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

Is Google Updating the Mobile Local Finder to the “Slider Style”

It appears that Google updating the mobile Local Finder to the “restaurant style” carousel slider type display.

Earlier in the day Phil Barnhart pointed out that he was seeing this new display on dog grooming. I started seeing it initially on Chrome on iPhone as well across  many categories and by the end of the day I am not seeing it on iPhone Safari as well. It would appear to be a full rollout. This view has long been seen in restaurants and bars.

The take away: make sure your first and all of your photos are good!

Google Reduced Post Visibility but Now Also Showing Them in Google Maps.

TLDR; Google has reduced the visibility of posts in both mobile and desktop search while simultaneously increasing their reach by now showing them (at least some of the time) in Google Maps.

At the end of September, Google upended the visibility of Posts on both the desktop and mobile. On the desktop posts have been moved to the bottom of the Knowledge Panel. These days that often means below the fold.

On mobile, Posts were moved from the Overview panel to the organic results belown the Knowledge Panel. The Posts tab remains in the mobile KP.

In both cases Posts have become quite a bit less visible to searchers. Nate Somsen of Big Leap kindly shared some analytics that clearly shows the significant drop in click though rates after this change. Nate noted that this past August they had just started seeing sizable gains by going to a Coupon post and while not all of those gains were lost, many were.

Certainly for businesses that need to get the consumer to their website to consider a Post successful this change will likely lead to a   significant traffic loss.

For businesses that have been using Posts primarily for branding and SERP control the impact will be less.

The good news in this is thatPosts are now also appearing in Google Maps on both desktop and mobile searches. Previously they were only visible in a browser via direct brand search or via the Local Finder. It seems unlikely that the increased reach will make up for the decreased visibility.

Oddly Posts are only visible in Maps when you click into a listing from a keyword search and they are not visible via branded searches in Maps.

Several readers asked me why Google made this change. We will never really know as we can’t see what Google sees. I am sure if you ask them they would say that it’s what the searchers preferred. If you ask a Google skeptic they would suggest that Google wanted to control user behaviors and not send them off site so quickly.

I don’t really know. And it could be that both are true. One speculative thought is that Google is freeing up space in the prime territory of the Knowledge Panel for an increased use of CTA around their Reserve with Google product. We have been seeing this in more and more tests.

Regardless, at least for the next few months this appears to be the new normal and while it makes posts somewhat less valuable I still see significant value in using them.

Reference Screen shots of Post positioning before and after the change:

I wanted to share, mostly for my memory, screen shots that demonstrated the change.

Continue reading Google Reduced Post Visibility but Now Also Showing Them in Google Maps.

Google Rolling Out Assistant Duplex Test to Four Cities This Month

At Google I/O a preview of Google’s Assistant Duplex, Google’s AI based human sounding  digital assistant that can auto create reservations, set off a maelstrom of both interest and criticism.

The Announcement from the Google My Business Forum

Hey everyone!

At our annual conference Google I/O, we showed a preview of a new feature in the Google Assistant powered by Google Duplex technology – which makes it easier for people to find information and get things done — and it’s also helping businesses connect to potential customers.

Later this month, we’ll expand public testing of this new feature with Google Pixel users at restaurants in New York, Atlanta, Phoenix and the San Francisco Bay Area! Our goal in testing this new capability within the Google Assistant is to provide another great resource (especially if you have a limited online presence) to help you reach a broader set of consumers, by making it easier for them to connect to your business.

There’s no learning curve for you and no extra step to get set up. You can keep operating your restaurant as you always have while also taking advantage of booking through the Google Assistant. And if you’re currently working with one of our online booking partners , you won’t receive calls from the Assistant for reservations.  

As we develop new technologies, we believe it’s critical that we’re responsible in our approach and are thinking through the impact on people and businesses. You’ll be given full transparency and control — so you’ll always know it is the Google Assistant calling you. And you can easily opt-out from receiving calls over the phone by telling the Google Assistant or going to the settings in your Google My Business account.

It’s important that we get the experience right both for people and for your business, and we’re taking a slow and measured approach as we incorporate learnings and feedback from our tests.



What’s Up with the Local Search Results…. Who the f knows?

I was sitting on my office, doing “research” and did the same local search (Custom Jewelry Design Williamsville) on my iPhone in three different Google mobile environments; Safari, Chrome and the Google App. All within seconds of each other.

Next time your boss comes and asks you what’s up with the local search results, throw up your hands, show him this post and reflect knowingly “who the f knows….”. Be sure to note that even though you were not at your desk when he first came by, you were using your time wisely.

Updated: Just for good luck we have added a mobile search from Stephen Davies of the UK. Why have 3 variations when four (or who knows how many more) can do?

Safari browser result. 1500 Pixels high. Includes category, 3 facetted search options, and website content.
Chrome browser result. The longest clocking at almost 1600 Pixels high. Like the Safari result Includes category, 3 facetted search options, and website content but also includes review content.
Google App (iPhone) result. The shortest pack result clocking at just under 1200 Pixels high. No category, only 1 faceted search result, no review stars, no web content, no review content, no images. Most importantly (as pointed out by Stephen Davies) it includes direct access to calling and driving directions. It also includes the more button. Go figure.
And one more variation…. As seen from the UK via Android Chrome. Thanks to Stephen Davies.

Local Mobile Image Thumbnail SERPS – It’s All About Context

Last December we started seeing thumbnails in the mobile local organic results. What was obviously a test then became more visible over the summer and starting last month, became widely visible.

It is a mobile only feature that made me and several clients curious. How was it triggered? Why & when does it show?

Why it matters?

These images create significant eye candy in the organic local mobile results. I have not yet seen click through rate studies but I have to think that having an image will serve an organic result well in terms of increasing click through rates. Even when these images are lower on the page.

How I tested

After struggling with viewing these on my phone,
I created a desktop test environment that included Chrome and a mobile browser emulator that allowed me to look at mobile, desktop and source for the page in a side by side way.

It’s all about file name and image alt tags, NOT

When I started this project in late summer, I assumed that image file names and image alt tags would play a big role in Google’s use of these images in search.

That turned out to not be true. In fact those factors were the least correlated with whether an image showed of all the factors I did look at.

Out of my sample of 20 only 4 sites were using meaningful file names AND a relevant image tag.

Clearly alt tags and file names had such a low correlation with whether the image showed, that it forced me to look further afield for stronger correlations. While these more technical features might impact the result they were not a clear and consistent driver.

I would even suggest that the low incidence of these image attributes across the web is what lead Google to start looking at alternative ways to understand images on the page.

What is it about? Context

While I did notice early on was that context seemed to be significantly more important than image name and alt tag. So I increased my examination of contextual signals to find better correlations.

I looked at which image Google used, its position on the page, image relationship to the main body copy and the relationship of the search query to the page Title Tag and H1 tags.

What I found

  • Google is ignoring top of page images like logos, images in navigation and most carousels when choosing which image to show in the mobile SERPS.
  • The image that was used was most likely to be the first image in the main body copy of the site. On most of the pages there were multiple images embedded in the main content on the page beyond the first one.
  • 19 of the 20 images that showed up in the search results were above the fold on the web page.
  • While generally it was true that Google picked the first image in the body, in two of the 20 instances when there was a row of images, the image picked was the last of a row of images.
  • On mobile search results that showed the image there was a near 100% correlation  between the page Title Tag and the search query. In 15 of the 20 cases there was a H1 tag that closely matched the query as well.
  • I don’t think that it is the Title or H1 tags per se that is causing the image to appear, but I do believe that when the overall context of the page matches the search query and there was an eligible image, then Google is likely to show the image.

Most of my searches that did show the image in the search results were higher frequency head terms.  The pages are more  likely to be optimized for the search phrase and the concept.

I hypothesized that if these context clues of Title Tag and H1 were critical then there would be many fewer images on very long tail local queries.

That in fact, turned out to the be case. Searchng for “ob-gyn in Santa Monica” would return images while a search for “female ob-gyn Santa Monica” or “best female ob-gyn” would consistently not surface images. This was generally true across many long tail searches that I tried.

Google’s New Image Search Algo seems to be the driving force

This all makes sense given Google’s recent announcements about their Image search algo.

Cyrus Shepard summarized the above in a tweet to say:

I had come to the same conclusion several weeks ago and it was nice to have confirmation: relevance of the page is a driving force behind the images being shown in the local mobile search results.

Some Tips if you are trying to control what appears in the local mobile search results

For sure:

  • Make the image the first image in the main content area and make it central to the page content
  • Make sure that the page is topically relevant to your targeted search query with good architecture including title Tags & H1 tags.

Some possibilities that might have an impact:

  • I am not sure if Google is using machine learning to understand the image content but they might be so it doesn’t hurt from a user and long term Googly perspective to make the image contextually appropriate to the target phrases of the page.
  • While alt tags and file titles do not seem to drive these results, they couldn’t hurt and might allow Google to show different images to show for different search results. That is TBD.

Some style thoughts

  • Either center weight the content of the image so that the important things exist in the middle of the image or make the image square. Otherwise Google will crop the image with unintended consequences.
  • Make sure that the image scales down to small sizes well. Google will display the image at slightly more than 100 pixels wide. If the image is too complicated or shot too far away it will not scale down well.
  • Make sure that the image is one that you really want to highlight. When I saw this image of the empty desk for the lawyer, it made me laugh and my first thought was: “If he is not at his desk working, he might not be willing to work for me”.

There May be More than meets the eye*

Continue reading Local Mobile Image Thumbnail SERPS – It’s All About Context

Google Testing New Knowledge Panel Changes

Last week Google, in a disappointing action,  moved Google Posts from front in center of the Knowledge Panel to the bottom of the KP in organic and to the middle of the search results in mobile. Obviously, this is likely to cause a reduction on conversions as the Posts are less visible and lower on the page.  Nate Someson noted this decrease on Twitter.

This week we are seeing signs of a new test that is likely to further reduce searcher interactions with a brand’s Knowledge Panel. In tests first reported by Maulik Pnchal and confirmed by Dan Liebson we are seeing the “People also search for” being moved from the bottom of the Knowledge Panel to the absolute top of SERPS on brand searches:

This test was first spotted by Sergey Alakov who first noted it in May.  It is not visible for most searchers. Sergey has a mobile screen shot.  The fact that the test is still around 5 months later says that it was at least good enough to keep testing. Sergey noted on Twitter that  “the test is expanding, or the roll-out has begun”.

With these moves Google  seems to be minimizing brand traffic, attempting to increase the depth and diversity of searches that start with a brand search and possibly free up Knowledge Panel space for more ads.

Google does not charge for Posts or the KP presence, there are lots of ways to increase income when you run the show.

What Percentage of Verified Businesses Use Google Posts?

TLDR: ~7% of businesses world wide that have verified their business listing are using Google Posts and roughly 26% of verified business in the US were doing so. On a percentage basis the use of posts was highest, around 30%, in Spain, Italy and Japan. The developed world has significantly more updake of this feature than Asia & South America.

Phil Rozak of Localvisibility did a nifty post a few weeks ago exploring business utilization levels of Google Posts. He manually examined a large sample of businesses in medium and large cities to determine that 17% of businesses in the US had used the feature.

In doing my Google Websites uptake analysis I realized that I might be able to use the Google site: search technique to examine this number both in the US and in countries around the world .  While it wouldn’t provide me with nuance like Phil ferreted out that 4% had done an update within the past 7 days, it would give me high level detail. And while Google Websites created is not a perfect proxy for verified businesses, it is a pretty good one.

% of Verified Businesses Using Google Posts
Click to view larger


As of today that stands at 26% of those businesses in the United States with Google Websites (and are thus verified) that are using posts.

As you might expect, utilization as a percentage of those that have created Google Websites is consistently higher in Europe, Canada, Japan and the US than in Asia, Turkey and South American countries:


Total Websites


Posts %

Espana Posts VER TODAS




日本 (Japan) Post すべて表示








United Kingdom








Polska (Poland) Posts WYŚWIETL WSZYSTKO




United States








South Africa
















Türkiye (turkey)








Viet Nam Posts XEM TT C








Україна (Ukraine) Posts ПЕРЕГЛЯНУТИ ВСІ
















Россия (Russia)




Using the searches: “United States” and “United States” + “View All”  you can get a rough idea of the use of Posts amongst businesses that are verified*.

Why is the number higher than Phil’s? Because my methodology is looking at usage of those that have created Google Webpages. That is a more engaged group and they have verified their listing. Both reasons would explain the higher than the overall usage number.

I am also making an assumption that the cohort of businesses that have created a Google Website is similar in behaviors to those that have just verified.

Some notes:

1- After a Twitter convo I realized that since Hotels and a few other categories don’t have posts, these numbers might be slightly high. That being said they are directionally accurate.

2- Also since we have no way of knowing how many businesses are verified in any country we have no way of knowing what the upside opportunity is for Google (or an agency). I did see Bill Hartzer noting that in a 10,000 listing sample of US SABs that 68% of them had been claimed. If that is the case then that would make my US numbers align perfectly with Phil’s. (.68 X .26 = .17)

* To see these numbers for any country you need to modiy the search with the name of the country (in its original language) and the phrase “View All” translated to that language. So a search on Poland would look like: Polska + “WYŚWIETL WSZYSTKO”

Developing Knowledge about Local Search