Category Archives: Google+ Local

Google Adds Messaging Directly to GMB App in New Trial & Further Muddies Messaging Strategy

Google My Business is testing a new, direct in the GMB App messaging capability. This was noted by Casey Bryan(from down under) on Twitter and confirmed by Steven Johns in the UK:

I have yet to see a test in a US based company although I presume that there must be someone that has received beta access. The Help page notes that it is “currently available to select merchants in select countries”. And that it is not to be confused with the GMB’s SMS capabilities.

How it works (from the Help page):

Once you turn on messaging, customers will see a “Message” button on your Google My Business listing. Customers will then be able to message you at any time.

  • Messages will appear in the Google My Business app, and you’ll receive notifications for incoming messages.
  • You can customize the automated welcome message that customers will see when they message you.
  • If multiple people own or manage your Google My Business listing, each one can message with customers.
  • Customers may see your name and profile photo from your About me page

But this is a new and as yet unannounced capability that takes the GMB onto an independent path for b-c communications. This feature, like review responses and the new(ish) ability to communicate with followers, is a clear indication of the GMB is gaining capabilities for better b-c communications.

When viewed in tandem with their recent decision to allow GMB Website creators to use WhatsApp as the communication app of choice it also seems to indicate that the Google My Business team is marching to its own drummer vis a vis Google’s over arching messaging strategy (if you can call it that).

Google’s messaging strategy has long confusing and not made less so by recent announcements to cut their messaging apps from 7 to 5 over the next few years as they focus on their new telco driven RCS messaging standard and their Hangouts Chat.

While I think that GMB efforts to create better communication between the consumer and the business is a good thing, this new beta for direct GMB messaging and support for WhatsApp both seem to further muddy Google’s larger messaging strategy.

Continue reading Google Adds Messaging Directly to GMB App in New Trial & Further Muddies Messaging Strategy

Reserve With Google – Which Categories & Services Are Eligible?

Over the past year we  have seen the expansion of Google’s Reserve with Google call to action in all of their local products.

It was never very clear to me which categories were eligible for Reserve with Google  or which might get it in the future. Joel Headley of PatientPop recently shared a link to Google’s API documentation that clearly indicates which verticals are eligible for the feature and provides insights into both those that might get it and those that probably won’t.

At the highest level, it requires a merchant to have a physical address and a booking service compatible with Google’s API. Thus no service area businesses allowed.

Supported Services

Google lists off the types of services that are eligible although the docs is outdated as we know that restaurants, which are not on the list, are supported:

  • Appointments
  • Reservations
  • Classes
  • Activities
  • Basic ticketing
  • General admission day tours
  • Consults and evaluations
  • Signups and trials

And which health, fitness, spa and beauty categories are currently embraced

  • Acupuncture
  • Craniosacral therapy
  • Physiotherapy
  • Sports medicine
  • Sleep clinic
  • Drug testing
  • Retreat center
  • Speech pathologist
  • Meditation
  • Reiki
  • Massage
  • Lymph drainage
  • Spa
  • Skin care
  • Hair removal
  • Hair replacement

Non Supported Services

However, the most enlightening section details the types of categories and services that are explicitly not allowed.  Essentially any service that utilizes insurance payments, doesn’t have a confirmable, discreet bookable time slot or any on-demand service that is provided at the searchers home or place of business are proscribed.

The following is a list of some specific examples of services that aren’t supported:

  • Medical services:
    • Doctors, dentists, or surgery
    • Medical spas that aren’t covered by insurance
  • On-demand or home services:
    • A stylist that comes to your workplace
    • In-home trainers
    • A pet grooming truck
    • Field services, plumbers, or contractors
    • Mobile mechanics
  • Location-agnostic multi-day tours

If I were to speculate on the whys of this, the prohibition of on-demand service involves liability risks with the possibility of in home visits from unvetted businesses. I think Google’s approach to these types of businesses can be seen with the extra vetting required in the Local Service Ad program.

I assume, but do not know, that liability issues may still be present in the desire to avoid doctors, dentist and spa bookings as well.

It is also understandable that Google wants to avoid booking for things that are messy and include too much back and forth to nail down the schedule or might provide too much private information about the searcher.

The Future

We have seen the expansion of the program to restaurants,  museums and events. We also know that TripAdvisor and Yelp have signed as partners to this program.

In fact last week I saw my first screen shot of Yelp’s participation via the Duplex project reported in the VentureBeat last week*.

Given that this program is available via an API and we know that beyond Yelp, TripAdvisor, Thryve and TicketMaster are all “coming soon” we can expect to see this transactional capability expanding across more categories and services.

Categories beyond those noted are speculative but obviously could include legal appointments and others.

Monetization

Clearly transactional capabilities in Maps, the Knowledge Panel and Google Assistant are coming and coming at a furious pace. While we have seen monetization of certain bookable events in the Local Service Ads arena, these Reserve with Google have not been monetized directly.

I would ask two questions:

What other categories might they include by the above. criteria?

Will Google further monetizate Reserve with Google beyond the the current API billing?

*It will be interesting to see if Yelp is “happy” with their positioning and this new program. 

Google Maps “Follow Posts” – a Revolution or Just More “S%!t” Thrown at the Wall?

Google Maps announced yesterday that searchers can now follow their favorite businesses and be alerted to offer and event Posts from that business. 

I have long believed that Google Posts is a solid investment of a business’s time as Posts show up in a brand search, in the local finder and on keyword searches in Google Maps. They provide the opportunity for a business to offer up coupons, events, education, brand story telling and more. 

Equally important is the fact that Google seems to parse the content of the Posts to increase their understanding of a business. Like reviews, Post content can have a small boost on your visibility. 

But is this new feature that actively notifies user of new posts via a follow in Google Maps revolutionary? I think not. 

Interesting yes, offers some potential yes, but revolutionary it isn’t. 

What is the Google use case?

A consumer loves a business so much that they go into Google Maps and they take the step of following a business to get notices of their offers and events. 

Well that’s not going to happen very often. I suppose if the consumer were a jazz fan and you as the jazz club owner regularly posted your events it might. But there is a big spread between might and will happen. 

What are the impediments?

Well firstly it’s only within Google Maps. Google Maps is popular but has nowhere near the reach of say Facebook or organic Google search. 

Also I don’t know about you but I use Google Maps for very utilitarian purposes. “Locate the nearest Tim Hortons” Or “show me how to get from here to there” or “show me a Tim Horton’s en-route to there”.  It is not where I go for updates about sales, events or offers and I don’t think most users of the product do either. 

Google Maps is not generally perceived as a business related communication tool or as a social network. So for consumers to use it this way would take an incredible rehabituation of the searcher. 

Who is going to do that? Google? The business? 

Google throws shit at the wall all the time and if there is uptake great, if not then, well it’s just another “honest effort” that didn’t make the cut. No skin off their nose. 

They assume if something is good users will just use it. They have rarely worked to actively educate (or in this case re-educate) customers to  embrace a new feature and take on new behaviors. So it’s unlikely that Google will work to do this retraining of searchers needed for broad adoption of this feature. 

The business could do it. That is, the business could incentivize the searcher to follow the business on Google Maps effectively retraining the searcher for the greater good and the business’ own good. 

But why would a business that is already using Facebook, or better yet email, for this task want to learn and implement a completely new “follow us on Google Maps” campaign? So it seems unlikely that businesses are going to do it. 

Oh some will. And just like Nearby Notifications (which was a very cool beacon feature to actively engage customers on premise with notifications that just got axed because of spam) many of those will abuse the feature. 

But you say, and I tend to agree, it would be perfect for that Tim Horton’s I love, to send me a discount as I am driving down the road with Google Maps open and in desperate need of the worlds best cheap cup of coffee. 

Yes perfect IF. Perfect if I could follow a brand and the brand could alert me. Perfect if the brand could do Posts. Both are non existent “perfects” in Google’s mobile local ecosystem. 

In the end the idea of following a business’ Post on Google Maps is a decent idea. It might just work for that incredibly active, local event space. And generally it’s one more way for a business to “project” their content into the Google search ecosystem. 

Interesting yes. Revolutionary no. Worth keeping an eye on? Yes. Worth changing your marketing workflow? Not now. Maybe never.

My money, if I had to bet, is against success. Fortunately this is not one of those epic Mihm-Blumenthal battles with a beer on the line and I don’t have to bet. I can wait and see. And change my mind if it suits me. 

Who knows? Maybe Google will create brand level for this sort of activity. Maybe Google will do what it takes to get consumer uptake of a feature like this. If they do great. 

In the meantime…

Check back in 9 months. 

How Does Reserve with Google Show in the Knowledge Panel ? Who the ‘f knows!

This is my third post in the “who the f knows” series.

Google has rarely been accused of great wordsmithing. But they have been accused of testing. In this case it appears that they are testing wordsmithing.

Seeing the schedule/book/make an appointment CTA in the 3 pack motivated me, like any rational local searcher,  to once again compare the click through destinations in each of the four iPhone environments to see what it looked like.

Go figure, even on something as simple as a CTA, Google manages to present four different displays and three different wordings in each case it shows.

Why present it one way to the user, when four ways can be created? Data science is a wonderful thing but I think that someone at Google forgot to put in any guard rails.

Of you think it is any different on Android. Think again. Well it is different but different in the same way. The Google App, Chrome and Google Maps are each different.

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Google Safari Knowledge Panel on the iPhone. Lets just cut to the chase and go for the booking.

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Google App on the iPhone. Google is content just allowing a user to see the schedule as the call to action.

 

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Google Chrome Browser Knowledge Panel on the iPhone. Google can’t seem decide between seeing the schedule and booking as the call to action.

 

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Google Maps Knowledge Panel on the iPhone. Note that there is no appointment call to action.

Google Maps Knowledge Panel on the iPhone

 

Mike B Around the Interwebs

I will be heading out on vacation on Friday so my production will be non existent for the next month or so.

But if you haven’t heard enough of me for the past few days here are some other tidbits I worked on across the interwebs:

Google and the On-SERP Experience: We’re Just Gettin’ Warmed Up – If you are an agency and are only going to read one thing today that makes you think about your future read my bi-weekly column with David Mihm.

Scoring Google as Your New Home page – an agency view with Mary Bowling and Andy Simpson

Deep Dive: What Drives Local Mobile SERP Images? with Mary Bowling.

Why I Love 1st-Party Reviews & Just Might Marry Them – This one is a little older (on the GatherUp blog) but I really think that folks should pay more attention to first party reviews. Ok, Ok, I get that its a conflict of interest for me to say so but I really think that every small business and SEO agency should wrap their head around them. And leverage the heck out of them. Why should Yelp or Google have all the fun and all the benefit?

 

When Does Reserve with Google Show? Only Google F’ing Knows

This is my second post in the “who the f knows” series.

And it relates to Google now showing the book or schedule button in the 3 pack. Or not showing as the case may be.

When your boss comes and sees you and asks why are your booking buttons not showing you can either say “who the f’ knows” or the current, more accurate variant “Only Google f’ing knows”.

On a tangental a note, these book buttons were first spotted in the SERPS by Sergey Alekov in February when Google released Reserve with Google in Canada. I don’t think they showed in the SERPS reliably at that point.

In fact they still don’t show in the SERPS reliably.

Over the past day or two I have spotted the following desktop and mobile variations involving or not involving the booking button as the case may be.

Mobile variants:

Desktop Variants

Reserve with Google Makes its Way into the 3- Pack SERP on Google

Transactions in Local Search via Google’s Reserve with Google tool have historically been limited to Knowledge Panel results.

It appears that this transactional capabilities being expanded or will be expanded to include embedding calls to action directly into the Local 3-Pack search results. And given Google’s obvious expansion of the Reserve with Google we can expect to see these sorts of results in many new verticals going forward.

Reserve with Google, Google’s back end tool that connects local listings to assorted booking tools but keeps the whole transaction process with-in the Google mothership, was first released last fall.

At that time, it was initially focused on Spas and Gyms that worked with a limited set of 12 scheduling apps.  In April of this year, restaurant booking using the Reserve app was added via OpenTable.

Subsequently Google expanded the number of scheduling app partners to now having 36 partners with an additional 33 partners “coming soon”.

Google has moved into new verticals with their reserve tool beyond those mentioned above. We know that Google is allowing for restaurant order take out via the Reserve with Google tool (or something very similar) using their “on-demand platform“.

 

We have also seen Google’s on demand tool showing up for Hotel bookings.

[Update] Tom Waddington pointed out that he has just stated seeing Reserve with Google showing up in the Garage Door category as well. Home services is an obvious area but one that I had not yet seen.

[Update] Sergey Alakov noted in August that Reserve With Google Expand[ed] to Attraction and Museum Ticket Purchase

The coming soon list includes Yelp, TA, Eventbrite, Thryve and CouresHorse to name but a few partners. So we can anticipate starting to see many, many more transaction types in the Knowledge Panel in areas perhaps as diverse as education, professional services, home stays and who knows what else

And if the above search is any indication, we will start seeing these transaction capabilities directly in the main local search results with ever increasing frequency as Google’s local search becomes ever more transactional in nature.

Continue reading Reserve with Google Makes its Way into the 3- Pack SERP on Google

Google My Business New Features: ‘Add Product Collection’ & ‘Branded Search Insights’ – The Bigger Picture

Last week we learned of both a new Google My Business feature (in beta), ‘Add Product Collection’ and new GMB Insight’s data, ‘Branded Searches’.

Both are interesting features individually but together, they are even more interesting.

The GMB Branded searches, reported at SEL by Barry Schwartz, is apparently being rolled out. As noted in the graphic published at SEL, it appears to be a count of “customers who find your listing when searching for a brand related to your business”. I take that to mean if I search for nike shoes bufflo ny and I see “Rick’s Sports and Apparel” then it would be counted as a ‘branded search” for Rick’s.

In typical Google fashion, though, they have muddied the waters as to exactly is being counted by providing this explanation in their help files:

  • Branded searches: A customer searched for a brand related to your business (e.g. a customer looking for fast food searched for “McDonald’s” and found your fast food restaurant listing). This category will only appear if your listing has appeared at least once for a branded search.

This is totally nonsensical as 1- this would duplicate direct searches and 2- a search for McDonald’s would return “your fast food restaurant listing”, it would return McDonald’s. I have asked for clarification from Google as to what it actually means, which very well could be a third definition.

The other product, still in beta, is a feature to “Add a Product Collection” that adds products to your mobile Knowledge Panel. It was first reported out by Nathan Schoell of DealerInspire. According to Nathan, if you are using the Product Collection feature then the Services tab in the KP disappears. He noticed the feature in Car Dealer categories and Auto Repair Shops.

The new feature was also reported by Cordell Crowley at the Local Search Forum where he saw the feature in the Florist category.

Image courtesy of the Local Search Forum
This mobile product tab shows both a Post Product post and the new Product Collection. Image courtesy of Local Search Forum.

When you step back and view these two developments from 10,000 feet several interesting possibilities arise. We know that Google in general and Google Local in particular is looking to vacuum up ever more granular data about the real world.
Continue reading Google My Business New Features: ‘Add Product Collection’ & ‘Branded Search Insights’ – The Bigger Picture

The Seasonality of Near Me Searches in Local

Near Me searches have generally been on the uptick since the advent of the iPhone. But there have been the occasional downturns that were misinterpreted as a break in the trend.

Now that we have more data, it appears that those downturns and subsequent peaks are seasonal lows and highs of a generally increasing  usage of the term in search.

If you search on “near me” using Google Trends for the US from 2004 to the present for all categories you can the annual July peak usage of the term:

Click to view larger. July has been the peak month each of the past 4 years for Near Me Searches.

Interestingly if you limit your Near Me trend results to just the Shopping category, you can see both an annual July and a December peak in the usage:

Click to view the shopping limited Near Me trend larger

Preparing Images for the (Coming?) Google Mobile Local Carousel

Last week, off and on, we started seeing the use of the image carousel in the mobile Local Finder.  This is a format that has long been present in the restaurant search results. The carousels have been seen off and on since then, showing up and then disappearing, only to show once again. When they did show they were not in all categories.

For example we saw them in most product driven categories like jewelry, cars and sporting goods but not in professional categories like lawyers and doctors.  We saw them in some services like plumbers and HVAC, Dog Grooming and Insect Control (Really? Yes really.) but not in Locksmith or Electricians or Salons. Clearly a test at a grand scale.

Will they become the new normal? As I have said before “Who the f knows?” but it seems likely to me that their use will expand. I am seeing them today on some devices but not all.

When “More Places” is selected the searcher is taken to the Mobile Finder

Mobile Local Finder with Carousel

Of course this made me curious about the aspect ratios and whether a vertical or horizontal image might be better for optimizing the outcome. Google has never made image management easy and this new display is no exception.

The black border indicates the crop of a horizontal image

In this case it doesn’t seem to matter whether you are using a vertical or horizontal image as long as the shot is in close AND the main content of the image is center weighted.

The carousel crops to a roughly 480 pixel wide by 240 pixel high view, a 2 to 1 aspect ratio. It will cut that from either vertical or horizontal images.

It cuts the same 2 wide to 1 high horizontal section out of the vertical image. The black border represents the area displayed in the carousel.

Both of these images worked reasonably well but the difficulties start coming in when you also want to optimize the image for the 3 pack on mobile, the Branded Mobile Knowledge Panel and all the many variations imposed by the desktop and Maps results.

The mobile pack results seems to be one area where you should focus. If the image looks good there AND in the carousel, it is reasonable to take your chances elsewhere.

In this image I have overlain  the original image with the crop for both the carousel (solid black line) AND the mobile 3 pack (dotted) so you can get a sense of what I mean by “center weighted”.

The solid black line represents the crop from the carousel, while the dotted line is the 3 pack crop.

It becomes an almost impossible task for an image to look perfect in every image environment that Google presents. You will see a totally different crop that shows for the Brand Knowledge panel in a mobile browser.

Adding text to the image makes the problem more obvious and a solution more difficult. That being said in many contexts, the text is a differntiator. Continue reading Preparing Images for the (Coming?) Google Mobile Local Carousel

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