All posts by Mike Blumenthal

Google Testing (or Rolling out?) New 3-Pack Carousel

Downdated 6/22: This was reported by Barry Schwartz as first spotted in November by Velentin Pletzer and seen off and on in June by tl;dr Marketing. The current widespread visibility implies that this might be the rollout and not a test.

Over the weekend, my mobile devices are all seeing a new 3-pack with a carousel display for the images within the pack. The new 3-Pack Carousel is showing for packs that are typically shopping related (jewelry, car dealers etc) but not for those packs that are service focused like lawyers or locksmiths.

The carousel includes 5 images and at least the first of those appears to match the search query intent. IE if the search is for engagement ring or earrings, the first image reflects that query.

Click to view larger

Despite the increasing number of photos directly visible in the pack, Google, ever increasing their control of the mobile local surface, continues to display the “Search by photos” carousel below the pack.

Click to view larger. Note how the first image of the carousels is query intent related. This search for engagement rings shows an engagement ring for the first image.

Google Maps Updated to Include Black Lives Matter Plaza

As noted by John Gruber, sometimes the pen can send a mighty message. Or rather in this case, a paint brush.

Yesterday (Friday), The Mayor of DC declared part of a street that runs near the White House “Black Lives Matter Plaza”, inaugurating the new plaza with giant yellow letters and a brand-new street sign.

Today (h/t to co-worker Hector Rovira) Google Maps has already been updated to reflect this new name of the street and the plaza.

There are many things that Google Maps could do better, no doubt. But in terms of their ability to keep Maps updated to reflect the ever changing reality on the ground is worth a shout out. (Note the comment on nearby St Johns).

I am anxiously awaiting the satellite image update.

The World’s Best Bialys and Local Search’s Worst Nightmare – Robots.txt

Update 6/14: Google has now started to index the site. As of now there are two of about 20 pages that have been indexed.

Update 6/12: Good news. Kossars have fixed their robots.txt file and removed the disallow function that prevented Google from indexing them. Onward and upward.

User-agent: *


I was thinking about New York City today. For a million personal and historic reasons, when I think about NYC my mind goes to bialys. Not just any bialy. But the world’s best bialys, the ones by Kossars.1

A bialy2 for the non-initiate is best described as a bagel with character although it really isn’t a bagel at all. And Kossars, well Kossars is Kossars. A NYC landmark and a remnant of the Lower East Side Jewish ghettos of the last century3.

So any ways back to my story. I thought about NY, bialys and Kossars and rather than ordering from Goldbelly, I wanted to see if I could avoid the middle man. So I searched for Kossar’s bialy to see if they shipped direct.

What did I find? AARGH!

A typical small business website (a nice looking one though) disabled by a robot.txt file idiocy.

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

I did what any red blooded citizen of jewish, New York descent would do who is desperate for some noshing… I called them and tried to explain the problem.  I spoke with the front counter, the manager and finally someone that seemed like the owner. Despite being clueless, she gave me her email and promised to share it with her webmaster.

I sent along detailed instructions how to avoid the ignominy of the world’s easiest way to drop out of sight in local search. Let’s see if they get it fixed.

1  These bialys are so good that sometimes Andrew Shotland by way of thanks sends them my way for a large client I send his way. He is not cheap, he just appreciates the finer things in life. 

2. A bialy really is unique. No sweet, no raisins, a savory only tour de force with a very chewy crust, onions in a lump in the middle and a lot of holes that delivers butter AND/OR cream chees &  lox better than any thing I have ever found. They are frequently made with lye. 

3. According to Wikipedia Kossar’s Bialys, originally known as Mirsky and Kossar’s[4] when Isadore Mirsky and Morris Kossar founded it in 1936. I am afraid to ask what happened to Mirsky.

Google My Business Websites Pass 36 Million Created – Why Should You Care?

Google My Business Websites, first released publicly in June of 2017, has passed 36 million sites created and continues on a strong upward trend.

From the beginning, GMB Websites has seen strong growth, passing a million sites built within the first 6 months and really taking off,  passing 10 million sites built, by the fall of 2018.

Total Google My Business Websites Since Introduction
Click to view larger

Google has done this by focusing on a few target countries. The bulk of the ~37 million sites have been created in the top 10 countries with almost 95% of the sites created coming from those few countries.


Total Sites







United States






Êó•Êú¨ (Japan)






Viet Nam




With all of the European countries taken together, only 5 countries/  regions created almost 34.5 million sites, 93.6% of the total.

The growth and penetration has been particularly strong in India, Indonesia and Brazil, serving Google’s “next billion users”.  In this chart you can see where Google is most obviously focusing their efforts.

Brazil’s start of hockey stick growth occurred much later than early starters, India and Indonesia, but since early 2019 has seen a growth rate to equal that of India’s. And has zoomed into a solid 3rd place.

GMB (Google My Businesss Websites) Created in top 5 Regions
Click to view larger

But growth has been persistent, if not as steep, in the developed world as well. If you look at just Europe, including the UK, you can see steady and significant growth with well over 1 million sites created.


GMB Websites created in Europe since June 2017
Click to view larger

Why Should You Care?

To many Local Marketers in the US and UK, Google My Business Websites have been largely ignored. Often for good reason; they are single page sites only, have limited controls over critical Meta information, and have very weak analytics.

The sites however are very fast, fully mobile and HTTPS compliant, offer decent CTAs and are super easy to build.

The Big Picture

If you remember back to 2012-14 when Google was mired in the morass of Google Plus, they were losing the mobile local race to Facebook and losing badly. Businesses in the developing world flocked to create Facebook pages and even many companies in the US perceived that a Facebook only presence was enough to handle their online marketing.

This website growth, part and parcel of the Google Local Team’s post G+ efforts, tells  the bigger story that Google Local is back, has increasing mindshare worldwide and is not going to give Facebook any slack in the Local space whether in India or the US.

While Google’s 36 million sites might pale to Facebook’s stated number of ~90 million or so SMB pages of Facebook, when viewed with their many other efforts in the local space, it is a clear message that Google intends to not just compete but to dominate in the space.

The Medium Picture

Should the website builders of the world worry?

WordPress with over a billion sites created has little to worry about but if you are building sites into the low end of this space, you should be very, very concerned about your future prospects.

Wix for example has about 4 million sites and given, their poor site performance on so many measures, should definitely be looking over their shoulder.

The Tactical Picture

What does this all mean for Local Marketers? If you are selling $6000 WordPress sites to lawyers, there is little of interest here. But I think that it presents and incredible opportunity at the very low end of the market as an entry level product.

If you are looking to develop relationships with the sorts of businesses that will grow into a 10 or 20 page website but are just now getting started or if you want to bundle this up with other services like reputation management and/or photos and Google Posts, Google My Business Websites has potential as a product in your line up.

When combined with a few other services these sites can offer a jumping off point that can convert prospects into customers and some of those customers into much more profitable relationships.

The Future Picture

Google’s ambitions know no bounds. Just because this is a one page product today doesn’t mean it will stay a one page product. If you think about it, it is but a small leap from here to location and product pages for enterprise.

Currently a Google My Business website, although a single page, also is home to your Google Posts, reviews and menus. It is not hard to imagine either, it being expanded to multiple pages for SMBs with about sections, products and additional transactions & CTAs.

Google plays the long game. Websites for Local is a mission critical part of that. Regardless of whether a GMB Website has a place in your selling lineup, it is a product that you should keep an eye on as a harbinger of both Google’s ambition and their successes.



Google Rolls Out Business Provider Plan to Replace Trusted Verifier Program

Google has begun rolling out their Business Provider program to replace the Trusted Verifier Program that was recently terminated. 

The Business Provider program is designed to let organizations like Chambers of Commerce or banks with small business clients facilitate a Google My Business Verification for their members or clients. 

Groups or organizations share business data with Google to generate verification codes on behalf of businesses. My Business Providers distribute these codes to the businesses, who then use the codes to quickly verify their listing on Google My Business. The code generated for a business is usable by that particular business only. 

The interface is web based and is super simple, allowing either a bulk upload or a single business to receive a “token” that can be used for verification. There is API access to code generation as well. 

Participants in the program may not show any badge or graphic on their website but they may, in speaking with potential businesses, say that they “partner with Google to help small businesses build a successful online campaign on Google Search and Maps”.

Google allows and encourages partners to actively reach out to their members/clients with the activation codes even if the member has expressed no previous interest in the program.  

While the program can be utilized by Streetview Trusted Photographers (with at least Level 6 Local Guide recognition), it is not available to any agency that actively manages listings or to any SEO. 

Google notes that “various providers, such as banks, auto-dealers, delivery and distribution companies, telephone companies, tourism and governmental organizations, malls, airports, etc. that offer real-world services are eligible to apply for the My Business Provider program”.

In the FAQ they specifically state:

  • The proposed partner must not have access to the business listings they are verifying.
  • Agencies, SEOs, and resellers are not eligible for this program. 

It was long thought that the Trusted Verifier Program was an on-going source of Local Listing Spam. It is not clear what if any additional protections Google put in place to prevent this program from becoming the same. 

What could possibly go wrong?


New Google Local Discovery: Search by Photos

On mobile, Google is showing a new image based search interface. It is currently a supplement to the 3 Pack for local keyword searches and it shows local results visually based on an image matching the search query.

The new mobile focused search method does not yet appear on the desktop. It is not clear how permanent this new feature is but it is interesting in a number of respects.

It appears well below the Local Pack and organic results on keyword searches and displays local listings with an image that matches the keyword query. If you search for engagement rings williamsville on mobile you will see the local listings showing engagement rings, their business name and a star rating.

If on the other hand you search for earrings williamsville, ny, it will show many of the same local listings but with images of earrings instead of engagement rings.

As has been Google’s typical behavior over the past few years, this new search interface heads rapidly “down the rabbit hole” into a totally immersive experience allowing the searcher three ways to enter the netherworld.

A given image can be selected and the user will be taken to that business’s profile. If the user selects “More photos” immediately below the image carousel or selects  “View All” when they scroll to the right the user is taken to a grid of images where the user can either view the locations in the Local finder list view or again click into the image to see the business profile. 

Some observations:

1- This is a highly visual search metaphor and is very engaging.

2- It obviously relies on Google’s ability to understand the content of an image that has been uploaded to the business’s listing. We have seen similar examples of Google’s image understanding recently  where we saw Google swapping out images in the local pack based on the user query.

3- Google is clearly using sophisticated image recognition in  this endeavor and is quite successful at it. 

For now this new search metaphor is buried down the page, several scrolls below the ads, the pack and the organic results. But if users accept this new way of interacting with local businesses it could at some point replace the Local Pack for discovery.

Minmally it should be seen as one more way that Google understands a business entity, what they do and what they sell. 

Once again Google is ringing the image bell and local merchants need to pay attention. Your listing will win or lose its conversion battle based on the images that Google chooses to show.

It means that not only will you need multiple images for every important product category that you sell and want to show for, but it means that the images need to be done so well that they stand out from the competitors in the battle for clicks. 

It’s time to start hiring a pro or learning how to take luscious photos yourself.

Google Local Tests Continue With New CTA and Related Searches

I seem to be hooked into Google’s test servers these days as I am seeing a lot of tests that include the good, the bad and the very ugly of local search tests. As well as the occasional WFT?

In this most recent test, Google has taken the larger call to action and the suggested search ideas from the Scroll Pack test and grafted them onto the 3 Pack (maybe we should start calling it the 4-Pack?).

This test is very interesting, taking elements of the Scroll pack test but applying them to the traditional 3 Pack.

The more obvious “View more” call to action would seem likely to attract significant user attention.

The suggested alternative searches likewise would get some traffic and those business that do well across multiple categories are likely to benefit from these results. Pay attention to HKM Employment Attorneys in the above example.

Also note also that the suggested searches, when expanded, show four local listings not three. Room for an ad?

The number of suggested alternative searches varies from a few to many depending the category searched with restaurants having the most.

Regardless, these suggested alternative searches, when selected, continue to push the organic results further and further down the page.

Want to Protest SeaWorld? Visit their Knowledge Panel for Details

We have long noted that you rent but don’t own your business profile at Google. As Tim Capper has previously pointed out that is no more true than with the careless scraping of event sites that Google pulls off to add events to local search results. 

You do though, just have to wonder when the likes of SeaWorld might start to give Google an earful about providing details on an animal rights protest on their Business Profile (aka the Knowledge Panel) when users search for SeaWorld events.

Or when the Dallas Petland might have a hiccup about the Dallas Puppylmill protests when you search for Dallas Petland events:

Continue reading Want to Protest SeaWorld? Visit their Knowledge Panel for Details

Google Local Testing Splitting CTA’s From Main Business Profile on Mobile

Google always tests a lot and for some reason I have been seeing a number of these tests on one of my accounts on my iPhone. Changes in the layout of the mobile branded result were spotted by Joy in June. Here is another albeit an obvious test as I am only seeing on one of my Google iPhone log ins and not the other. 

Google is testing splitting off the main Business Profile (aka Knowledge Panel) CTA’s like calling and driving directions and moving them further down the page.

And then inserting various organic and Knowledge Graph elements between the main profile info and the calls to action. How far down the page seems to be search dependent. As does where various elements of the Knowledge Graph gets placed. 

Look at the two searches, one for Anchor Bar near me and the other for Anchor Bar Buffalo NY and note the differences. 

On the Near Me result above, the CTAs are almost at the bottom of the page below the events and alternative suggestions.

While on the Anchor Bar Buffalo NY search below they are much closer to the top and above the events.

Continue reading Google Local Testing Splitting CTA’s From Main Business Profile on Mobile

Google Local Events: Immersive Experience or Endless Loop?

My nephew and his fiancee recently moved back to Buffalo NY from San Francisco. Their dream was to help create and foster the art scene in the reviving Buffalo urban culture. So they created the Buffalo Institute for Contemporary Art (aka BICA)1

They bought some gallery space and put up a somewhat inadequate  SquareSpace website2. They did, upon my advice, add events  to their site3.

And after some nagging4 on my part, they verified their Google listing. And despite Squarespace cocking up the schema, Google added their events to their business profile. 

Google has long spoken about the immersive search experience as a way to give the user the answers they are looking for. Without leaving Google. Probably not a bad idea in general for much of local.

But in this case, while a searcher may get immersed in looking for event details from the business profile ( aka Knowledge Panel) it really is more like an endless loop of idiocy.

Selecting the obvious links once a user has clicked through to the event on Google to get to the Institute’s website doesn’t take the user to the website at all. Google takes the user back to the business profile to try again.

What kind of crappy experience is that?

Head over to Google to try it: Buffalo Institute of Contemporary Art

Click on an event and try it yourself5.

1- the least I can do is throw them a link. Is nepotism the same as buying links?

2- Kids just don’t listen. I tried to tell them that there were better alternatives than SquareSpace but did they listen? Noooo.

3- OK, they listen sometimes.

4- Who? Me? Nag?

5- Some brand searches couldn’t hurt either