back to future. Continue reading Google Rolling Out Questions & Answers

How to Add Your “Under Construction” Business to Google Maps

Google is quite explicit in their guidelines that you can’t verify a listing via Google My Business prior to it opening. Apparently though, there is a new option within Google Maps Android to add a business under construction and indicate the date in the future that it will be open.

Here is the relevant “rule” from the guidelines that clearly prohibits a business from attempting to verify a business before it is open:

Ineligible businesses

The following businesses aren’t eligible for a business listing:

  • Businesses that are under construction or that have not yet opened to the public.

While the Add a Place feature in Google Maps doesn’t offer as much control as the Google My Business dashboard verification, it does offer a way to be sure that your soon to open business is visible on day one. Whether this feature will be rolled out to the desktop, iPhone or the Dashboard is not clear.

Mike B Around the Web This Week

Here are some posts/interviews from around the web:

I did an incredibly enjoyable interview with Stephan Spencer of Marketing Speak about Reputation, reviews and local ranking.  The link to the shownotes, transcript, and audio is here and the iTunes link is here.

Last Week in Local with Mary Bowling and Ed Reese covered the recent news. Also available as a podcast.

IN this week’s Deep Dive, Mary Bowling and I look at Google Posts, how it relates to search and how the SMB can manage & leverage it.. Also available series or directly on iTunes as a podcast.

Google My Business Expands Optional URLS for Appointments, Reservations & Ordering Ahead

Joel Headley of PatientPop pointed out on Twitter that Google had added the ability to add a “make an appointment” URL to physician listings and other verticals, It appears that they have expanded these in various verticals and not just physicians as well as adding vertical specific options.

Professionals such as lawyers, doctors, insurance agencies, consulting firm & psychologists as well as construction, computer repair, flooring and plumbing companied have the ability to add the make an appointment URL. I am sure that many other categories do as well. The only listing where I didn’t see an option was a bricks and mortar lawn and garden location.

Restaurants are also now allowed to add both a reservation and an order ahead URL to their listings. 

Update 4/10: Google has published an updated Help page: Local Business URLS. On it they note that there are the following types of URLS available:

  • Booking an appointment
  • Placing an order
  • Reserving a table
  • Searching for items
  • Viewing the menu

They also note that “In some cases, links to certain third-party booking services will appear automatically on business listings. These links cannot be edited in Google My Business“.

I have not seen the searching for items option, if you have I would like to know what the context was. It also isn’t clear to me if the business already has a 3rd party booking service link whether they can add their own book an appointment link and whether they will co-exist or not. Please let me know.

Google Upgrading Front Page GMB Editing Test

Early in July I wrote about a test that increased the presence of the Google My Business Dashboard via the front page of a Google branded search.

Thibault Tadda alerted me via twitter of an upgrade to the test that now includes a to do list.

If the business or a manager is logged in and executes a brand search they will be presented with this large call to action that now includes things not done.

Once completed those CTAs disappear leaving a large empty space. It might serve everyone better if that space collapsed when there are no tasks to be done.

Click to view larger

Why is this important… well its further proof that Google CAN chew gum and walk at the same time AND that if they are going to build a lot of cool stuff into the dashboard then they are going to have to keep working to get businesses to keep coming back. Both things that many of us had thought Google wasn’t capable of doing.

Mike B Around the Interwebs

Here are articles that I published over the past week some place other than here:

LocalU: Video: Last Week in Local July 31

Every week at LocalU Mary Bowling and I and the occasional guest discuss the news from the world of local. We look at strategic as well as tactical pieces that can inform your marketing. Available as a blog, email newsletter or podcast. You can sign up via the links in the left sidebar <–.

LocalU: Video Deep Dive: Google as your new Home Page

More and more traffic is coming from Google. While a brand search may occur very low in the purchase funnel for most users, the branded search results provides a view of how a business will look across many of the searches in which they might show. Google really is becoming the new home page and this discusses how you can leverage that.

GetFiveStars:  Cool Google SMB Review Marketing Tool

If you haven’t seen this tool that allows locations to create posters of their best reviews from Google, you owe it to yourself to take a look. One of the more thoughtful marketing tools Google has created.

StreetFightMagazine:  The Place of Newspapers in the Local Marketing Ecosystem

Join David Mihm and myself as we take our bi-weekly jaunt around small business marketing. This week we discuss the possible role of community newspapers in helping the SMB improve their marketing.


Careful When Sleeping with Elephants – Are Google Websites a Threat to the Agency?

Google Websites is not a “blow your socks off” web building product. At least not by standards in the United States. That being said, should you as a web designer or SEO ignore it?

That’s a good question.

Scott Davis noted this about Websites on G+ in response to my noting that Google had hit 250,0001 websites created within a month:

If bots could SEO, we’d all be out of a job… Fortunately that isn’t the case. Build your Wix style site… I’ll crush it in search.

My answer:

+Scott Davis as it is currently configured and construed, this product is designed and targeted at the Indias of the world where very few businesses have websites and where very few businesses can afford websites.

That being said it does demonstrate the power with which Google can release and get uptake in a DIY world…

Typically these Google efforts start out lame… sometimes its just s%!t thrown at the wall and someone ultimately cleans it off. Sometimes they are fixed frequently and often and become market dominating products.

Click to view larger. Cartoon created by Margaret Shulock. Copyright Mike Blumenthal & Margaret Shulock. Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Adwords Express is an example of that… When first released it was very, very lame. It has gradually become a very good DIY product… to the point where a small agency selling $300-600 adwords packages can’t really compete. Will Google keep improving it and go after the $600-1200 a month level? I think so.Can the same thing happen with Websites?

Interestingly Google bought a company called Appetas in 2014. Appetas had a very sophisticated, build your own website product for the restaurant industry that had multiple pages, decent SEO, tight integration with reservation tools, payments, delivery etc. There is a lot of DNA shared between the 1.0 version of Website  and that product.

As to your original question, I am not saying that you currently can’t out SEO them, I am saying keep your eyes open and realize that you are sleeping with elephants…. elephants are generally benign but when you and they are sleeping be very careful that when they roll over that it’s not you they crush.

1 – As of today, Google now has had 303,000 websites created using the tool. It’s been 6 weeks since introduction and they continue adding at roughly the same pace.

How Google Home Services can Affect You – by Dave Squires

Google is obviously expanding their Home Services Ads program. It has now moved east to Philadelphia and is also covering more verticals. In addition to the original plumbers and locksmiths it is expanding to the HVAC, electricians, garage door, roadside assistance, auto glass, painting, handyman, home cleaning and even appliance repair categories.

Dave Squires, a long time local SEO, shared his article detailing Google Home Services program that he wrote specifically for those in the HVAC industry and I thought it was very much worth sharing with my broader audience.

Dave is the President of Online-Access, a subscription based company that works with HVAC & Plumbing Contractors throughout North America showing them how to utilize the web as more than an electronic refrigerator magnet. Prior to that he helped run Vincent’s Heating & Plumbing (VHP), his family HVAC business that has served the Port Huron area since 1959. He is still an owner but is not active in day to day affairs. He has over 38 years experience in the HVAC industry and over 17 years in the HVAC internet marketing space.

I rarely have guest writers but Dave knows of where he speaks and can help us all better understand some the nuances of Google’s HSA program.

Obviously these are his opinions and it may or may not apply to you but I thought it was a great summary of where the program is at so I am republishing here.



Just when you thought you had Local Search figured out—Google brings out a new game board

By: Dave Squires, July 25, 2017

Brace yourself— Google is in the process of “changing the game board” again when it comes to generating leads through local search. For almost three years in the bay area of San Francisco, Google had been experimenting testing different approaches to directly compete against HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List, and getting into the ‘lead-selling’ business. Unlike AdWords, where you are just buying ad space and the transaction is directly between you and the consumer, Google’s new Home Services division wants to be the new ‘broker’ and ‘quality police’ of the entire transaction. In other words, like HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List, they want to become the gatekeeper between you and new customers. The scary news is that they will probably be very successful in doing it—especially with how they have structured their new program.

Currently, Google is in the process of rolling out their new program in seven major cities around the country.The cities are Phoenix, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Diego, Baltimore, and Los Angeles.For your consideration, in this article I will go over how their new program works, what has changed that may have caused them to initiate the rollout now, and my analysis of the potential long – term repercussions.

Welcome to Google Home Services— and the‘ Google Guaranteed’ program

After watching Google over the last few years try to make its Home Services platform work (which is a good amount of time for Google to test anything), I was surprised when I learned a little over a month ago that it was breaking out of California and expanding to new cities around the country. What I wanted to know was, what had they changed in the program that made them decide their program was a winner? It may be because they want to beat the new HomeAdvisor merger with Angie’s List that will culminate in December, but I was curious as to what the final version looked like.

Finding the answer to that question has been surprisingly difficult, since Google has kept a tight lid on what they are doing. Obtaining preliminary information on their new program has taken a good amount of time and effort to say the least—but here’s how the program is being rolled out today.

To start with, notice the image to the right that shows the results for the search “AC repair San Francisco”. If you want to try this search on your computer, make sure you’re logged out of Google or you won’t see the same results (Google’s version of “move along… these aren’t the droids you’re looking for). At the top of the page, under the heading “AC repair – HVAC pros serving San Francisco” you see three boxes, with each box listing a contractor, their Google review count, and then the fact that they are “Google guaranteed”—which I also highlighted in yellow. Below this is a phone number and the hours when they will be open if they are not currently open.

It’s important to note that the phone number they show is not the contractor’s number, but a recorded tracking number assigned to them by Google. Should the number be used by a consumer, the number displayed will change in the listing, and the number the consumer used to call you will remain active for that consumer for the next 15 days. The consumer’s call will display to you as a Google-forwarded number—not the consumer’s actual number. As long as you’ve spoken to the customer in the past 15 days, you can continue to stay in touch using the Google-forwarded number. The unspoken part here is, should you ask the customer for their direct number to try to circumvent Google recording your communication, you may find yourself out of their program… oh, and did I already mention that Google wants to be the gatekeeper of the transaction?

The good news (if you want to see it as that) is that Google only keeps total control of the customer’s contact information for 15 days from the last contact. Continue reading How Google Home Services can Affect You – by Dave Squires

Google Websites Passes 250,000 Sites Created

It has been just over a month since Google My Business rolled out Google Websites worldwide. It appears that as of a few minutes ago, Google has passed a quarter of million sites built using the tool. That is roughly 40,000 sites per week, an average of 5681 per day since introduction.

In the first two weeks, Google added 100,000 sites. Google has essentially maintained that growth rate for the past two weeks, adding 104,000 sites since June 27th. This is only counting sites that didn’t buy their own domain. I am not sure that there many of those but there are likely a few.

Every few days since just prior to introduction I have been doing a search at Google to get a sense of the ramp up. While admittedly an imprecise measure, it provides some idea of the rate and volume of sites created.

Click to view larger

India has the most sites clocking in at a total of 44,600. Indonesia has ~30,400. The United States and Brazil check in at 16,200 and 15,800 respectively. This speaks to Google’s stated goal of attacking the (very) small business market in the developing world.

Here is a rough breakdown by country where the Websites were created (note that if there is a __ in the result it means that I did the country search in the native language) :
Continue reading Google Websites Passes 250,000 Sites Created