Why Google Is Becoming the ‘New Homepage’ for SMBs

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In this regular Street Fight feature, local marketing gurus David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal 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, great to talk to you again. A little birdie told me you were at the Oregon Coast this week after attending MozCon Local. As my state’s self-designated craft beer ambassador, may I recommend the award-winning Pelican Brewery before you head home?

Mike: Soaking in the sights (as in soaking rain). My wife is traveling with me and I really wanted a break after two days of intensive local training and speaking. But it was a great conference.

David: As you know, I was at LSA17 last week during the same time (also great). I thought maybe we could share our experiences with each other and our readers in this week’s conversation. What was your biggest takeaway from MozCon Local?

Mike: The biggest is really that Google has really become the new home page for most small businesses. That so many things are happening right on Google; clicks to call, driving directions, etc., and even more so than a website. For a business to do well there, things like photos, reviews (everywhere) and other visuals are becoming ever more important. And it appears that Adwords will follow will this trend and that more and more activity will take place either on the first page of Google or a subsequent Google hosted result.  

David: The “new homepage” idea was certainly a theme that Andrew Shotland and I tried to convey during our breakout session at LSA. Fewer webpage results and fewer clickthroughs for SEOs to target.

Certainly Google is monetizing more and more real estate, and as they roll out new hybrid ad formats like Home Services and Hotel Finder into other markets, these will have a major disruptive effect on SEO, at least for high-volume “head” terms.

What surprised me in San Diego was the depth of many publishers’ antipathy towards Adwords. It’s a super low-margin product for them to resell, incredibly complicated onboarding and management, and as a result many of them are just pushing their clients’ ad dollars over to Facebook. Some publishers even went so far as to say that on a cost-per-lead basis, once you factor in management costs and reseller margin, print is actually cheaper than Adwords for many clients.

Without a compelling and effective DIY product to backfill this loss of resold Adwords, Google’s arrogance of being the only game in town may start to have a meaningful impact on their bottom line. Facebook is definitely eating into their share of wallet.

Mike: And yet the user still goes there first. I think you will see an ever increasing number of super easy front page tools both free (like Google Posts) and paid being made available. But whether they can overcome their geeky, engineering culture is another question.

Another takeaway from MozCon is that Local is finally maturing on the analytics side and it is growing ever more possible to develop powerful Key Performance Indicators across multiple platforms even for very small businesses. It’s an area where Moz should have a decent product and it’s something that we have talked about before…. Knowing what, low in the funnel, is a good proxy for a store visit is becoming more trackable and more easily understood in the reporting. We are still 6 months away from a single, integrated view of this pre-sale activity but its coming and with a little work can be kludged together today.

David: That was actually a direct question from one of the attendees of Andrew’s and my session. Right now, it’s incredibly kludgey to pull these metrics together. As you know, I don’t believe this is a successful SMB product in-and-of-itself, but certainly for the national marketers in the audience, it’s essential.

I follow Square pretty closely, so although I was not surprised by their presentation at LSA, it was hard not to be impressed with the product suite they’ve built. Not only do they already have a lot of these KPIs consolidated into a dashboard for SMBs running their point-of-sale system, but they’ve built a product that will automatically market that SMB based on “big-data” triggers. Which I think is a key function for any future rollup dashboard — taking action on the SMB’s behalf based on the data, not just showing it to them.

The amazing thing to me was the lack of reaction from the publishers in the audience. If I’d seen that presentation as a VP or CEO of a publisher, I’d start filtering out businesses running Square from the prospects I called on. There’s just no way to compete with them on the marketing front. They’ve solved an even more primal pain point for the SMB than marketing (payments), and as a result of collecting transactional data, their marketing product is cheaper and more effective than anyone else’s could ever be. (As an aside, this was Neal Polachek’s thesis during another excellent session at LSA.)

Mike: We have talked about the end-to-end marketing solutions before where the platform is doing everything except the in-store/in-office interaction. These platforms can help find & drive customers pre-sale and stay in touch with them post-sale and as you point out make decisions. It seems to me that is the future of SMB marketing.

David: I guess that’s what I was trying to say, but you said it better :).

Mike: My final takeaway relates to the article we did several weeks ago about how Google determines entity authority (see my presentation here). As we move down the road to more entity results, more Knowledge Graph ranking metrics (Cindy Krum did a great presentation on this) and more Voice, businesses and agencies need to change how they view their digital marketing activities. They need to move away from a deconstructed view of 200 ranking factors to a targeted view of achieving authority on the sites that Google uses as reference points. This will allow them to do well in current reality of local search but also position themselves for the coming reality of voice, whenever it gets here.

David: Definitely agree with that. Success in the Knowledge Panel era of today will beget success in the Voice Search era of tomorrow.

The difficulty of teasing out marketing tactics to influence entity authority, though, makes Local SEO a harder proposition than it used to be–and for the service providers at LSA, a much tougher product to resell. And Google may well provide enough DIY tools around photos, menus, reviews, and transactions within Google My Business that further undercut the existing low-hanging SEO fruit.
Mike: Well for me it means that the smart money will be on doing real marketing work like content, social and reputation rather than “link building,” and will be a pleasant shift for both the businesses and the agencies.

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 GetListed.org, 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.