June 20, 2013
The new Google Local Carousel provides a striking design at the top of the SERPS that not only provides significant eye candy and for some users a click attractant but also leaves little room below for the display of many organic results. This is true on very large screens but is even more so on a typical home screen or in searches categories that are ad heavy and Google displays two ads below the carousel.
The display arrangement offers a huge opportunity (or pitfall as the case may be) to achieve hight visibilty at the expense of local competitors. Or a huge incentive for local businesses to start taking out Adwords.
Once someone starts clicking through the images and Google returns the branded results with ads just below the carousel, anyone who hasn’t taken out Adwords on their brand runs the risk of their search being disrupted by a more visible local competitor. This has always been true but in the limited geography available with the carousel the competitor ad becomes a highly visible obstacle for any local business.
At home I have a not untypical 1440 x 900 pixel display (~60% of all displays are this size or smaller). Compare these two branded results for “singing lessons Chicago“. Stacy, the soprano, went to the length of keyword spamming her business name and managed to achieve visibility in the carousel. However she not only neglected to add a photo (and this carousel highlights the importance of a good one) but left the ad space to a competitor that is taking full advantage. Takleson’s on the other hand advertised on the keyword, their brand AND on competitor’s names.
PS On the issue of how users are behaving with this new display see this interesting research by Mike Ramsey: 10 Random People’s Reactions To Google Local Carousel
Stacy the Soprano branded result – click to view larger
No photo, Taklesons Ad
April 1, 2013
The newly appointed head of Google Local Product Manager Brian Fitzpatrick today announced the rollout of a completely revamped local product to replace the Places dashboard. As written about in the Wall Street Journal in June, 2012 the product is called “The Business Builder”. With the rollout of the Business Builder Google Local is announcing a totally rebuilt local product that offers the best of local and social as well as easy to use self provisioning of sophisticated Couponing, Adwords, Offers and other paid options.
National multi-store brands as well as single storefront businesses will be able to take advantage of this new functionality with the free local and social products as well as the easy to deploy paid products for their locations. Local analytics have been totally revamped as well. With the rollout of the new couponing product Google will be able to offer search to sale tracking analytics in an easy to use reporting format that can grow in sophistication with the business user and use cases.
Fitzpatrick, a dynamic multi skilled developer in the world of Maps, noted “It was a great relief to finally get the merged and updated product out the door. The reason for its long delay was our commitment to make the product bug free the first time and not have to push weekly updates and bug fixes. We think we have met that milestone. The days of lost reviews, lost listings and unfounded closings are behind us.”
“More importantly we will be holding public monthly briefings going forward laying out upcoming developments in our local products. This will allow for businesses, big and small, that depend on our Business Builder products to better plan their SEO and SEM activities in Local.”
Brian Fitzpatrick is a the newly merged head of the Local & Maps division within the web search team. His duties, roughly akin to those of Marissa Mayer who left for Yahoo last July, had previously been filled by a troika of individuals.
January 28, 2013
With Google’s new Adwords Express Plus rollout another piece of the coming SMB Business Builder Portal has fallen into place. Dan Petrovic of DejanSEO noted over the weekend that Google had started pitching Adwords Express to G+ Local Page owners. It turns out that what they are actually offering is a newly revamped & enhanced version of the product called Adwords Express Plus. The product includes a totally revised interface as well as product enhancements that make the product more functional in many situations than the existing product.
- Ability to identify a radius (up to 40 miles) within which the ad will be shown
- Ability to send the ad to a custom landing page instead of just the home page
- More Ad types
- Ability to preview the ads in a sample page
- Cleaner and easier to understand self serve interface that is similar to the new G+Page dashboard
Step one: Select your audience geography and primary sales category. Note that when you type “engagement rings” it offers top level categories only.
It was never clear in the previous version of Adwords Express that ads would appear on Google’s ad network. That has been made much more obvious in this version with an appealing eye candy to make it seem like a real plus. There is no option to choose not to do so. Thats one way to expand ad inventory at the expense of unwitting SMBs.
Since April when Adwords Express was removed from the Places Dashboard and given its own home as a subdirectory of Adwords, little has been heard of the product. There was no way for businesses to easily access its interface either via the dashboard or the G+ Local social interface. In September the product was promoted via an email & a $100 coupon to businesses that had claimed their listings. It has been assumed but never confirmed by Google that their simplified Adwords product would show up again more prominently once Google had rolled out its “Business Builder” smb social local portal. While that has been a long time coming this AdWords Express upgrade along with the recent G+ page management interface upgrade seem to be part and parcel of a bigger upgrade and monetization process that is gradually taking shape.
Here are screen shots of the new interface and process:
January 9, 2013
That Google has finally added some semblance of human support to G+ Local raises a number of questions that are still unanswered:
- Is it worldwide or US only?
- Can agencies call in on behalf of their clients?
- Will it be extended beyond the verification process to other aspects and problems that occur with Google+Local like merges?
But an even bigger question for me is:
Google has always known of the unsatisfied demand for phone service that existed in their local product, why add phone support now? As far back as Maps Guide Jen, Google has always said that local was a free product (free my ass..free as in you only pay with data, suffering, time and eyeballs) and that free Google products did not receive phone support.
My speculation: A revived dashboard will include numerous paid products that will be able to be used as upsells during a “support” call. Google is likely moving toward a freemium model of local where the basic service is free but many of the add ons that will offer highly visibility will have a fee associated with them.
The G+ Dashboard for Business has been in a state of “under construction” disarray for many, many months. Yet as I noted in Google Local: Train Wreck at the Junction:
…the product sports a renewed Offers interface, an upgraded Adwords Express AND a recently rebuilt bulk upload interface. The dashboard is account based rather than individual based. Certainly that is a superior solution for a multi-location brand yet it is steadfastly single user. It is the ultimate contradiction and any attempt at reading the tea leaves as to its future gives one a serious case of heartburn. But given the fact that parts of the product HAVE been upgraded its hard to conclude that it is in fact going away.
You can’t very well sell Offers, Adwords Express and who knows what future products if the business can’t get their listing verified. And Google already has an SMB support team in place for AdWords Express. It is a trivial task to cross train them to a new Dashboard (that works).
Just the other day, Google increased the visibility of Offers by surfacing them in Google+ Local search results. The product has long carried the caveat that “it’s free, for you during a limited-time trial period”.
Last June, the Wall Street Journal noted about the “coming” replacement for the dashboard that
The project combines several products and services aimed at small businesses under a single banner. It is based on a mix of internally developed software and recently acquired technologies that the company hopes eventually will bring in billions of dollars a year in new revenue.
American business is not known for its altruism. Google is no exception and as a market leader is under huge pressures to increase revenues. With somewhere north of 8 million businesses registered in the dashboard they have a huge opportunity for monetization in local like no other.
While it is extraordinary that Google is implementing human support for local after many long years of having absolutely none, I think this move is part and parcel of a grander strategy to monetize their Local product as they upgrade and enhance the Dashboard.
September 20, 2012
Since early in the year when Adwords Express, Google’s simplified Adwords product for SMBs, was upgraded we have heard little about the product. The interface was removed from most dashboards and we have seen no effort to promote it. Today, every Places Dashboard account that I have received this email providing a $100 discount and a strong pitch for the full Adwords product. Where has Adwords Express gone? Is it history or will it return when Google finally finishes the integration of local into Plus and offers a full on marketing portal?
This sort of ad leaves plenty of doubt about its future.
April 30, 2012
Google has removed Adwords Express from the Places Dashboard and installed the product into its own area of Adwords. In accounts that did not have an AdWords Express ad, the AdWords Express Tab has just disappeared.
In accounts that had an AdWords Express Ad, Google has reconfigured the ad at adwords.google.com/express/.
AdWords Express has moved to adwords.google.com/express/.
Things to know about the change:
1) No changes were made to your ads — we just moved everything to a new place!
We left your ads and your other account information just as they were in Google Places. Of course, you can always make changes in your AdWords Express account.
2) You can get to AdWords Express directly by going to adwords.google.com/express/.
We suggest you update your bookmarks to the new address (adwords.google.com/express/) to get to your AdWords Express account fastest. But, we’ll keep the AdWords Express dashboard and this link in your Google Places account for a little while in case you forget.
The change is of interest on several levels. The primary marketing interface to AdWords Express (outside of their inside sales staff) has been its prominence inside of the Places Dashboard. There are currently no links within the Dashboard to the simplified AdWords product if you had not previously used the product. The only link referencing AdWords links to the main AdWords site and makes no mention of the Express product. Given that the product is now essentially hidden one presumes that Google is planning some new interface for marketing the product.
While ad creation remains the same, in making the move Google has provided AdWords Express with a new interface which allows a user to add additional businesses and allows for a change of categories for an existing ad WITHOUT returning to the Places Dashboard.
April 6, 2012
Long a staple of Adwords, a simplified call reporting is being tested in Adwords Express. It is not clear how wide the test is as I found in the Austin market but not in the Buffalo market.
The option is dead on easy to implement and costs $1 for each call made to the number and the amount is deducted from the monthly budget thus reducing the total ads displayed. Reporting, like the rest of Adwords Express and the Places Dashboard in general is very limited although the user can login into their Adwords account for more details. The feature is documented in the Places for Business Help files here, here and here.
The system is easy to use and implement and will be beneficial IF an Adwords Express campaign is beneficial. While the product has improved significantly since introduction and does work well particularly for some low budget situations, there are still severe restrictions that can limit the value of the product.
I do find more than some irony that call tracking is a huge problem for your Google Places listing if used elsewhere on the internet but that Google has implemented it inside of their ecosystem.
Here is the screen shot from the Places Dashboard for creating the ad :
Like in Adwords Call Reporting the ad will include a temporary 877 number
March 19, 2012
Adwords Express has generally improved since its initial nationwide rollout in January of 2011 and its name change in July of last year. It was initially dogged with poor targeting and huge spikes in monthly cost per click that often made their use untenable. I have continued to test it in a range of local situations and for some low dollar value campaigns in some markets it has worked very well. My relationship with Express has moved from wildly bipolar to only mildly bipolar.
One of the annoying aspects is the lack of control. For example Google adds review stars to your express ad and takes viewers directly to your Places page whether you want them to go there or not. The flip side of that is that they automatically provide click to call for your ads in a mobile environment. Another big downside is the inability to direct a user to a specific landing page. But it turns out to be a quick and relatively inexpensive local keyword research tool where it is sometimes hard to get a great list otherwise.
One of the big improvements has been the ability to create your own Ad Headline. Initially the product would ONLY show the business name in that field. The ability to correctly title your ad has improved targeting and increased the value of the ad for specific niches. But… and this is a big BUT …. along with that improvement Google is now apparently changing the ad title ON THE FLY. Not only are they changing the title to the business name they are shortening the business name to fit in the allowed 25 characters!
And Google does so without warning you that this might occur. As far as I can tell this behavior is NOT documented.
The assumption that Google knows best might be backed by reams of data, that doesn’t mean that I should not be given the option to either allow or disallow this behavior. Nor does it mean that Google should make these changes without asking my permission. Simplicity without explanation becomes duplicity in the eyes of the SMB.
Here is an ad that I recently found showing in the search results. Note the Ad Headline:
Here is the content that was created in the Places Dashboard:
January 31, 2012
Like many people, I have a less expensive, older LCD display at home that works just fine. With one exception. It makes Google Ads look just like a genuine search result. Obviously a screen shot doesn’t capture the “failings” of my typical display so I took a shot of the screen using my iPhone where you too can experience the lack of contrast. There is absolutely no distinction between the Adwords Express Ad and the local result. And the Adwords advertiser has the temerity to fake their reviews to boot.
But even when the yellow highlighting is visible, it might not really convey the fact that these are ads. My daughter, 19 and a reasonably savvy consumer of technology, asked me last week what the yellow meant. One assumes, in a company that tests things so much the decision is not accidental.
Do you think that Google makes the ads obvious enough?
(Click to view my bad photo of my LCD screen larger)
November 28, 2011
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 (here, here, 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?