When you click into the Local Finder from the search, all too often now all you see above the fold are paid listings of one form or another. And unfortunately the Offers, while highly visible, are not at all marked as paid calls to action.
Remember back in 2010 when Google rolled out “Tags” to allow for paid enhancement of your local listing? Well, at least in the Hotel world, its deja vue all over again as these paid insertions into the free Local Pack seem to have made a comeback.
The Local Pack which has been the last bastion of “free” placement as Google seems intent on monetizing just about everything may soon come with its own up-sells and add ons and paid doodahs hanging from the rafters.
I spotted this when search for Hotels NYC today on the desktop with a similar result on mobile:
Tim Capper, a local SEO in the UK that spends a lot of time in the Hotel world speculated that this new Tag like form “is coming from within Google Hotel Ads“. He noted that “Hotel ads are really ramping up and I saw in the UK for the 1st time independent hotels using the platform”.
Google Tags (aka Enhanced Listings) were first seen February, 2010, rolled out in July of that year and discontinued by April 2011. At the time, I hypothesized that Google was looking for the next big thing to lure small businesses into advertising and these didn’t make it. Now it appears that rather than looking for the next big thing for local they are just striving to monetize every nook and cranny of local left where they can cram a commercial message. This fits in with Google recently adding ads to the Local Pack (ht Brian Barwig and Michael Wallace).
QR Codes never took off in the US. It was an offline to online play that always required too many apps, took too many steps, was too obtuse and ended up not solving any problems. I once used them to learn the history of the streets a small town in Hungary – the only time I ever really used it.
But Facebook with it’s Messenger ScanCode is ready to replay the story and this time I think that it has a compelling context which, for me, portends the return of the QR code as an effective small business tool – in the form of a compelling customer communication channel that most, if not all, businesses will want to participate in.
Imagine standing in the aisle of your local grocery store, getting ready to be pissed because they have moved the fish sauce once again. Instead of the endless wandering the aisles in search you point Messenger at ScanCode and you ask: Where is the Fish Sauce? And the response whether from a person or perhaps even an AI bot says: Aisle 10 half way down.
The client side is super easy, very fast and puts you in nearly instant “Messenger touch” with the business. They simply open Messenger, click on “people” and “scan code”. They instantly are put in touch with the business.
The business side is equally easy. It couldn’t be easier, they only have to take these simple steps:
1– Pop into their Facebook messages page and download their Scancode:
2– Post it in store (or use the URL on your website)
3-Prepare a few canned responses in Settings/Messaging
4– Have a human and/or a bot monitor their messaging channel in Facebook.
And you have in place a customer channel that is already used by 900 million people monthly and growing. You have an app, Messenger, that is on nearly every phone, already used by most consumers and most businesses and a compelling need – creating an immediate connection between a customer and a business.
I never thought that I would be saying this but it appears to me that QR Codes (in the form of ScanCodes) might just have been salvaged from the bin of technological abandonment. What had been missing was the ready made platform with enough scale and purpose for this to work.
Its like Back to the Future time for QR codes… or maybe deja vue all over again.
Google appears to be rolling out local gas prices to the mobile Local 3 Pack. The pricing is also visible on the Local Finder and the location Knowledge panel. Spotted last night by Dr Pete on the desktop and Adam Humphreys of Making8 and reported this AM by Barry Schwartz it is visible to me on iPhone Safari and iPhone Chrome but not yet the Google search app. On the desktop I am seeing on Safari and Chrome.
It is not clear if Google is sourcing the data from Waze or one of the 3rd party gas price aggregators although it doesn’t appear to be GasBuddy as their pricing is more comprehensive than Google’s. Nor is the speed with which updates appear obvious. During times of slow price change speed would not be an issue in this market but I could envision times when operators would be screaming in the pricing were not near real time and historically Google has not been great at updating these detailed attributes for a business in a timely fashion.
This update is consistent with Google attempting to add vertical information to local that provides the answer on the front page of search without the user needing to look any deeper.
Update: 5:00 PM Eastern They are once again online
The Google My Business guidelines, the bible for what is and isn’t acceptable behavior when listing a business, seem to have come up missing from the Google My Business Help Files. (H/T to Helmut Geissler, Google Maps and Google My Business Top Contributor).
The page URL that previously linked to them now shows an error message. Whether this is just an oversight on Google’s part or something else, we don’t know yet.
Senator Blumenthal (no relationship) interviewed Professor Tim Wu, who last year came out against Google’s Local Universal results as opposed to an alternative result, and Prefessor Meamed as to whether consumers have been harmed by Google’s behaviors, particularly in local.
To paraphrase Prof Wu starting at 01:59 in the video: There was not strong evidence of consumer harm during original case. But subsequent research, particularly in Local, there is evidence that Google is manipulating search in an anti competitive way. There is stronger evidence of consumer harm now. Particularly in local.
Prof Melamed noted that consumer preference for a different product would not in and of itself be a reason for anti-trust enforcement.
Let me know your thoughts. I have trouble seeing how Google controlling their own search site actually does consumer harm. Even more so with the dramatic switch to apps in the past two years.
That being said I have seen concrete indications that Google relies on sites like Yelp to strongly inform Local Universal results to Google’s advantage.
Last week when I was discussing the new Google approach to immersive mobile search I noted that if Google didn’t get you on the click they got you on the clock. This definitely falls under “the click” category.
Google, in what is clearly a test*, is offering movie purchases up with a bold, call to action for each movie time available that takes you directly to Fandango. This screen was visible for several hours this afternoon.
Google has long had a transactional relationship with Fandango, what is different in this test is the presence on the front page of big, fat buy buttons.
This test shows the lengths that Google is contemplating in order to gain transactional “traction” in local.
*Test or not? This new layout has been coming and going for the past 24 hours. It’s now visible again. So perhaps it is rolling out. Perhaps not. Are you seeing it in Europe? On Android? On iphone? Please let me know.
Google My Business updated their help file page: “Improve your local ranking on Google” Page. And surprisingly, after a slow start, actually added some real ranking information (this does not appear to be a April 1 Joke):
Prominence is also based on information that Google has about a business from across the web (like links, articles, and directories). Google review count and score are factored into local search ranking: more reviews and positive ratings will probably improve a business’s local ranking.
Your position in web results is also a factor, so SEO best practices also apply to local search optimization.
I am archiving the page as a PDF for future reference.