As Google Pushes for Users to Stay on Its Platform, What Are the Effects for Local Search

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In this Street Fight feature, local marketing gurus David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal semi-regularly kick around some of the biggest ideas affecting the local search ecosystem and the broader industry. Send an email or leave a comment if you have specific topics that you’d like them to touch on in future columns!

David: Hey Mike, hope you had a great Labor Day weekend. As nice as our summer has been in the Pacific Northwest, I’m always ready for my favorite season: fall. Not least because of all the great conferences coming up! One of them at the top of our minds is obviously Local U Advanced, where Cindy Krum is keynoting.

Mike: Yes that will be interesting… I seem to remember Cindy saying at a previous conference that Google wants to become the Presentation Layer of the Internet. That seems prophetic with all of the developments over the past year. Actually both the presentation layer AND the application layer (OSI Model).

The pace of developments at the upper level of the model in the last year is pretty stunning:

Place Actions in the Knowledge Panel (08/15)

AMP Project (10/15)

Install Apps directly from search (1/16)

Play Android games within search (3/16)

Instant Apps within Search 5/16

Even Solitaire and of course Google Posts (1/16) for SMBs.

David: For sure. I thought Jon Henshaw’s recent post on Medium laid it out beautifully as well. Google is enabling/forcing users to engage with more and more content directly in a Google interface, as opposed to sending them to a third-party website.

Mike: There are several aspects to the move. One is the rabbit hole effect that drives Jeremy Stoppelman so crazy. Jon mentions that and I saw it with their Travel queries answers last March as well.

David: In my most luxurious Trump voice, “many people are saying” that this is in part a move of desperation as they try compete with Facebook, where one out of every five mobile minutes is spent, for consumer attention.

Mike: Obviously Google still controls a fair bit of the searcher’s pre-purchase mindshare, and they obviously want to retain that role. They are also fighting like crazy to be relevant in a world where 50% (and growing) of users’ total digital media time is spent in Apps.

David: Yeah, and that 50% number is actually 90% on mobile.

Mike: Clearly Google needs to keep search relevant while people are still using it. How do you think moving all of the data and the execution of that data into search will impact Local? Clearly with their recent expansion of Google Posts where a small business can post in the SMB arena it seems that at least for the developing world businesses Google wants search to be the beginning and the ending of the user experience.

David: I have to disagree with you on Posts. Posts are a political bone thrown to the last remaining survivors of the Plus team. They’ll disappear once Google has enough good structured data about developing-world businesses from directories or other (more active) social sources.

Posts run counter to everything Google is focused on with the Knowledge Graph and with mobile in general: structured data that provides instant answers.

The beginning and end of the user experience with respect to Local is the ordering of a product or the booking of a service.  Amit Singhal’s interview with Danny Sullivan is enlightening in this regard.

I predict Posts disappear in the next 18 months–sounds like a good betting opportunity :).

Mike: We will have to agree to disagree about Posts. Obviously they are in early beta still so predictions and bets are premature. But there are always multiple reasons for Google to introduce a product. And this one comes on the heels of all the efforts we noted above.

I think Posts, like AMP, is an intrinsically fast, mobile experience that is an attempt by Google to keep users on Google and not have them go elsewhere for content. And when you combine that with the transactional capabilities that Place Events bring to the Knowledge Panel you will have content and service/sale completion all in one spot. No need to go elsewhere. Start and end the local service/sale in search.

David: But AMP is designed for media companies, a category into which content-challenged small businesses aren’t usually placed :).

But there’s one place we can agree–Google’s focus on transaction. That’s going to be the key to the entire puzzle as Google looks ahead to a world in which sending searchers to a website is not a realistic (or desirable) experience: Local voice search.

Mike: Whether Posts make it to the Big Leagues or not remains an open question. That Google is attempting to control the presentation and application layers of the internet appears to be answered in the affirmative Obviously Google needs to keep people at/in search as long as possible NOW to garner both profits and mindshare as the world shifts to voice search.  This is and will continue to impact Local Search as Google aggregates more content from relevant local parties like 3rd party reviews, original content via Posts and expands the transactional capabilities of the Knowledge Panel.

Got an idea for what you want Mike and David to discuss next time? Send it to either [email protected] or [email protected], or just leave a comment below and we’ll put it in the hopper!

After more than a decade in local search, David Mihm now serves as VP of Product Strategy at ThriveHive, leading the direction of the company’s search-related product offerings. He’s also the Founder & CEO of Tidings, an email newsletter platform for small businesses that leverages their everyday social media activity, and his own weekly newsletters, Minutive and the Agency Insider. He’s the former founder of, Director of Local Strategy at Moz, and along with Mike Blumenthal, he’s a co-founder of Local University. Mike Blumenthal is the co-founder and analyst at Near Media where he researches and reports on reputation, reviews and local search. Mike has been involved in local search and local marketing strategy for almost 20 years. He explores the online to offline local ecosystem and helps businesses understand it and benefit from it through writing, speaking and education.