October 25, 2013
Yesterday Google has once again announced an upgrade to their self serve Offers product.
Ok that isn’t that interesting in itself given the long (it is almost as old as I am) and mostly invisible history of Google’s couponing product but there are some interesting aspects to this upgrade. Besides an easier, slicker to use set up process, the changes that could be significant are the move to performance based pricing and the promise of improved distribution
For the first time Google is charging for the product and making claims about the number of times that it will be downloaded. The pricing model is a pay per download instance. In the coupon I set up, Google is estimating that the Offer will be downloaded between 120 and 160 times per month for a cost of $30 at a cost between $.19 and $.25 per download.
Is it $.19 or is it $.25? It is not at all clear if the pricing is somehow bid based or fixed and more transparency in this arena would be useful. The product retains a free pricing option which one assumes will mean less aggressive distribution or perhaps none if there is a paid coupon alternative. This also reinforces Google’s developing fremium approach to it’s SMB products.
An Offer, highly visible in the new Maps, will be taking on increased visibility in the upcoming Plus page update and retains visibility in Google’s Offers search engine (who knew right?). What is different in this release is the fact that since you are paying, Google will be motivated to highlight the inventory more and has a direct stake in the resultant outcome. Whether the increased visibility in the new Maps is enough to get the kinds of views they are hoping for is unclear, at least you won’t be paying unless the coupon is actually downloaded.
When a user saves an Offer they recieve an email copy of it and are encouraged to download the Android or iPhone Offers App. If they do so they will get geofenced notifications, alerting them that they are near the location of the coupon provider. At least on the iPhone side, the app has very little visibility and low distribution minimizing the value of that feature. It would make more sense to me to use Google Maps and the Plus apps to increase mobile visibility.
Google self serve Offers (aka Coupons) has been Google’s ugly step child of products. Like that step child that sits on the couch watching TV all day and that you can’t bring yourself to kick out the door, self serve Offers has somehow avoided the hatchet over the years despite its long and
storied sorry history buried in the bowels of local.
The current version of the product was introduced as a beta in the Places Dashboard and in May, 2012 but it has existed in a very similar state since its introduction in 2006 . Offers was strictly a self serve, free, stand along coupon, Places based product until April, 2011 when Google rolled out a full blown competitor to Groupon that they also named Offers. The self serve coupon version has stayed in beta as a free product with caveats and with minor upgrades since that time. The main caveat noted at last year’s major refresh was that “Currently, you can create offers from within your Google Places account at no cost during this limited time trial period. You will be notified about pricing details before the trial period concludes.”
The bugaboo with Coupons/Offers has always been distribution. Or rather the lack of it. The coupon inventory has always been buried deep in a custom search engine or lost on a Plus (Places) page. As such, it never has had much adoption by either the public or SMBs. I always thought that it was just one front page placement away from success. Perhaps some day it will make it to the big leagues. In the meantime, it seems that Google is planning on keeping this step child around for a bit longer and hopefully bragging about it to at least the relatives if not the neighbors.
These new Offers can be created in any of the local management environments (Old Dashboard, New Dashboard, + Page for Local, Android Places Dashboard App) but appears to be rolling out now so it may not be visible in all dashboards.
Here are screen shots of how a self serve offer is created and of the end user email notification: (more…)
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 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.
November 28, 2012
Mike Dudas of Google just tweeted that Google has acquired Incentive Targeting to power highly targeted manufacturer and private label coupon programs. He noted that “Incentive Targeting..[does] for retail couponing what Google [does] for online advertising: make simple, relevant, measurable, & effective”
It would appear that the acquisition is for both talent and IP. And as Greg Sterling points out strategic. The company website notes that their “patent-pending technology allows non-technical marketing executives to design sophisticated, relevant promotions—and measure ROI in real time—directly over the Internet”. The product is interesting because it will deliver the coupon either via cell phone & social networks or via traditional methods of print and register receipt AND closes the loop for easy redemption and tracking.
It is an intriguing acquisition in a number of ways. It obviously puts Google directly into the coupon business. In the past they have never committed to couponing in any significant way and it had been said that Larry Page in fact had a disdain for coupons. Their past behaviors have certainly reflected a certain schizoid, on again off again approach to coupons.
This product, while currently serving large chains and manufacturers, could readily scale down to a single merchant and fit into the SMB dashboard/integrated marketing portal that is rumored to be in the works. Imagine a single location grocery store or our local 30 location chain being able to have an advertising person easily issue coupons across media & track the results in real time. It sounds like a winner to me. It could obviously move beyond groceries as well.
Now lets hope that it sees the light of day sooner than Google’s last local purchases of PunchD and TalkBin.
May 9, 2012
Google Places is now rolling out a new Offers creation program in the Places Dashboard to accompany the new Google Maps for Android. The product is significantly more robust than the current product and offers a range of creation options. There is an overview and FAQ available the Offers introduction page.
It is now live in my Places Dashboard. Click this image to view a slide show of the creation options:
When you enter the Offers area of the Dashboard old offers are visible but not editable. It appears that older Offers created in the Dashboard will be maintained until their expiration date but can not be updated.
The Offer design interface is very slick and provides simple choices to create the coupon.
Only photos from Google existing library can be used. This is a limitation of your products fall out of the narrow range they have chosen.
You are allowed to limit the total quantity of offers available, the timeframe they are available and whether a user may re-use the coupon. Interestingly the offer can be limited to only certain days of the week.
The management interface shows how often the offer was saved by users and how often it was redeemed.
New offers are currently only appear on Google Maps for Android, Google Offers and Google Wallet apps. As far as I can tell they are not visible on the desktop and have no presence on the iPhone.
An offer can be easily edited after creation to change the expiration or distribution settings in the original offer.
An interesting note in the How it Works area of the Offers area notes that offer is only free during limited-time trial period. (bold mine)
The Google Offers Help files have been updated to reflect the new product.
Limits to the new product:
This product is significantly more robust than the current product. But it does not appear to be available for display in desktop search and the fact that there is no iPhone version limits its use. What Google’s plans are in either area are unclear at the moment.
Also unclear is whether it will remain free in some capacity and when it does move to a paid model how it will be priced. The FQ notes: Currently, you can create offers from within your Google Places account at no cost during this limited time trial period. You will be notified about pricing details before the trial period concludes.
Offers (aka Coupons) have a long and sorry history in the panoply of Google local products. They were introduced to great fanfare in 2008 and then left to whither with little support and less ability to display them. Over the past year Google has been cleaning up inappropriate Offers but they have never made them more visible. This is only a partial step in that direction.
Given their limited availability on the Android product it would appear that Google is moving them away from the desktop and primarily focusing on their use in the mobile environment. Obviously they would be more valuable if they could be crossed marketed from the main search results and available on all mobile platforms. Hopefully that is in the cards.
Given the recent noise about Facebook reintroducing/testing their Offer product, one has to wonder about Google’s timing of this release and whether they will emulate the idea of making the coupon more visible with payment.
When used in a mobile environment and tied to the new patents that Google acquired for indoor location via Wifi one can easily envision a coupon system that could could offer a given coupon when in close proximity to a participating vendor AND close the loop on the sale (with or without the use of electronic payments). Obviously the potential for relevant delivery and knowledge about when the sale is closed opens up a range of revenue analytic possibilities for Google.
On a more short term note we are seeing the Places Dashboard slowly but surely getting a face lift to come under the new integrated Google UI. First the Adwords Express UI update and now Offers. It is clear that the Places Dashboard (and hopefully Places Analytics) are soon slated for updates as well.
December 14, 2011
The ability to provide a Google check-in offer is now live. The feature has been added to the Offer coupon creation option in the Google Places dashboard and a detailed help file has been added to Places for Business Help area. Google describes the process as follows:
Allowing customers to check-in when they redeem offers
If your customers have to visit your locations in order to do business with you, you can request that they check-in on Google Maps for Mobile
before they redeem your offer. To check in to places, users first sign in to Google+. They can choose to share the check-in publicly or with some of their circles, which helps spread the word about your business within their circles on Google+. They can also choose to keep their check-in private and still redeem an offer.
If your customers do not have to visit your location, for example if you serve homes or businesses by delivery or by callouts, you can keep this option off (set to “No”) and customers will not be asked to check-in when they redeem offers. We use the Service Areas and Location Settings setting on your listing to determine if you have a service area for offers that have already been created. When you create a new offer, you can choose whether to allow a check-in during redemption.
How can check-ins help my business?
Check-ins are a good way to promote your business online. It’s like an online tool for word of mouth advertising. It also associates the use of an offer with your physical location which helps connect customers both online and offline.
How much does it cost to upload an offer into Google Places?
It’s free for merchants to upload an offer into Google Places.
Will other people see my customers’ check-ins to my business?
Your customers will choose who see their check-ins on Google+. If check-ins are public, anyone can see them. If check-ins are shared with a circle, a smaller group such as the family or coworkers will see them. If check-ins are private, only the customer can see them.
If I ask users to check-in when they redeem an offer, do people have to check-in?
Customers who use Google products that support offers and check-ins (currently Google Maps for Mobile on Android) will have to check-in when they redeem an offer. Customers can choose which circles they share their check-in with.
Which products can ask users to check-in?
Currently, Google Maps for Mobile on Android will ask customers to check-in before they use an offer. Other mobile products that have offers (such as the Google Offers for Android) will soon ask users to check-in as well.
The process to create a check-in offer is very simple. Select the Offers tab in the Places dashboard and answer the last question in the affirmative: (more…)
December 6, 2011
Last week I reported out a discovered Google Places Help page (since taken down but visible here) that discussed using the Places Coupons as a Check-in Coupon for Google Plus. This afternoon the folks at VentureBeat received a confirmation from Google that check-in offers from Places will be coming to Google+ next week:
“While prepping for a test of a new check-in offer feature, we published a support center article a little early and have since removed the article. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused. Please stay tuned for roll out of this feature for merchants, which we’re targeting for next week.”
Hints of a Places based check-in offer surfaced as far back as May when it appeared that they would be heading to Lattitude. Obviously the roll out of Plus shortly after that changed Google’s plan.
Offers have a long and sorry history in Google Places. Originally introduced as Coupons in 2007, they were largely hidden from public view for most of their existence. Google Coupons saw some successes during 2007 and 2008 having partnered up with ValPak but by early 2009 Places coupons had completely tanked due to lack of visibility. They made a brief reappearance in the main search results along with the Google’s fixed price local ad product Tags in June, 2010. In November of last year, Google changed the name of the free Place based Coupons to Offers just before the failed acqusition talks with Groupon and the subsequent roll-out of Groupon like deals called, confusingly, Offers.
Will the oft maligned Places
Coupons Offers finally get their day in the sun? A free, easy to use check-in offer might give the feature much needed exposure and a new life, motivating smbs to revisit the Places feature and perhaps also leading them to think seriously about a Google Plus business page.
December 3, 2011
While perusing the Google Places Offer Help files I found a page discussing Check-in Offers via Google+. It notes:
If your customers have to visit your locations in order to do business with you, you can request that they check-in on Google+ in order to redeem your offers. They can choose to share the check-in publicly or with some of their circles, which helps spread the word about your business on Google+. They can also choose to keep their check-in private and still redeem an offer.
If your customers do not have to visit your location, for example if you serve homes or businesses by delivery or by callouts, you can keep this option off (set to “No”) and customers will not be asked to check-in when they redeem offers. We use the Service Areas and Location Settings setting on your listing to determine if you have a service area for offers that have already been created. When you create new offers, you can choose whether to allow a check-in during redemption.
The option is not yet visible within the Places Offers tab. Google recently started purging the free Offers created in Places if they did not offer a real discount of some sort. Perhaps that was in anticipation of Google + integration of check-in.
Google has started rejecting Offers from Google Places for quality and policy violations. Business owners that have had Offers rejected will receive an email with a clear indication of which guideline was not satisfied. Offers that do not provide actual % discounts or dollar value off will be suspended. Google has upgraded their Google Help with a Troubleshooter Your Offers Form if an a business owner feels that an offer was rejected inappropriately. Here is a recently sent rejection email:
Date: December 2, 2011 5:27:40 AM EST
Subject: Important: Some of your offers on Google have been marked as suspended
Thank you for creating an offer for your Google Places page. We’ve found that one or more of your offers does not meet our guidelines. These offers have been suspended and are listed below. Your Google Places listing is not otherwise changed and remains active.
Offer with summary: Free Consult w/ Attorney, created: Dec 11, 2009.
Reasons for suspension:
Offer does not include a monetary discount or an additional good or service that is not normally included.
You can review the Offers Guidelines in the Places for Business Help Center here.
To create a new offer, visit Places for Business.
Offers that violate policy will be suspended. Please ensure that your new offer follows the offers policies listed in the Help Center. You cannot edit an offer once it has been suspended.
This message was sent from a notification-only email address so email responses will not be seen. If you have any questions, please review the Google Places for Business Help Center.
The Google Places Team
From the guidelines:
July 20, 2011
Google’s Boost advertising product was meant to be a dead simple way for a small business that had claimed their Places listing, to place a locally highlighted ad onto the front page of Google. It is simple to get started and in some situations, where the targeting is accurate and the price per click is reasonable, it can be a very effective advertising product. In a very limited sample size it has worked to the clear benefit of the business about 50% of the times that I have tried it.
But the simplicity of the system hides a deeper complexity in pricing that is sure to confuse and anger most SMBs sooner or later: the bid pricing. These two screen shots tell the tale.
Up until June 15th, this campaign was generating click throughs at a reasonable cost. However somewhere along the line (neither the charts, nor the product interface make this explicit nor discoverable), the cost per click jumped from $4.68 a click to over $20, rapidly running through the budget and it resulted in the ad stop being displayed.
A call to a Boost support person (a 1+ to Google on providing phone support to all SMBs) indicated that “there was probably some external event had caused the bid for the ad to go up rapidly”. A review of the Boost help files made no mention of the fact that the pricing was bid dependent. In fact there no explanation AT ALL of pricing and how it is determined. Simple all right, too simple by half.
This lack of transparency on pricing will be a death knell of the product in the SMB market. What small business person would be happy with 4x price hike that occurs unannounced? What small business person understands the possibility of a bidding war taking the ad offline? What small business person wouldn’t be surprised that an ad that had been working well for the previous 3 months suddenly went in the toilet? And what small business person, when he called Google was told ”there was probably some external event had caused the bid for the ad to go up rapidly”, would be a happy, educated camper?
Here is the screen shot of the preceding month for comparison. It is very similar to what the client saw in the account for the previous 3 months: