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 us an email or leave a comment if you have specific topics that you’d like them to touch on in future columns!
Mike: Rode my bike into work today. It was glorious. Low 70’s and along the Alleghany River. Couldn’t make for a better start to the day.
David: That’s great, Mike. I rode my bike 1.1 miles to Apex (my favorite bar in Portland) last week; am I in your league yet?
Mike: Hardly. The beer MORE than offset the mile.
Mike: So at SMX I heard that there was a fair bit of chatter around Google’s Posts beta? What was the consensus (not that consensus is always a good way to judge something)?
David: Well, I’m not sure there was a consensus necessarily, but Posts was/were a popular topic. We had a question from the audience at our Local Q&A panel regarding both Posts and Google’s new Website Builder.
And Danny Sullivan spent a few minutes on Posts in his first-day keynote.
(As an aside, earth to Google: consider spending at least a few thousand dollars out of your $25 Billion last quarter on branding. It’s a perpetual source of what should be utter embarrassment in the Local space.)
Back to the topic, Cindy Krum positioned Posts as part of a larger move on Google’s part to what she called “hosted content.” If I can paraphrase her theory: it’s faster and more efficient for Google to crawl things that are actually on their servers — there’s not even really a crawl at all in that situation, it’s just indexed.
Mike: It’s more than just efficiency. Obviously Google wants everyone’s attention all the time. In all of search but particularly in local, Google either wants the action or the transaction to occur in their realm. These are more monetizable than a website visit.
In local, most businesses do not have a transaction so Google wants to control the action. If they can sell an ad, great, and if not then they take credit for a click or a call, driving directions or response to a CTA (and gather the data of those activities).
But Google, despite the value they have brought to the SMB, has had a hard time getting their attention. This might do the trick. It is certainly a way to get a small business back into the Google My Business dashboard on a regular basis.
David: I agree with you that speed/crawl resources are not Google’s primary concern with this product, and I think you hit the nail on the head with respect to getting small businesses to engage with GMB on a more regular basis. It’s a shiny object that’s at least as intriguing as Facebook business posts.
More importantly than GMB engagement, it is a way to harvest relevant content from a content-poor corner of the web. Tens of millions of small businesses post regularly to Facebook, but a tiny fraction have the capacity or wherewithal to update their website. Meaning Google can’t see most of their content, and is flying blind for long-tail local searches much more than they are for something like eCommerce or media searches.
But without the added relevance for long-tail queries (which is pure speculation on my part), I’m not sure in its current form it’s all that useful.
Posts only show up on recovery searches for your business name. It’s possible they become the kernel of a new ad product, but the key advantage of Facebook’s Boosted Posts over Google Posts is that Facebook’s get you visibility with new customers who were not looking for your business (or were even aware of it). Google Posts strike me as purely a conversion play in their current form.
Mike: I agree that it is a low-funnel conversion play. Although the issue of content visibility is a big reason for Google to introduce the new Website product as well. In many developing countries there is not significant business web, and Google can’t see the many dark conversations on mobile or the content on Facebook. In that sense it’s a response to an existential threat.
I also see Posts as part and parcel of their DIY efforts in the SMB world along with the new (and vastly improved Adwords Express, Website (is that really a name?) and the (still in beta) Chat directly with customers feature. Between Chat and Posts, businesses need to be in near constant touch with the Google My Business dashboard.
If they were to integrate Posts with the Website builder that might be even a stronger play for them.
David: Yes, your hypothetical Posts-and-Website product is effectively a full-blown CMS for the mom-and-pop business.
But focusing purely on Posts in the local SERPs, even if they do assist the small business with conversion, they run counter to Google’s inexorable march towards monetizing transactions both on mobile devices and through voice. You’re not going to wait for Google Assistant to read you a Post as you decide whether or not to book a table at a restaurant, for example.
Which is why I predict Posts will be sunsetted in the next 18 months, unless Google is able to launch a related ad product to justify their existence financially.
As you pointed out to me, I already predicted this 9 months ago, but you said it was premature to speculate prior to their public launch. So let’s start the clock today and up the ante with a beer!
Mike: Alright, I will spot you the 9 month handicap and take the bet. 18 months from today it will still be standing. I refuse (with Google) to look out more than 18 months. I won the bet on Plus with you ONLY because I was smart enough to limit the timeframe.
David: Har har.
Mike: I think Google realizes that they need attention in the SMB space before they need ad sales. These products have been a long time coming… and I think that they are perceived as strategic to their SMB Adwords Express efforts. Google purchased Appetas web builder and the team that built it in 2014 … it has become Posts.
Clearly Google is looking to monetize more of search but I see these products as the hook to whatever monetization strategies they pursue.
David: Sounds like we agree 100% on the Mountain View pain point that Posts are designed to alleviate, but the question of their effectiveness in doing so, vis-a-vis adoption by small businesses and their perceived reward, remains open.
After more than a decade in local search, David Mihm now runs Tidings, an email newsletter platform for small businesses that leverages their everyday social media activity, and his own weekly newsletter, Minutive. In 2012, he sold his former company GetListed.org to Moz, helping over 3 million businesses get better visibility in Google and other search engines. Along with Mike, he’s a co-founder of Local University.