Google has recently (exactly when is not clear) separated the Adwords Express analytics from the standards dashboard view of Places analytics. Until very recently the analytics for both your free Places Listing and your paid Adwords Express ad were shown in a consolidated view:
I have a love hate relationship with the elegantly simple Google’s Adwords Express. One of the things I love is that for a business with more than 2 reviews and greater than an 4 star rating, it will show your star rating with the ad. One of the things I hate is that, unbeknownst to the business placing the ad, if the stars are clicked, it is a billable event and the searcher is taken to your Places Page NOT the web page that you had opted for when you purchased the ad.
On the Places Page, the searcher is subjected to seeing both additional ads AND a list of nearby competitors. Perhaps a reasonable trade off if the business was aware of the quid pro quo or could opt out, but neither is the case. Regardless it hardly seems reasonable that a business should be paying for the privilege of showing a searcher additional ads on Google.
There are a number of other issues I have with the practice besides the indignity of paying to have users to see more ads and learn about your competitors:
1- There are no analytics of the event. It is impossible to see how many ads that were clicked went to the Places Page instead of your website thus it is difficult to asses the value of the ad. A click on the stars shows in the Places analytic as an action and exactly the same as a visit to your website.
2- A corollary to the above is that there is no ability to track the campaign accurately. Since the click never makes it to your website there can be no measurement of conversions or goals in Analytics or the value of the click.
3- There is no indication in the Help files that you are paying when a user clicks on the star. I had to confirm the practice by contacting Google.
4- More importantly, as most Express users do not make it to the Help files, there is no indication in Places that your ad will show your review stars or that a click on them is billable.
5- When you place the ad, there is no indication that the user might be sent to your Places Page even though you explicitly selected the option for sending the user to your web page.
6-If a business has no reviews or a low star rating they are not paying this extra fee. How is that fair? Only better businesses are thus taxed?
With Adwords and location extensions you have the option to enable clicks to call. You pay if the searcher does in fact call. That is a reasonable option in that it is both a choice to turn it on or not and it is an event that is measurable and likely to lead to a conversion.
The other Adwords case where Google will show review stars is with the seller ratings extensions option. In that case you are also “automatically opted in to showing seller ratings with your ads”. (Where is a good copywriter when we need one? Does “opt” not mean choice? Oxymoronic at best.) In this seller ratings case however, when the searcher is taken to the product reviews, it is not a billable click. While it may disrupt your purchase funnel, the pros seem to outweigh the cons.
While a review highlighted Adwords Express ad is more visually attractive, the total lack of knowledge, control and tracking makes this one of those options that is easy to hate.
Update Wednesday 8/17: Google checked into this situation and claims on the digital/computer science equivalent of a stack of bibles that this was just a coincidence. Here is the communication that was forwarded to me:
After looking into the customer’s situation, we can confirm that there is no connection between the AdWords Express ad being disapproved and his Places listing not appearing. There was a technical error that prevented the listing from appearing, but that issue was specific to Google Places. Participation in AdWords Express does not affect the ranking of free, organic business listings in any way.
The recently named BoostAdwords Express has more than a few oddities that might not make it the ideal SMB advertising tool. But this one is a show stopper: If business places an Adwords Express ad for a category for which they have a A position, their natural A position local listing will be removed from the main search results 7-Pack.
“I had an interesting prospective client email. His Place Page was not showing ANYWHERE when I first looked at some prominent keywords for his business. The client swore he was ranking #1 for a couple of key phrases prior to emailing me. He had been advertising on Adwords Express. He shut it off and IMMEDIATELY it went back to letter A for a generic phrase when I checked again.”
My Google local adwords rep called me later in the week and, in a totally unrelated context, said:
“If they are in the top position of Places – an Adwords Express Ad will cause the Places listing to not show”
He went on to sensibly recommend that a business NOT use a category from their Places page for which they were doing well and to use one of the other categories. Makes sense.
It has long been thought that taking out an Adwords campaign would not affect your ranking on Google search. In fact we have long been under the impression that there was a firewall of sort between the two results. This clearly calls that long held belief into question, at least in the Local space.
My grandfather was born and bred on the lower East Side of New York City in the early 1900s. He moved to upstate NY after WWII to join my father in business.The subtleties of gentile conversation that was the norm in rural NYS were largely lost on my grandfather. He was a large, loving, lovable direct man but one who spoke with the frankness of having grown up on the streets of NYC. At one time or another he had been scrambling to make a living having as a merchant, a fruit vendor with a cart and a taxi cab driver. I envied his ability to literally cut heavy wrapping twine with his bear hands (a skill I never was able to master).
Once in the mid 60′s, when I was probably in 8th grade, he was giving me a ride home from work. We saw a classmate of mine standing on the curb waiting for a ride. As was the style at the time, she was wearing a short skirt, fishnet stockings and perhaps a bit too much make up. He gruffly noted that she looked like a 2 bit hooker. I recognized that my grandfather was not current with the style of the times but his point, that she appeared inappropriately tawdry and cheap, was heartfelt. Nothing I could say would change his mind. Was he just out of date or did he have a valid point of view?
At the time I was shocked at his “provincial” assessment but have come to think him more right than wrong. Certainly the need for young women to dress in the ever changing fashions of the day, particularly ones that objectify them as sex toys, could be considered a less than ideal aspect of our commercial culture.
It is a conversation that I have never forgotten and one that comes to mind as I look at Google’s on-going hotel booking experiment on the main search results pages. Literally every item above the fold is either an ad or has the booking option attached to the result. Google experiences the demands of every corporation to increase their income but exactly when does commercialization of the front page pass from tasteful to tawdry?
Mike Ramsey of NiftyMarketing, a local search marketer from Idaho, sent along this screen shot reflecting a name change to the Boost product:
The change has not yet made it over to the Boost Help pages. Certainly it makes sense from a branding perspective to leverage Google’s well known, existing ad brand although I doubt that it will make the bidding basis of the pricing more obvious.
I just got off the phone with Kiley McEvoy, Product Manager Lead on Boost Adwords Express at Google to let me know that Google will be formally announcing the rebranding of the Boost product shortly.
Here are some of his comments:
We have seen great success with the Boost product and signup rate and to better indicate its ties to Adwords we are going with new name.
We have seen users in all 50 states and tens of thusands of customers. I spend a lot of time talking to customers and the main piece of feedback is that they are surprised by the simplicity. The product is so simple that it has allayed fears of involvement in on-line advertising. A pizza shop that was getting 30 clicks per day had to pause their campaign due to significant increase in business.
I did inquire as to specific numbers or percentage of claimed accounts using Boost but he was unable to be explicit.
He indicated that there is a new requirement, introduced a number of weeks ago, that an Adwords Express ad be created for each category. With this better targeting, users will be less likely to see large jumps in bid pricing that I experienced in my “legacy” ad campaign that had one ad with two categories.
He also noted that there is a new signup procedure flow (now visible here) that allows a business to sign up for both Places and Adwords Express simultaneously. In the new process, verification required for the Places listing, is no longer required for an Adwords Express ad to start to run. The ad can run independtly of an approved Places listing as long as the ad point to your website. If a Places listing is rejected or suspended the ads will continue to run.
Google recently announced that they would now display Adwords ads with Local extensions with an associated push pin and a place the Map.
The display format of the ad is very similar but not the same as a Boost ad. There are two differences: On an Adwords ad, the title of the ad can be anything not just the business name and the push pin contains a letter not just a dot.
Google Boost is now available nationwide and the ads will be visible in the mobile environment. Apparently though it may not be available for all businesses based on the categories of the business. In other words if you are a locksmith, you might not see the option.
Boost is Google’s simplified Adwords tool for Local that can be initiated starting at $50/mo. The product rolled out to 3 cities in late October and 11 additional cities were added in mid November. The product was first seen in testing in October of 2009 and was known at the time as Local Listing Ads. Thus, from initial test to full rollout it has been 16 months.
This interview with Chikai Ohazama, the Director of Product Management for Maps, provides some insight into Google’s thinking on the product.
I am curious of those in markets that have previously had access to Boost, what your experience has been? Have the returns been as good as Adwords? Has the product opened up additional opportunities for you? I am also curious what industries are not being given the option to purchase a Boost ad in their Places Dashboard.
Reader Dan Freeburg sent this screen shot from a smaller market:
David Mihm has an excellent piece (that I happen to agree with) on why Groupon in a broad sense is synergistic for Google. I think coupons and the new twist that Groupon brings to them will be a successful and profitable advertising medium. John Battelle thinks it worth significantly more than $2.5 billion. Greg Sterling though argues that it isn’t worth $5 billion and that very well could be true. But Google may be the only company for which the purchase makes sense at these levels.
I would like to add the following thoughts to the discussion. Greg has estimated to me that only 25% of all SMBs will ever be willing to participate in self serve internet advertising. The leaves the vast majority of local businesses not participating in and unaffected by most of what Google offers (Tags, Boost, Adwords) today.
I have estimated that Boost with a 10% adoption rate and an average $100/mo spend would generate $500 million a year in income. If it approached the 25% cap it would reach $1.2 billion with current adoption levels of 2 million claimed businesses. I have estimated that Tags, at a fixed spend of $25/mo and the same 10% has a much more limited short term potential of $60 million. Even as claimed listings grow, there is a very real top side expectation for both products in a self serve world.
Enter Groupon. It is a product that is already generating $500,000,000 in annual income. If Google did nothing else but add the revenue stream to Tags and Boost when it rolls out nationally, they would be at a $1 billion dollar in local ad revenue.
But Groupon also has staff on the ground trained in selling new media. The portfolio for these sales people would immediately increase with a buyout. And an impressive portfolio it would be. These folks could lead with a Groupon deal and then lock in a monthly recurring revenue source with Boost or Adwords. If their selling efforts for Groupon were a bust initially, they could still start folks with Tags and demonstrate the significant benefits of local internet advertising and of claiming their listing in Places and move on to Boost and Groupon down the road.
This purchase would not just give Google a successful, easy to explain coupon product for SMBs (and national players to add to the Adwords revenue stream) but it would give them an on the ground sales force with an actual foot in the door of the other 75% of businesses that would never self serve. It is conceivable to me that just by adding these products to the portfolio and pitching them in person Tags and Boost sales would skyrocket immediately.
Google would have in place Free (Places, Offers), Good (Tags, Tagged Offers), Better (Boost, *?) and Best (Adwords, Groupon) product offerings in both a self serve and full service model that could scale from the single shop to the national retail chain, nationally and internationally. It would cover 100% of the opportunity, have huge upside potential and start out of the gate with a roughly $1 billion highly profitable, income stream and a defensible position …
Investors may not like the economics and analyzed singly Groupon might not in fact make sense. But if Google could use the purchase to jumpstart and grow Boost, Tags and Adwords for local in the rest of the world, the potential of Groupon to them at least, is big.
Here is a chart of Google’s free and paid products for Local that shows how Groupon would fit in the mix… (more…)
The announcement indicates that Boost as configured is working well. The borad and rapid roll out indicates that Google is ramping quickly and we should see Boost available nationally and probably internationally in the not too distant future.
I am curious from those of you that have tried it, your impressions.
This screen shot just came across my desk of a new change to Tags where by the website option (the most effective from my perspective) is being phased out as a Tags destination. You may continue to use it but if you change to another Tag type you will be unable to use the website Tag type again. Newly created Tags will not be offered the option of linking to the website.
There are new choices for specific links to menus and reservations: