AssistantOver the past year we  have seen the expansion of Google’s Reserve with Google call to action in all of their local products.

It was never very clear to me which categories were eligible for Reserve with Google  or which might get it in the future. Joel Headley of PatientPop recently shared a link to Google’s API documentation that clearly indicates which verticals are eligible for the feature and provides insights into both those that might get it and those that probably won’t.

At the highest level, it requires a merchant to have a physical address and a booking service compatible with Google’s API. Thus no service area businesses allowed.

Supported Services

Google lists off the types of services that are eligible although the docs is outdated as we know that restaurants, which are not on the list, are supported:

  • Appointments
  • Reservations
  • Classes
  • Activities
  • Basic ticketing
  • General admission day tours
  • Consults and evaluations
  • Signups and trials

And which health, fitness, spa and beauty categories are currently embraced

  • Acupuncture
  • Craniosacral therapy
  • Physiotherapy
  • Sports medicine
  • Sleep clinic
  • Drug testing
  • Retreat center
  • Speech pathologist
  • Meditation
  • Reiki
  • Massage
  • Lymph drainage
  • Spa
  • Skin care
  • Hair removal
  • Hair replacement

Non Supported Services

However, the most enlightening section details the types of categories and services that are explicitly not allowed.  Essentially any service that utilizes insurance payments, doesn’t have a confirmable, discreet bookable time slot or any on-demand service that is provided at the searchers home or place of business are proscribed.

The following is a list of some specific examples of services that aren’t supported:

  • Medical services:
    • Doctors, dentists, or surgery
    • Medical spas that aren’t covered by insurance
  • On-demand or home services:
    • A stylist that comes to your workplace
    • In-home trainers
    • A pet grooming truck
    • Field services, plumbers, or contractors
    • Mobile mechanics
  • Location-agnostic multi-day tours

If I were to speculate on the whys of this, the prohibition of on-demand service involves liability risks with the possibility of in home visits from unvetted businesses. I think Google’s approach to these types of businesses can be seen with the extra vetting required in the Local Service Ad program.

I assume, but do not know, that liability issues may still be present in the desire to avoid doctors, dentist and spa bookings as well.

It is also understandable that Google wants to avoid booking for things that are messy and include too much back and forth to nail down the schedule or might provide too much private information about the searcher.

The Future

We have seen the expansion of the program to restaurants,  museums and events. We also know that TripAdvisor and Yelp have signed as partners to this program.

In fact last week I saw my first screen shot of Yelp’s participation via the Duplex project reported in the VentureBeat last week*.

Google

Given that this program is available via an API and we know that beyond Yelp, TripAdvisor, Thryve and TicketMaster are all “coming soon” we can expect to see this transactional capability expanding across more categories and services.

Categories beyond those noted are speculative but obviously could include legal appointments and others.

Monetization

Clearly transactional capabilities in Maps, the Knowledge Panel and Google Assistant are coming and coming at a furious pace. While we have seen monetization of certain bookable events in the Local Service Ads arena, these Reserve with Google have not been monetized directly.

I would ask two questions:

What other categories might they include by the above. criteria?

Will Google further monetizate Reserve with Google beyond the the current API billing?

*It will be interesting to see if Yelp is “happy” with their positioning and this new program. 

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.

Google My Business is testing a new, direct in the GMB App messaging capability. This was noted by Casey Bryan(from down under) on Twitter and confirmed by Steven Johns in the UK:

I have yet to see a test in a US based company although I presume that there must be someone that has received beta access. The Help page notes that it is “currently available to select merchants in select countries”. And that it is not to be confused with the GMB’s SMS capabilities.

Casey Bryan

How it works (from the Help page):

Once you turn on messaging, customers will see a “Message” button on your Google My Business listing. Customers will then be able to message you at any time.

  • Messages will appear in the Google My Business app, and you’ll receive notifications for incoming messages.
  • You can customize the automated welcome message that customers will see when they message you.
  • If multiple people own or manage your Google My Business listing, each one can message with customers.
  • Customers may see your name and profile photo from your About me page

But this is a new and as yet unannounced capability that takes the GMB onto an independent path for b-c communications. This feature, like review responses and the new(ish) ability to communicate with followers, is a clear indication of the GMB is gaining capabilities for better b-c communications.

When viewed in tandem with their recent decision to allow GMB Website creators to use WhatsApp as the communication app of choice it also seems to indicate that the Google My Business team is marching to its own drummer vis a vis Google’s over arching messaging strategy (if you can call it that).

Google

Google’s messaging strategy has long confusing and not made less so by recent announcements to cut their messaging apps from 7 to 5 over the next few years as they focus on their new telco driven RCS messaging standard and their Hangouts Chat.

While I think that GMB efforts to create better communication between the consumer and the business is a good thing, this new beta for direct GMB messaging and support for WhatsApp both seem to further muddy Google’s larger messaging strategy.

In case the Tweet is ever removed, here is the screenshot of the capability being announced in the GMB App:

twitter

 

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.

Who knew? Near Me searches peak on the weekends.

In October, I noted that Near Me searches, while generally going up, had a distinct seasonal peaks in July and December. Actually more careful analysis shows those peaks to fall around the 4th of July and the week right after Christmas.  Both correspond with high travel periods.

The fact that, when viewed over a shorter time  fame, it is obvious that they peak on weekends seems to confirm their most common use is likely associated with travel.

4th of July
Each peak covers a two day week end.

These queries viewed over the last 90 days reflect both travel and seasonal interests:Christmas

However, I found this two year look back telling. It appears that folks were very interested in finding nearby early voting opportunities. Barring that they needed some psycho-active stimulation or escape.

high travel periodsMakes sense to me.

 

 

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.

Google has the unique ability to look like they are doing something about systemic problems in Local when in reality it is just misdirection.

Spam reporting is but one flagrant example of this. I recently reported some obvious spam. Any effing idiot could see that it is spam and yet my edit was denied. #ShameOnGoogle

Cincinnati

Curious, I called the number and it was clear that it was lead gen spam. After a set of qualifying questions from the auto attendant, it directed me to the corporate offices of Liberty Mutual in Orlando.

Obviously these are showing in the search results. So naturally I set aside all of 15 minutes and explored whether this was just a regional or nationwide “marketing effort”.

Denver

Clearly these are national in scope. #ShameOnGoogle

I called bogus listings in Cincinnati, Buffalo, Denver and Los Angeles (when I stopped looking) and was asked the exact same set of qualifying questions by the exact same automated attendant but each call led me to different actual AllState or State Farm etc agents around the country. Usually in the same state but often hundreds of miles away from the pin. Often the listings were not even verified.

Google

Orlando

State Farm

Another flagrant example of Google’s misdirection is when I meet with Google about spam, I am often told “Show us the pattern” or “we can’t do anything if we don’t know the pattern” or “we are a search company and have a lot on our plate” or “blah, blah, blah”.

WTF? This pattern isn’t complicated, it isn’t hidden, it isn’t all that difficult to figure out… #ShameOnGoogle.

Google if you are reading this, here is the pattern: reported as spam, suspiciously spammy name, with exactly the same listings effing EVERYWHERE and they all ring into the same automated attendant.

Shame on you.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.

advertising toolsFake reviews are a long term AND growing problem at Google. The unfortunate reality is that Google helped create this illegal market place and benefits from it economically.

Google has, over the years, created both new opportunities in existing markets AND created new market opportunities. 

And Google often touts the economic benefits that it brings to society.  In fact Google claims that “last year, Google’s search and advertising tools helped provide $283 billion of economic activity for more than 1.5 million businesses, website publishers, and nonprofits nationwide”.

Unfortunately Google doesn’t much care whether the activity created is legal. And they only proactively go after illegal activity once it has become a visible public relations problem.

The drug rehab space comes to mind (although there are many other previous and current examples). Google did very little until the Verge expose by Cat Ferguson brought national attention to the abuses of needy people by unscrupulous Rehab Centers in the fall of 2017.

This pattern of market creation and profiting from illegal activity on Google’s part is no where more true than with fake reviews. 

– Google created search results that favor businesses with more reviews. 

– Google has rarely created significant barriers to fake reviews, often allowing them at massive scale. 

– New businesses sprang up to help local businesses get more, often illegal, reviews. It would appear from the scale and increasing frequency that this has become a criminal enterprise that includes threats and retaliation to those that report them.

– Google supports a vibrant market place for businesses to sell fake reviews using Google’s organic, email, video and ad platforms. 

– Google profits from this illegal marketplace by selling AdWords into the space

– Google has done little to dampen or eliminate the fake review market despite the fact that it is both against their terms of service and a violation of state and national laws. And Google externalizes the costs associated with identifying the spam review to volunteers. 

– While there has been some limited public relations blow back on the review front, Google has not yet put in place adequate filters for fake reviews, does not filter these illegal results from their search engine and apparently has not enforced rules in Adwords that prohibit advertising their acquisition. 

– Ultimately, after years of neglecting growing problems, when the spam  gets so bad that it makes the product worthless, Google tends to throw up their hands and create a pay to play product like Local Service Ads or Google Shopping.

It really doesn’t matter where you look on Google, the activity to sell fake reviews is obvious and easy to find. 

Last week, a Gmail user solicited me to buy illegal reviews. I had a long and interesting back and forth with him (I assume it is a him) about the quality and reliability of his product. He notes that he only uses long standing Google accounts and can thus guarantee that he can get me  reviews every month .

All the accounts that we use to post the reviews are 6-10 years old that we have been maintaining as a real person would do, that is why we are able to maintain more than 95% success rate with the reviews we post and that is what makes the reviews look organic and real.

Google

After some negotiation, he guaranteed that he could provide me with 10 Google reviews every month on his subscription plan for only $50. And the first month was free!

Search Google for buy fake reviews and while the first few results are why you shouldn’t buy them, I am sure that the organic result in the number 4 position gets most of the click throughs. 

public relations

A quick search on YouTube finds fake review offers at the top of the results. 

search engine

Never one to leave a new market place untapped, Adwords continues to provide opportunities for businesses to sell into the space.  And for Google to profit from this activity. 

visible public relations problem

Google lives in a very strange world, with near categorical protection from use of their platform by bad actors, only reacting when a problem becomes so big that they have to respond or face the wrath of the public and the government.

Fake reviews certainly warrant a response from Google. Legitimate businesses are hurt every day and more importantly consumers world wide are deceived. And yet they continue to act as if it isn’t a critical issue.

Google’s failure to act decisively in the review space, now that they are THE local monopoly and dominate the review space, will ultimately decay consumer trust in reviews and lead to the failure of reviews as an alternative to traditional word of mouth.

What will it take to make them respond? It remains to be seen.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.

The number of online shops is growing exponentially, and the competition level facing entrepreneurs is growing with it. Having the best product is far from enough! You can lose customers over the smallest details, so the transactional journey you provide should meet the highest standards.

To help out the business community we have conducted research powered by SEMrush Site Audit to find out which issues e-commerce websites are struggling with most. We have scanned 1,300 online shops for 80 technical and SEO issues, varying widely from mild nuisances to severe business-damaging errors.

We have gone over all the common on-page and technical SEO issues, including problems with HTTPS implementation, hreflangs, crawlability, site architecture, and more.

Guess what? Even the biggest retail websites have errors! Our research will help to give you an educated overview of your website’s health and find new ways to improve your business.

Paul Lovell, international SEO & PPC consultant and Founder at Always Evolving SEO, shared his expertise and concluded the research. We’ve also asked industry experts from all around the world to share their advice.

 

SEMrush Study: The 80 most common e-commerce website mistakes

Paul Lovell SEO & PPC Consultant

Via: https://www.semrush.com/blog/most-common-ecommerce-website-mistakes/?utm_source=sej&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=%D0%95%D1%81ommerceq4

GoogleLast 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.

HVAC

When “More Places” is selected the searcher is taken to the Mobile Finder

image management

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.

machine learning
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.

restaurant search results
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”.

Google
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.

HVAC
The crop is still centered weighted but wider in the mobile Knowledge Panel.

And on the desktop you can see a totally different crop the shows in the  local finder.

image management
Once again a different crop but like all, centered weighted.

Last but not least is the fact that Google seems to be experimenting with images and swapping out the cover photo and occasionally showing a different image. It seems to me that this image is perhaps more contextually relevant to the query but it could just as well be a usability test or a machine learning training exercise.  machine learning

I would be curious to hear of your examples of the types of images Google is showing when swapping out and whether they seem to be query related.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.

This is my second post in the “who the f knows” series.

And it relates to Google now showing the book or schedule button in the 3 pack. Or not showing as the case may be.

When your boss comes and sees you and asks why are your booking buttons not showing you can either say “who the f’ knows” or the current, more accurate variant “Only Google f’ing knows”.

On a tangental a note, these book buttons were first spotted in the SERPS by Sergey Alekov in February when Google released Reserve with Google in Canada. I don’t think they showed in the SERPS reliably at that point.

In fact they still don’t show in the SERPS reliably.

Over the past day or two I have spotted the following desktop and mobile variations involving or not involving the booking button as the case may be.

Mobile variants:

Alphabet Inc.CanadaGoogleDesktop Variants

Sergey Alekov World Wide Web

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.

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

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.

Transactions in Local Search via Google’s Reserve with Google tool have historically been limited to Knowledge Panel results.

It appears that this transactional capabilities being expanded or will be expanded to include embedding calls to action directly into the Local 3-Pack search results. And given Google’s obvious expansion of the Reserve with Google we can expect to see these sorts of results in many new verticals going forward.

above search

Reserve with Google, Google’s back end tool that connects local listings to assorted booking tools but keeps the whole transaction process with-in the Google mothership, was first released last fall.

At that time, it was initially focused on Spas and Gyms that worked with a limited set of 12 scheduling apps.  In April of this year, restaurant booking using the Reserve app was added via OpenTable.

Subsequently Google expanded the number of scheduling app partners to now having 36 partners with an additional 33 partners “coming soon”.

Google has moved into new verticals with their reserve tool beyond those mentioned above. We know that Google is allowing for restaurant order take out via the Reserve with Google tool (or something very similar) using their “on-demand platform“.

demand tool OpenTable

 

We have also seen Google’s on demand tool showing up for Hotel bookings.

[Update] Tom Waddington pointed out that he has just stated seeing Reserve with Google showing up in the Garage Door category as well. Home services is an obvious area but one that I had not yet seen.

[Update] Sergey Alakov noted in August that Reserve With Google Expand[ed] to Attraction and Museum Ticket Purchase

The coming soon list includes Yelp, TA, Eventbrite, Thryve and CouresHorse to name but a few partners. So we can anticipate starting to see many, many more transaction types in the Knowledge Panel in areas perhaps as diverse as education, professional services, home stays and who knows what else

And if the above search is any indication, we will start seeing these transaction capabilities directly in the main local search results with ever increasing frequency as Google’s local search becomes ever more transactional in nature.

Book with Google partners:

Reserve

 

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.