Has Google finally committed to Local? Has Local finally been elevated to the big leagues within Google as a starter instead of being relegated to filling the role of pinch hit competitive enhancer? Is Local receiving both the financial support and more importantly front page Google love that it needs to really succeed.
It would appear so. Will they succeed? Maybe, lets hope so.
This is an 1100 or so word piece. It takes roughly 6 minutes to read. Let me know if the time was well spent.
The Trigger that Got Me Thinking
Last week during the rollout of the Reviews from the web, Sergey Alakov pointed out that the editing of information via the Knowledge Panel by the business owner had been slightly enhanced. The feature has been around for awhile but it now allows feedback on a few additional fields.
Not a big deal in the scheme of things but it struck me that Google was in fact chewing gum and walking at the same time vis a vis their local product rollouts. And it appeared that the efforts were both within the GMB division and cross departmental with the organic search team.
The (sordid) History
Coming off of the old Google Places, when Marissa Mayer was demoted to head Google’s local effort, there was a bold and ambitious plan in place for accelerating feature development. There were goals of creating an SMB CRM solution with capabilities that stretched from pre-sale to post sale management.
GPlus came along and with it, the forced march to the integration of Local and Plus began and then Marissa was force marched to the door (or whatever). Development efforts were aimed at integration and feature recovery not moving forward.
In the middle of all of this, in moving local to the Knowledge Graph, Google totally restructured the architecture of local with new plumbing, pipes and processes.1
In 2014, GPlus and Vic Gundotra were then marched to the door and all efforts seemed to be focused on dissolving the many links that had formed between Local and Plus and not focusing on moving forward. Most efforts seemed to go into things like creating a stand alone Local product.
For example in April of this year, Google made reviews finally work again without the multiple logins required by Plus. In early August, with the last nail, the GMB team put the tortured description field out to pasture and separated out Plus from an upgraded Local analytics.
The above five paragraphs sums up 5 years of lost local feature/benefit development. They were 5 years of patching and putzing with a few Local/GMB features coming (but mostly going). There was no sustained focus on developing useful features (other than web wide review monitoring) and more importantly no vision for making Local work better for the local business.
The Very Recent Past of the GMB
But this August and the early part of September have been busy months for Google My Business. During this time the number of product previews with the Top Contributor GMB group were numerous with inklings of more to come. Importantly, we saw a number of developments in the GMB:
9/1/2016 – Add multiple owners to individual locations or business accounts.
8/31/2016 – Use the new map view to see all of your locations plotted on the map.
8/24/2016 – Accept or discard Google updates for individual fields in bulk.
8/19/2016 – Google Expanding SMB Test of “Write Directly to Search” Feature
8/9/2016 – New GMB Analytics Module created with expansion and additional features in mind
Google, has been reporting out a number of these developments in the GMB help area2 and I was curious to see if the trend of product development I was noticing had any merit. When looked at over time it’s impressive.
The Very Recent Past of Changes in Local Search Results in the SERPS
But the pace of development isn’t just fast within the confines of the GMB, Google has clearly been working at integrating more aspects of local into the main search results. We have seen the introduction of Critic Reviews, Top 10 Lists, Reviews from web and enhanced review snippets. In the main search results Google is even testing allowing SMBs to “Write Directly to Search” with their new Posts feature.
For Local business listings to truly “become all they can be” they need the front page. They need the front page for the exposure and retention of users and they need the front page so that business owners can see its benefit and be funneled into a more comprehensive relationship with Google. And all of that needs to be obvious and apparent to the SMB (like KP editing and Posts).
Since the early days of Local those in the industry have wondered why Google didn’t use this incredible front page “bully pulpit” power to bolster Local. We asked it about Places and we asked it about Plus.3 But for many of us, Local within Google was always a day late and a dollar short of meeting expectations.
The Bottom Line
These recent activities and trends imply an incredible (and perhaps increasing) amount of coordination between the search and local groups at Google. It implies an increase in resources allocated to local. Programming is hard, making changes to a big product like Google Local search with numerous system wide dependencies and hooks in and out to all parts of Google takes commitment. Adding new features and capabilities takes planning and coordination.
This amount of effort and human power does not come without it being prioritized within the organization and paid for with real dollars and opportunity costs. This sort of aggressive development support can only be coming from the very core of Google.
The Tea Leaves4
If this new found commitment to Local at Google persists and the development keeps apace, it should make for fun times.
Google has long sent most SMBs the bulk of their traffic. All too often these very same SMBs weren’t aware of it or if they did know it, found Google to frikken’ hard to figure out. But Google, like no other, can have an amazing influence on local business marketing if they can make Local accessible on top of being useful.
And that’s a big if as over the years Google has, despite numerous half hearted attempts, not really grown the SMB dashboard beyond the basics. In that time, they have given up a great deal of SMB mindshare to Facebook,
They have been demonstrating that they can finally walk and chew gum in Local at the same time. They have demonstrated over the past 6 months that they can execute tactically and do development along multiple paths simultaneously. That’s the good news.
Can they take the long view? Google manages to shift folks in and out of departments and local like clock work. Christ, I am a component of their institutional memory for local. They certainly need continuity.
And they need easier to use, more intuitive and more helpful SMB products, they need consistency (oh god do they need consistency), they need a solid vision and they need long term persistence.
Do they have the chops internally to plot a path to a successful SMB future, I think so. If Google has finally taken off the gloves and made the commitment to local maybe we can stop asking when Local will get the love it deserves.
1- The transition of Local Search results from a web indexed result to a database driven result is one of the all time impressive big data feats. Google, managing somewhere on the order of 125 million business listings, switched out the way that information was gathered, stored, updated and displayed, all of the pipelines into and out of the data, the assorted relationships of that data with all of its other products like Mapmaker, Maps & Plus all the while continuing to provide some semblance of normality on the Search results pages and within Maps. It’s akin to replacing the engines and tires and painting the bus while its moving down the road and maintaining the speed limit. With no one falling off the bus…. ok so a few fell off the bus but thats a small price to pay, no?
2- Just the fact that Google is reporting these developments, publicly tracking them and even making an RSS feed available for newly announced features is a sign from on high that at least there IS something happening
3- Why Plus never got the love it needed on the front pages of Google is an interesting question. Its fate may well have been different. In the end search engineers seem to still “rule the roost” and without their support and active engagement most Google products will stay in a small(ish) niche.
4- I love teas leaves. I mean its the future so I CAN’T be wrong or if I am no one notices except David Mihm who, if you bet him a beer, will remember something like this for years!