Google My Business Expands Optional URLS for Appointments, Reservations & Ordering Ahead

Joel Headley of PatientPop pointed out on Twitter that Google had added the ability to add a “make an appointment” URL to physician listings and other verticals, It appears that they have expanded these in various verticals and not just physicians as well as adding vertical specific options.

Professionals such as lawyers, doctors, insurance agencies, consulting firm & psychologists as well as construction, computer repair, flooring and plumbing companied have the ability to add the make an appointment URL. I am sure that many other categories do as well. The only listing where I didn’t see an option was a bricks and mortar lawn and garden location.

Restaurants are also now allowed to add both a reservation and an order ahead URL to their listings. 

Update 4/10: Google has published an updated Help page: Local Business URLS. On it they note that there are the following types of URLS available:

  • Booking an appointment
  • Placing an order
  • Reserving a table
  • Searching for items
  • Viewing the menu

They also note that “In some cases, links to certain third-party booking services will appear automatically on business listings. These links cannot be edited in Google My Business“.

I have not seen the searching for items option, if you have I would like to know what the context was. It also isn’t clear to me if the business already has a 3rd party booking service link whether they can add their own book an appointment link and whether they will co-exist or not. Please let me know.

Google Upgrading Front Page GMB Editing Test

Early in July I wrote about a test that increased the presence of the Google My Business Dashboard via the front page of a Google branded search.

Thibault Tadda alerted me via twitter of an upgrade to the test that now includes a to do list.

If the business or a manager is logged in and executes a brand search they will be presented with this large call to action that now includes things not done.

Once completed those CTAs disappear leaving a large empty space. It might serve everyone better if that space collapsed when there are no tasks to be done.

Click to view larger

Why is this important… well its further proof that Google CAN chew gum and walk at the same time AND that if they are going to build a lot of cool stuff into the dashboard then they are going to have to keep working to get businesses to keep coming back. Both things that many of us had thought Google wasn’t capable of doing.

Mike B Around the Interwebs

Here are articles that I published over the past week some place other than here:

LocalU: Video: Last Week in Local July 31

Every week at LocalU Mary Bowling and I and the occasional guest discuss the news from the world of local. We look at strategic as well as tactical pieces that can inform your marketing. Available as a blog, email newsletter or podcast. You can sign up via the links in the left sidebar <–.

LocalU: Video Deep Dive: Google as your new Home Page

More and more traffic is coming from Google. While a brand search may occur very low in the purchase funnel for most users, the branded search results provides a view of how a business will look across many of the searches in which they might show. Google really is becoming the new home page and this discusses how you can leverage that.

GetFiveStars:  Cool Google SMB Review Marketing Tool

If you haven’t seen this tool that allows locations to create posters of their best reviews from Google, you owe it to yourself to take a look. One of the more thoughtful marketing tools Google has created.

StreetFightMagazine:  The Place of Newspapers in the Local Marketing Ecosystem

Join David Mihm and myself as we take our bi-weekly jaunt around small business marketing. This week we discuss the possible role of community newspapers in helping the SMB improve their marketing.

 

Careful When Sleeping with Elephants – Are Google Websites a Threat to the Agency?

Google Websites is not a “blow your socks off” web building product. At least not by standards in the United States. That being said, should you as a web designer or SEO ignore it?

That’s a good question.

Scott Davis noted this about Websites on G+ in response to my noting that Google had hit 250,0001 websites created within a month:

If bots could SEO, we’d all be out of a job… Fortunately that isn’t the case. Build your Wix style site… I’ll crush it in search.

My answer:

+Scott Davis as it is currently configured and construed, this product is designed and targeted at the Indias of the world where very few businesses have websites and where very few businesses can afford websites.

That being said it does demonstrate the power with which Google can release and get uptake in a DIY world…

Typically these Google efforts start out lame… sometimes its just s%!t thrown at the wall and someone ultimately cleans it off. Sometimes they are fixed frequently and often and become market dominating products.

Click to view larger. Cartoon created by Margaret Shulock. Copyright Mike Blumenthal & Margaret Shulock. Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Adwords Express is an example of that… When first released it was very, very lame. It has gradually become a very good DIY product… to the point where a small agency selling $300-600 adwords packages can’t really compete. Will Google keep improving it and go after the $600-1200 a month level? I think so.Can the same thing happen with Websites?

Interestingly Google bought a company called Appetas in 2014. Appetas had a very sophisticated, build your own website product for the restaurant industry that had multiple pages, decent SEO, tight integration with reservation tools, payments, delivery etc. There is a lot of DNA shared between the 1.0 version of Website  and that product.

As to your original question, I am not saying that you currently can’t out SEO them, I am saying keep your eyes open and realize that you are sleeping with elephants…. elephants are generally benign but when you and they are sleeping be very careful that when they roll over that it’s not you they crush.

1 – As of today, Google now has had 303,000 websites created using the tool. It’s been 6 weeks since introduction and they continue adding at roughly the same pace.

How Google Home Services can Affect You – by Dave Squires

Google is obviously expanding their Home Services Ads program. It has now moved east to Philadelphia and is also covering more verticals. In addition to the original plumbers and locksmiths it is expanding to the HVAC, electricians, garage door, roadside assistance, auto glass, painting, handyman, home cleaning and even appliance repair categories.

Dave Squires, a long time local SEO, shared his article detailing Google Home Services program that he wrote specifically for those in the HVAC industry and I thought it was very much worth sharing with my broader audience.

Dave is the President of Online-Access, a subscription based company that works with HVAC & Plumbing Contractors throughout North America showing them how to utilize the web as more than an electronic refrigerator magnet. Prior to that he helped run Vincent’s Heating & Plumbing (VHP), his family HVAC business that has served the Port Huron area since 1959. He is still an owner but is not active in day to day affairs. He has over 38 years experience in the HVAC industry and over 17 years in the HVAC internet marketing space.

I rarely have guest writers but Dave knows of where he speaks and can help us all better understand some the nuances of Google’s HSA program.

Obviously these are his opinions and it may or may not apply to you but I thought it was a great summary of where the program is at so I am republishing here.

Enjoy!

——————————————————————

Just when you thought you had Local Search figured out—Google brings out a new game board

By: Dave Squires, July 25, 2017

Brace yourself— Google is in the process of “changing the game board” again when it comes to generating leads through local search. For almost three years in the bay area of San Francisco, Google had been experimenting testing different approaches to directly compete against HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List, and getting into the ‘lead-selling’ business. Unlike AdWords, where you are just buying ad space and the transaction is directly between you and the consumer, Google’s new Home Services division wants to be the new ‘broker’ and ‘quality police’ of the entire transaction. In other words, like HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List, they want to become the gatekeeper between you and new customers. The scary news is that they will probably be very successful in doing it—especially with how they have structured their new program.

Currently, Google is in the process of rolling out their new program in seven major cities around the country.The cities are Phoenix, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Diego, Baltimore, and Los Angeles.For your consideration, in this article I will go over how their new program works, what has changed that may have caused them to initiate the rollout now, and my analysis of the potential long – term repercussions.

Welcome to Google Home Services— and the‘ Google Guaranteed’ program

After watching Google over the last few years try to make its Home Services platform work (which is a good amount of time for Google to test anything), I was surprised when I learned a little over a month ago that it was breaking out of California and expanding to new cities around the country. What I wanted to know was, what had they changed in the program that made them decide their program was a winner? It may be because they want to beat the new HomeAdvisor merger with Angie’s List that will culminate in December, but I was curious as to what the final version looked like.

Finding the answer to that question has been surprisingly difficult, since Google has kept a tight lid on what they are doing. Obtaining preliminary information on their new program has taken a good amount of time and effort to say the least—but here’s how the program is being rolled out today.

To start with, notice the image to the right that shows the results for the search “AC repair San Francisco”. If you want to try this search on your computer, make sure you’re logged out of Google or you won’t see the same results (Google’s version of “move along… these aren’t the droids you’re looking for). At the top of the page, under the heading “AC repair – HVAC pros serving San Francisco” you see three boxes, with each box listing a contractor, their Google review count, and then the fact that they are “Google guaranteed”—which I also highlighted in yellow. Below this is a phone number and the hours when they will be open if they are not currently open.

It’s important to note that the phone number they show is not the contractor’s number, but a recorded tracking number assigned to them by Google. Should the number be used by a consumer, the number displayed will change in the listing, and the number the consumer used to call you will remain active for that consumer for the next 15 days. The consumer’s call will display to you as a Google-forwarded number—not the consumer’s actual number. As long as you’ve spoken to the customer in the past 15 days, you can continue to stay in touch using the Google-forwarded number. The unspoken part here is, should you ask the customer for their direct number to try to circumvent Google recording your communication, you may find yourself out of their program… oh, and did I already mention that Google wants to be the gatekeeper of the transaction?

The good news (if you want to see it as that) is that Google only keeps total control of the customer’s contact information for 15 days from the last contact. Continue reading How Google Home Services can Affect You – by Dave Squires

Google Websites Passes 250,000 Sites Created

It has been just over a month since Google My Business rolled out Google Websites worldwide. It appears that as of a few minutes ago, Google has passed a quarter of million sites built using the tool. That is roughly 40,000 sites per week, an average of 5681 per day since introduction.

In the first two weeks, Google added 100,000 sites. Google has essentially maintained that growth rate for the past two weeks, adding 104,000 sites since June 27th. This is only counting sites that didn’t buy their own domain. I am not sure that there many of those but there are likely a few.

Every few days since just prior to introduction I have been doing a site:business.site search at Google to get a sense of the ramp up. While admittedly an imprecise measure, it provides some idea of the rate and volume of sites created.

Click to view larger

India has the most sites clocking in at a total of 44,600. Indonesia has ~30,400. The United States and Brazil check in at 16,200 and 15,800 respectively. This speaks to Google’s stated goal of attacking the (very) small business market in the developing world.

Here is a rough breakdown by country where the Websites were created (note that if there is a __ in the result it means that I did the country search in the native language) :
Continue reading Google Websites Passes 250,000 Sites Created

Google My Business Updates Insights Download Reports

Google, the past few days, has been rolling out a new capability with the down load Insights feature that now allows for spreadsheet data to be downloaded about Photos and Phone Calls in addition to the general Insights data that has been previously available.

The feature, generally available since April, now allows additional details focusing on just phone calls or photos to be downloaded as well. The feature is available for both single listings in a dashboard, a group of listings via the card view or for bulk listings via the list view.

First reported by Thibault Adda on Twitter as available in bulk and a more complete report from Laura Gallinger on July 11th, the SEM Analyst at autoTRADER.ca, the feature now appears to be more broadly available. (PS an apology to both for not publishing sooner but it has been a busy week.)

A somewhat unheralded capability of the feature, in addition to being able to download data for all listings, is to allow you to download aggregate data for only some of the businesses in your dashboard by searching on that subset. This is handy if you are preparing reports for subsets of clients in your agency dashboard.

Here is the sequence:

Click to view larger. Image courtesy of Laura Gallinger, autoTRADER.ca
Click to view larger. Image courtesy of Laura Gallinger, autoTRADER.ca
Click to view larger. Image courtesy of Laura Gallinger, autoTRADER.ca

Google My Business Messaging FAQ

Updated: Saturday July 1th

Q: Has Messaging been launched as a product?

Yes, Google has confirmed that it is now launched in the U.S.

Q: Does every dashboard have Messaging?

It is rolling out now to US users but should be in all US dashboards shortly.

Q: Is the release worldwide?

No, it is coming first to the US and next week to Brazil and India later this summer. No word on other countries beyond that. Some users are already seeing the product now.

Q: Is the chat feature available on all local platforms like Maps, the browser and the mobile Google App?

No, at this time it is available on desktop and mobile browsers and the search app on Android. More platforms will be coming soon.

Q: Is there a Help Page?

Yes, the Messaging Help Page was updated yesterday to indicated that “Chatting with customers is a new Google My Business feature that’s currently available in select countries“.

Q: Which account users may use the feature?

Currently it can be configured for either the owner or the manager but those with just communication level privileges will not have access.

Q: Can I add more than one phone number to receive messages on?

Not yet.

Q: Can I use one number for multiple locations?

Yes, the UI is not optimal and but it will work.

Q: What messaging apps are supported?

SMS, Allo and something on Android called App Preview Messages.

Q: What the f&*k is App Preview Messages?

It is preview product that appears to be an abstraction layer that allows Android users to communicate with one another even if they have different messaging apps. OK, just stick to SMS.

Q: Does the product support automated responses?

Business owners can apparently set a welcome message for their customers to see.

Q: Is the the “welcome message” available to all users?

There are two “client” experiences – one is the embedded messenger that some percentage of users on Android see and the other is SMS, which is what everyone else sees.

Right now, the welcome message is only seen in the embedded messenger experience. It isn’t possible to simulate the welcome message in the SMS experience (can’t send a text without you sending one first)

Q: Are stats available?

Google will display  the following stats around messaging usage in the current insights view:
-Number of Clicks on the message button
-Number of actual conversations with customers
-Number of Actual messages with customers

Q: Does the “Message” option always appear on Google or does it only show up during my opening hours?

The merchant can opt in or out manually, but it’s not linked to opening hours. Businesses can turn off messaging when they want to and turn it back on – when they turn it off, the message icon disappears from the Knowledge Panel.  Users can get a message outside the opening hours if the product is on.

 

Q: Once set, can the SMS number be changed if the owner, say, goes on vacation?

Yes from the GMB dashboard menu.

Q: Can the messages be responded to via the GMB dashboard. 

Not at this time.

Q: What phone number does an end user see when the chat is initiated via SMS?

Google assigns a “proxy” or relay number for the business. A customer could add this to their contacts and as long as they use this for messaging, this should work. The number is not local to the customer at this time but Google is looking at fixing that.

Q: What happens if the customer attempts to call that number?

When you call this phone number, there is a recording that the number has been disconnected. Google is working on solutions to this.

Q: Should I turn this feature on?

I think that every business is going to feel differently about the utility of this product. It does offer an immediate way to communicate with existing and new customers but for some businesses it might be a distraction.

Obviously you need someone in your organization that is ready and willing to receive SMS messages on their phone. If you don’t have that, skip it.

I see it as ideal for plumbers and contractors that don’t have support staff as it could relieve them of responding to as many voice calls.

It could be an interesting solution for DUI lawyers or Emergency Car services that offer 24/7 coverage even when their regular hours are closed.

Where as in health care I see the product as full of potential hazards requiring much more thought before using. If at all.

In some industries it could be just another distraction from effective communication and just “one more thing” to worry about.

Test, try it. If it works great. If not, turn it off.

Q: Why is the initial rollout to just US, Brazil and India?

Like Websites, Google obviously is thinking of this product as a way to attract their next billion users and as a way of making headway in developing countries amongst small businesses. Between this product and Websites, it could very well fulfill a large portion of the marketing and communication needs for the (very small) businesses in those markets.

Q: In some industries, Google won’t show your listing if you are marked as closed. If you have Messaging turn on, but it is off hours, will Google show your listing?

Hmm… good question. Anyone?

Q: Will it impact rank?

I doubt that it will. For sure not now and maybe never but at least not until Google has a great deal more data and confidence that it offers users value as a signal. It could, as noted above, possibly at some point increase visibility for businesses that respond quickly.

But it could help or hurt conversions. If both you and a competitor are using the product and they have a 5 minute response time and you have a 50 minute one, who they gonna call?

*****

Do you have any of your clients using the product? What do you see as effective use cases?

Let me know how it goes. I would love to see if they think it effective or just a PITA.

Google Messaging Rolling Out to More Dashboards

Update: Google has confirmed that Messaging is officially rolling out. See the Messaging FAQ here.

There have been numerous reports today of Google Messaging, the direct from Knowledge Panel SMS chat feature, rolling out more broadly.

Whether this is an early rollout or a late test, it is hard to know as Google has not yet announced anything. The rollout does not seem to be veritcal specific as it is showing up in everything from lawyers to hotels and restaurants but not in all that I have checked in each category.

The product was first trialed in November, 2016 and has been in an active public beta for a number of months. The Help Page. titled Chat with your customers, has not been updated to note that it is anything more than a pilot. But given Google’s recent product rollouts of Websites and Posts, it is not hard to believe that release is imminent.

The product allows the business to “listen” to the messages either via SMS or Allo. Customers are advised on the typical business response time.

Google has been giving business owners more and more reasons to visit the front page of Google for their brand search. It seems that with Messaging, Google is attempting to give consumers a reason as well.

Are you seeing Messaging in your dashboard?

Google My Business Using Pop Up Ads to Pitch Adwords Express

Many have asked whether Google would monetize Posts (or Websites, or Messaging or Insights or…). My thinking is that they will not monetize it directly but will use it as a reason for a business to come back to the Google My Business Dashboard where they can sell them Adwords.

And not actually Adwords but Adwords Express, which while we weren’t looking has become both powerful AND cheap (for how long?). Truly a self serve product that no longer needs a reseller to effectively execute….. tell Google your goal and your geographic marketing and voila you have a functioning AND functional ad on the cheap.

With each new feature Google has also increased their email notifications. Clearly they want the SMB back into the Dashboard and are going to get them there by hook or crook.

Historically, AdWords Express has just been one “card” amongst many in an ever growing more crowded dashboard. No more sissy stuff.  The gloves are off.

I saw this “pop up” this AM. With probably 10 million verified businesses in the US and ever more reasons to visit the dashboard, Adwords Express is clearly getting the push to be Google’s path to monetize the SMB world.

Which is not to say they won’t ever monetize Posts.  I would never say never in the money arena with Google  just not now and not the current product. It is always a possibility just one I don’t think is likely.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search