August 2, 2013
Will Google Helpouts replace the
Business Listing Places Page G+Local Page G+ Page for Local as the transaction platform for local commerce?
What is Helpouts you ask? It is a (not so) secret Google project that turns Hangouts into a commerce platform/marketplace ”that enables individuals and small and large businesses to buy and sell services via live video”. According to TechCrunch who broke the story last week about the product:
With the capacity to connect merchants and consumers on both an immediate and scheduled basis, .. the platform will allow sellers to .. take advantage of reputation management, scheduling and payment features, while offering robust search and discovery tools for consumers.
Google has also apparently partnered with a number of brands during internal testing, including One Medical Group, Sears, Weight Watchers and Alliance Frances, for example. At launch, the platform will also reportedly include an array of individual merchants and instructors as well, from yoga gurus to fitness teachers — all of whom will be able to offer both free and paid services to consumers via Helpouts.
According to our sources, with Helpouts, Google is looking to remove some of the barriers that have traditionally stood in the way of the seamless delivery of live services. For example, using Helpouts, a Spanish tutor from Argentina could offer language training to students in Japan, while a Yoga instructor in New York would be able to provide classes to a stay-at-home mom in Wyoming and an appliance repair shop could walk a customer through fixing a broken fan in their laptop — with an Internet connection being the only requirement.
Does this product indicate a totally new direction for Google in local? By leveraging their Hangouts product and going after the trainer, consulting, support niche with a marketplace, they are able to refine and develop local tools like scheduling in a market that is underserved while using technology where they have a technical lead (Hangouts). As Ted Paff of Customer Lobby, pointed out, this learning on the part of Google could lead to their very disruptive engagement in a number service businesses that need low cost scheduling and easy to use CRM. This would all be happening on top of G+ and not the local business page.
July 31, 2013
Google has had a busy week on the local front. The most significant of these updates are two new local interface conventions in the main search results. Clearly Google wants increase the visibility of their reviews and it is going to do so by keeping users on their front page.
Yesterday Andrew Shotland started seeing the local pop-up that provides review content directly in the main search results rather than requiring a user to head over to the G+ Page. According to Google this interface change is being rolled out universally. It is currently not seen by all users but will soon be visible by all and is a permanent change. Here are screenshots from Scott Rowley on G+.
The other major change is in the new Local Carousel. First written about yesterday by Dan Leibson, Google has added a faceted search facility to the carousel that allows users to discover and recover listings by ratings directly from the carousel and in the case of restaurants by pricing and cuisine as well. This feature was first seen in some of the early tests of the Local Carousel but seemed to have been dropped in the initial rollout.
Once a search is modified by rating (and in the case of restuarants, price and cuisine) a branded search results. One assumes that even on those the reviews will then be visible from the front page in a pop up.
When viewed in conjunction with the new City Expert program, one has to conclude that Google is looking to not just increase the visibility of reviews but to increase their quantity as well. With the bulk of a business information appearing in the side panel and the ease with which one can now view reviews on the front page, visitors will have fewer reasons to visit a businesses Plus local page from the main search results.
Small businesses will likely feel the sting and as Darren Shaw asked will also ask: “Why is Google abandoning their Plus Local pages?” I think that Google is looking to capture readers for a longer period of time at their main search results rather than “abandon” Plus Local pages. The reality is that many, many more readers are on the front page of Google than ever make it into a Plus local page. If Google can increase engagement on the home page by 2% that would far exceed even a 50% increase of engagement on a Plus local page in terms of “time at Google”. Perhaps Google thinks that the lost traffic to Plus Local page will be made up by increasing social content. Most small businesses will need to think long and hard about how much time they put into making the Plus page more engaging.
With the rollout of the knowledge panel the Plus local pages became largely irrelevant to searchers with the exception of reviews. Now that reason is gone as well. With these two more interface changes users will be more
trapped “engaged” in Google’s world and will be less tempted to visits other sites.
July 22, 2013
The Knowledge Panel sucks much more than Google Local these days. Its like “Déjà vue all over again” (for those Googlers and other readers too young to know the reference go here).
With the Knowledge Graph, like local, Google is attempting to reflect real information about the real world in their search results and, like in local, the disconnect between the real world and Google’s understanding of it can lead to erroneous results and bad outcomes.
Here is how Google described the Knowledge Graph upon its release in May of last year:
It’s not just a catalog of objects; it also models all these inter-relationships. It’s the intelligence between these different entities that’s the key.
The Knowledge Graph enables you to search for things, people or places that Google knows about—landmarks, celebrities, cities, sports teams, buildings, geographical features, movies, celestial objects, works of art and more—and instantly get information that’s relevant to your query
Knowledge results seem to suffer from many of the same fates as local listings such as merging and duplicates. And like Local in the days of old, there are very limited support mechanisms, no support team and no dedicated UI to feed trusted info. I suppose if the Grand Canyon has a wrong fact no one is likely to be hugely impacted but a certain percentage of Knowledge Graph entities are also real world businesses and brands and misinformation can be costly for them.
Typically the Knowledge Graph Panels seem to have different content than a local listing and it is more based on the structured data of Freebase, Wikipedia entries, the CIA Factbook and other sources that are NOT clearly identified. However if an entity already has a local listing then the Knowledge Graph Panel will draw some information (address, phone, reviews) from the canonical local data as well. It is at this intersection of landmarks and local where the impact of mistakes are obvious and the lack of full fledged support options become problematic for a business. And it is at this intersection of a business as cultural icon and local where the search volume is very high and the implications of even a few errors can impact a huge number of searchers and have a significant economic effect on the business.
The process for repair of a Knowledge Graph panel is simple enough. Perhaps too simple so as to be not very obvious. One only has to click on the small, grey “Feedback/More Info” link at the bottom of the panel to report bad information. The panel then offers the opportunity to flag any field of information as wrong.
Why is this problematic?
- First and foremost a business has to understand that there is a difference between a Knowledge Graph Panel result and a purely Local Panel result. Right. They have trouble understanding how Google handles a local listing so this level of knowledge seems unlikely.
- A business then needs to learn another new interface to report erroneous information to Google. Keeping up an accurate local listing given Google’s propensity to insert unwanted or old information is hard enough. But now some of them have to worry about a new way that Google can misrepresent them and a new way to fix it.
- The repair process does not allow for the input of the correct information so subtle errors can not be explained. It just allows you to mark something as wrong.
- The report process is slow if there is more than one field in error. You need to keep clicking on the feedback link for each error of the possibly several errors on the panel that you wish to report. And there is no way to fix an erroneously selected field once you have done so.
- There is no end-user feedback after fields have been marked as erroneous. Not an acknowledgment nor an indication that Google
gives a rat’s ass cares. Like in the early days of “Report a Problem” it feels like the report is going into a deep, dark and silent well. It would seem that an email or response from Google that they are looking at the data would provide some comfort.
- No “time to fix” is indicated. Again a business that needs the high volume of potential visitors to view correct information in the main search results is clueless whether it will be a day, a week or never before Google gets around to a fix.
- The repair process is distinct from the local repair process. What business really needs a totally new way to interact with Google?
- There is no support team to call and explain the nuances to. If you call the Local team for support about a local Knowledge Graph result with problems you are told, variously, that Local support doesn’t handle “front page results”, that it will need to be referred to an engineer or that you should go to Wikipedia and correct the information yourself (hello?).
- Some of the data clearly comes from local, some from Wikipedia and the like but some data comes from sources unknown and there is no obvious way to even track that down even if you did want correct it yourself.
- With results that are also local, the Knowledge Graph panel shows up in an arbitrary way and only on certain searches. Very similar searches for the same entity might result in the Knowledge graph result or pure Local Panel results.
How are businesses supposed to know or appreciate the difference between one panel type and the other? And then deal with a totally different set of rules for fixing it? A daunting task becomes even more so for most businesses desirous of showing accurate information and helping Google show that accurate information.
Here is a recent case study in a Local Knowledge Panel hybrid and the problems that I have encountered in attempting to get it correct:
July 19, 2013
Eagle eyed Phil Rozek of Local Visibility pointed out this example of a business with 4 reviews that is showing the new star treatment in the main search result for jewelry boston:
I thought that odd as previously it had seemed that 5 reviews was the limit to get the star treatment. Well it is odd. It seems that sometimes it is four reviews and sometimes it is five reviews. Go figure.
Here is a local carousel for a search (restaurants ellicottville, ny) where a listing with 4 reviews doesn’t have stars but 5 reviews does:
And another for a search for jewelry orlando which also shows no stars with four reviews and stars with five:
There is some factor that causes Google to consider 4 enough to show the stars. What it is, is not exactly clear. Ideas?
I did not notice this before but as the new Local Carousel takes on the 5-Star treatment, it appears that the Zagat brand is taking on a higher profile or at least its Z is.
This seems odd to me given Google’s move away from the Zagat rating system and having laid off all of their temporary Zagat workers and replaced them with full-time workers from Frommers. Business Insider noted: ”The future of Zagat book production looks extremely bleak,” says a source. ”The whole division as currently structured seems to be on death watch. Lots of chatter about outsourcing.”
It all becomes weirder when you realize that they then turned around and sold Frommer’s back to its original founder. It sounds more like a soap opera than a business transaction but at least they got a lot of data.
As David Mihm asked in this recent comment: Hard to say whether Zagat or Frommer’s was the bigger waste of money for Google…especially when you take into account all of the integration and dis-integration costs. I wonder if anyone on Wall Street is considering Marissa’s track record here WRT her spending spree at Yahoo?
The Zagat name and logo is mentioned at least 3 times in the brand panel as well (go figure – don’t ask me to explain Google’s thinking. $20 million here, $120 million there….is data and the Z really that valuable?):
More folks are reporting the visibility of the 5-Star system on the main search results that Google has been rolling out. I am seeing them at work in Chrome on my Mac but not in Safari or Firefox and I am still not seeing them at home. There were also reports of them being seen in the Netherlands so they are obviously going global simultaneously.
I was surprised to see that the same orangey color was being applied to both rich snippet reviews AND to AdWord reviews. The orange is very visible on the Local Carousel but less so against the white background on the main search results. It would be interesting to see an eye tracking study to see if they disrupt searcher behavior as much as the yellow color does.
The 5-Stars have been permanently moved onto the G+ Page and the new Maps and are still intermittent on the desktop. They have not yet been spotted in mobile search or on the old Maps yet.
(click to view larger)
July 17, 2013
Max Minzer captured the first screen shot of stars in the Carousel. The stars are shown with the stars AND ratio in the same red color but when contrasted with the black background they become very, very, very obvious. The reviews are much more obvious than in the 7-pack reported earlier.
(Click to view larger):
For reference here is the same screen shot that most folks are seeing with the Zagat notation:
I noticed the fact that the new mobile Maps apps for Droid and iPhone included “Enhanced navigation” out of the corner of my eye but it became apparent this morning as I started playing with the new iPhone App exactly what it meant. On the Lat-Long Blog Google noted:
Enhanced navigation: In addition to current traffic conditions, we’ve added two new features to help you navigate around traffic. You can now see reports of problems on the road that you can tap to see incident details. While on the road, Google Maps will also alert you if a better route becomes available and reroute you to your destination faster. This feature is available only on Android and is coming soon to iOS.
These road reports include construction information (obviously sourced from DOT etc) as well as incident reports. It is not at all clear where that information is coming from. It is interesting to me that Google is including this real time information prior to their full absorption of Waze. It is obvious that Google would have done real time data with or without the Waze acquisition. Perhaps not as well, perhaps not as thoroughly but done it none the less.
What will be interesting with Waze is whether Google is capable of sustaining their strong community. That has not been a strength of Google. It will also be interesting to see how Apple responds to this feature or if they are able to.
Here is a screen shot of the area around Philadelphia.
Update: We now have screen shots of the 5 Star treatment in the new Local Carousel
The last bastion of Zagat has finally been breached and reports are showing up of 5 Stars returning to the main search results page in the Pack. Poster Valesence shared her sighting of the new display at the LocalSearchForum.
Google announced the return to the 5-Star system in mid-May at the I/O Conference, along with the rollout of the new Google Maps. Phil Rozek reported their return to the Google+ Pages for local last week. The stars have not yet been reported on the new Local Carousel. But they are obviously undergoing testing and while they are are not universally visible it is only a matter of time before both the Pack and Carousel results both show 5-Stars.
Google replaced the yellow stars with the Zagat system in May, 2012 when Google rolled Places pages into Plus. It was clear from August of last year that Google was testing a return to the 5 Star system and they were never removed from local AdWords display.
Here is the screen shot of a 7-Pack with the “new” star treatment:
Screen Shot courtesy of Valesence/LocalSearchForum
July 3, 2013
Update: We have just learned from the folks at Third Door/SMX that we can offer a discount for your admission. The code WS-LUA10 (case-sensitive) provides a 10% discount off prevailing rate.
We just finished up a LocalU Advanced in Seattle and the feedback was great. It seems to early too be talking about the next one but here I am talking about the next one because the early, early bird special is ending in less than a month. Hope to see you there.
September 30th Local University Advanced will be held the day before SMX East 2013 at the Jacob Javits Center in NYC.
Whether you run an agency that serves brick-and-mortar businesses, work in-house for a large brand or Internet Yellow Pages publisher, or are trying to find the hottest opportunity in the bloodiest of all bleeding edges in search marketing, you won’t want to miss Local U East.
||Super Early Bird
Ends Jul 27
7/28 – 8/24
8/25 – 9/30
|With All Access Pass
These sessions will be action-packed, presented at an advanced level and feature ALL of the most up-to-date information about what’s working and what’s not in Local Search Engine Optimization.