All posts by Mike Blumenthal

Google Destinations – A Full Funnel Immersive Experience

I have written about a number of test products by Google recently. Their chance of success is unpredictable. Certainly Google wants to to be in lead gen… and be able to take credit for that last click before the sale. But if you want to look at the future of Google “search” square in the eye then learn about and understand their newly announced Google Destinations.

It is what Google calls an immersive experience. It integrates Knowledge Graph entities with related data and has the goal of starting you at Google, keeping you at Google and through various calls to action, being sure that you complete the transaction at Google.

It is very much a rabbit hole experience that starts at the top of the funnel with awareness (where do I want to go ie France), to interest (let’s look at Paris), down the funnel to consideration (what itineraries, which sights, whats the cost & best time of the year, can I afford it), to conversion (book the hotel & airfare).

Destination--funnel
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While Destinations  is one future of search it is clear that Google will attempt to create different specific interactions for specific markets. The Local Finder is an example where they start you on a local result and then take you into their more complete local search experience. While monetization is certainly one of their goals, they still want to keep you at Google to see more ads.

In some markets they will monetize the last click either via AdWords or for lead gen with Home Service Ads. And if they can’t monetize the last transaction for example, they will track it and take credit for it regardless ala places actions.

Google will try many things and throw many away (like insurance quotes and car leads). Not all of these efforts will look the same. But some of these many developments will stick and all will be pointing towards increased engagement, increased immersion and increased monetization, all at Google as Google attempts to own the top of the funnel. For them it is an existential battle.

Screenshot 2016-03-10 14.36.48In the end most small businesses won’t complain if their web visits go down but their conversions go up…. unless the cost for that conversion continues to increase as Google squeezes more and more out of search.

Don’t Call A Plumber – Call (or Text) Google Concierge

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 5.29.01 AMGoogle seems to be experimenting with a new enhancement of their Home Service Ads product which allows consumers to just call Google directly when searching for a plumber rather than searching for one and completing the transaction via the Home Services interface.

Joe Goldstein spotted this Google ad on a search for “Plumber Los Gatos” which encourages a user searching for plumbers to contact Google directly.

google-concierge

When you click through the link provided in the ad you are taken to this page and encouraged to call or text Google directly and discuss your project with “with a home services expert from Google”.  They will have appropriate plumbers call you to quote and book an appointment.

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 5.24.02 AM

The product does not yet appear to include a specific name but exists at the URL: https://adwords.google.com/homeservices/concierge and thus I am calling it Google Concierge.

The service appears to simply emulate the process followed in their Home Services ads introduced last July but reduces the consumer steps to simply calling and having Google complete the process rather than clicking on the few options to complete the process via Google themselves.

We do the research, you choose the right plumber
All the plumbers we work with are thoroughly pre-screened and insured. You get a full quote from each plumber before work begins, and you decide who to work with.

Interestingly the ad replaced any local pack results, any local Adword ads and even replaced the Google Home Services Ad that would normally appeared for that query.

Clearly Google is looking to enter the Home Services procurement space even if it means engaging a human to complete the query as opposed to a search result. It also implies that the current Home Services ad implementation that has been limited to California has not been that successful. Or that refinements are needed before rolling it to the rest of the country.

Even if only an experiment it shows how far and wide Google is searching to make these sorts of efforts a success. That’s quite a change for Google that has always relied on programmatic rather than human solutions.

Google Updates Mobile Branded Search with People Also Search For Option

On mobile, scrolling down the screen seems both easier and more common for most users. I have not seen the research as to scroll depth. Regardless because the screen is smaller and the opportunity to find the answer is less, many folks don’t hesitate on mobile results.

Google, more and more, seems to want users to leave less (travel planning, AMP & Google Posts) or to leave only with an actionable behavior that Google can measure (like click to call, book a hotel, make an appointment).

So this minor upgrade, adding the eye candy of visuals from the “People Also Search For” feature to the bottom of the mobile search results on a brand or One Box search result makes sense. It allows folks to scroll through other local businesses just in case and to hopefully find one that they can click on. This feature has always been available (and remains so) in the Knowledge Panel for a business on both desktop and mobile.

The bottom line for small businesses? Make sure that the profile photo that Google is using looks great!

final2

 

Is the Future of Local Search Packless?

Google wants to make search and actions from search fast, content rich and profitable. They want to become the place (not unlike Facebook) were people go, the consume, they buy. Unlike news organizations that have the chops to do AMP pages most small businesses will take years before they achieve that level of being able to hand over large content chunks specially formatted for display within Google’s presentation layer.

Well the fast and achievable alternative for Google is to have small businesses put their content directly on Google and then just wait for the call.

Over the past two weeks we saw several “experiments” in the local space. Google rolled out a click to call phone number associated with a web page result. At the time these results were only showing on page two of the search results. Google also allowed some small businesses to create a content stream directly in search via their new Google Posts product.

This search result which was showing One Pack two weeks ago and a 3 pack this past weekend is now showing no pack results but lots of local information in the form of phone numbers (both paid and free) on the first page AND content directly posted to Google via Google Posts.

Is this type of search result possibly the future of local search?

combined-image

Google’s Newest Social Sharing Environment for Business? Google Posts

Screenshot 2016-03-04 11.39.22Update: Google has confirmed that this is a test with a very limited number of local businesses. Searchengineland referred to product as “Local Business Cards”. However the Verge indicated that Google has yet to name the product. 

Google appears to have a new post/stream oriented publishing platform waiting in the wings to replace Plus. Unlike Plus it is currently being given broad front page exposure on keyword searches.

It is immediately available for candidates in the Presidential election AND appears to be available to a select group of beta testers. The new platform allows for a post stream to show up in the SERPS associated with your web page.

The product is being positioned as a real time communication publishing & platform. Their landing page proclaims:
An experimental new podium on Google
Hear directly from the US presidential candidates in real time on Google.

The placement of the stream in search is very obvious and visually very compelling. Currently you can not get immediate access but need to join a waiting list.

I discovered the product while searching for Engagement Rings Buffalo. I have no idea how widespread its distribution is but I searched on this phrase earlier in the week and this was not there.

crop-engagement-rings-buffalo---Google-Search

If the final product provides similar placement, this posting product will immediately get both a brand AND a local business following. In the above screen shot, the stream is follows the #2 website and is from a prominent local jeweler. This is the sort of the exposure missing from Plus that prevented it from being a meaningful business communication platform.

Clearly this sort of display plays to Google’s incredible strengths and could very well become paid placement that is easy to use and understand by the small business. It could be directly competitive with Facebook Boosted posts.

Posts from the product are available to share on the major social sites and via email.
Screenshot 2016-03-04 11.38.24

As you can see, the name is displayed prominently above the stream and to its left there is a link that takes you to the complete list of published content which exists on a slimmed down Plus like page.

However the posts do not support direct commenting.
Screenshot 2016-03-04 11.51.37

Is Google Finally Nuking Unverified Plus Pages?

When Google ripped  Local out of Google Plus last summer and stopped linking to Plus, they noted that the unverified Plus pages (what Google called “shell” pages) would be removed. That never seemed to happen but it might just be starting now.

Removing the Plus Pages must have been a difficult process with a few too many dependencies and those local Plus pages seemed to hang around. It would appear that at least some of those pages are starting to be removed and the Plus pages redirected to the equivalent location in Google Maps.

Jay, a Streetview Trusted photographer, has  provide a number of examples of Plus pages that now redirect to Maps. According to Jay some of them went to the Plus page as recently as mid February. All of them note that Google is redirecting the page to Maps.

Google search for Raven Theater

Google Bulk Allows Photo Uploads …. Finally

AllLocal is reporting that Google GMBL (bulk) has finally added support for businesses to add specific photos to their listings. The feature allows photos to be uploaded to for the following fields Profile photo, Logo photo, Cover photo, Other photos.

More importantly Google now allows the business to identify which of the specifically uploaded photos is their “Preferred photo”.  Now we can only hope that Google respects that preference. Although I am skeptical.

The photos can be uploaded via the bulk sheet and then individually edited within list view.

Screenshot 2016-03-02 10.53.43
New fields in the Spreadsheet
Screenshot 2016-03-02 10.59.35
via the dashboard list view
Screenshot 2016-03-02 10.59.43
edit individual listings

Google Updates Mobile Travel Experience with Additional Planning Features

Early in February Barry Schwartz reported that Google had rolled out a new mobile travel search experience that made provided a very deep “click in” experience on Google.

On a search like “Where to go in France” Google offered tiles in the main search for significant cities that when clicked took you to a list of destinations for that country and when a city was selected offer single page of travel related answers for that city.

It appears that since this feature was first reported on SearchEngineland,  Google has expanded the features of that page by separating the functionality into exploring and planning. In the new plan a trip tab they offering a new, animated cost planning interface that details the average costs for hotel plus airfare at different times of the year.

Google_Travel_Planning

This is truly a rabbit hole experience and lays out a clear path of Google not just providing the answer but of capturing all of the attention and attempting to book the trip as well.

Continue reading Google Updates Mobile Travel Experience with Additional Planning Features

Google Incentivizes Local Guides with Gamification and Kudos

Google expanded the Local Guides program from its initial review focused emphasis and has been encouraging other types of engagements with Google Maps.

in November they started giving Local Guide points for photos uploaded, and  listings edited. They even have offered Regional Lead status in MapMaker to them.

The program was introduced in January of last year and while it is similar to Yelp’s Elite program, I have argued that it comes with a distinctive Google flavor. Google has managed to engage a very large number of trusted users to actively improve Google Maps and they have done so at very, very low costs and huge scale.

And not only has it been at low cost but it has saved Google time and money finding trusted beta testers and MapMaker editors. They make those seem like benefits to the users.  I also get 1 terabyte of free storage. I am not sure the incremental cost of that to Google but it has to be very little.

In addition to writing the occasional review and editing locations, I frequently upload photos to Maps…. I just received this acknowledgement that my photos have been seen 500,000 times.

Screenshot 2016-03-01 15.27.21
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PS added 3/2 Google’s definition of gasification:
Screenshot 2016-03-02 14.14.01