Google and the On-SERP Experience: We’re Just Gettin’ Warmed Up
David: Mike, hope your prep for Vietnam is going smoothly! It’s a busy time for both of us, but I thought we might try to sneak in one more conversation before you head abroad.
Mike: I am the last of the great procrastinators, so I will let you know soon. We will be heading out this coming, Friday so I may miss the next few chats with you.
David: Maybe we could pick up where we left off last time (“Reality Check: Adapting to Google’s Ever-Growing Control of the Search Experience”). We were just starting to get into a little deeper discussion of Google’s more granular Knowledge Panel content and a fuller consumer journey.
In particular, you mentioned you that Google is interested in “collecting” all of the information a searcher needs to complete the full journey from exploration to purchase without ever leaving Google. Can you give me (and our readers) a couple of examples of that progression?
Mike: This is apparently a work in progress, but Google has identified the shift from answers to journeys as one of its priorities for the “next chapter” of search. The company is talking about making the previous search journey that a user made more easily recovered via “activity cards” and allowing users to create topical “collections” around areas of interest.
More interesting to me though was the new Knowledge Graph Topic Layer. It is built by analyzing all the content that exists on the web for a given topic and develops hundreds and thousands of subtopics.
We have seen a little bit of this up to now, but I really see this as having an impact on Local as Google starts to understand the linkages between topics and local. For example, running → running shoes → running shoes near me → local entities → local inventory.
David: Especially in Travel, we know Google has been working on these immersive search experiences (aka “rabbit holes”—love that characterization) for quite a while. There’s obviously a lot of volume in that vertical and a lot of different ways to monetize it!
One of Google’s most recent experiments has been to incubate the new product TouringBird—which has transaction baked in right from the start.
As we’ve talked about previously, I’d rather Google solve the persistent problem of high-friction hotel searching and booking rather than trying to layer on new features around experiences, but I’ll leave it at that.
Do you ever see something like Destinations or TouringBird getting integrated right into the main SERPs?
Mike: I absolutely do. One of the points that Google made was that rather than presenting information within a set of predetermined categories in a Knowledge Panel, it “can intelligently show the subtopics that are most relevant to what you’re searching for and make it easy to explore information from the web, all with a single search.”
Imagine a multi-tabbed Knowledge Panel that shows different granular content for different queries all the way from the top-level Topic down to the location where a transaction can take place. In Local, think of it as a tabbed Knowledge Panel that would possibly change tabs based on the query and the user’s search history.
Now that would be a rabbit hole.
David: On the “Knowledge” side of things, perhaps it’s simply an order of magnitude easier for Google to ingest relatively fixed evergreen information—or crowdsource it in the case of TouringBird—as opposed to verifying real-time inventory. They’re just solving the easier problems first.
Mike: I think we are already seeing indications of that this week with Google’s recent pushes in Local for product information and scheduling. As a side note, it was interesting to see that Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Thryv were on the list of “coming soon” integrations on the scheduling front. Who knows what that portends.
David: I’ve kind of taken us down a rabbit hole of our own with my fixation on UI. Getting back to your original insight, how broadly do you see these new Knowledge linkages extending beyond just Local entities?
Mike: The introduction of a new Knowledge Graph layer in the form of “Topics” indicates to me that this will extend in two directions beyond Local entities. I see these linkages extending all the way up the search journey to initial consideration and even further down the funnel beyond Local entities.
I would suggest to traditional SEO practitioners that they have not seen the end of “Google stealing clicks” by any measure.
David: Sounds like just the opposite—Google’s “just gettin’ warmed up” as Al Pacino might have said in “Scent of a Woman.”
In related news, one item that caught my eye recently is that Yext appears to be transitioning away from a purely “Local” focus.
As Greg Sterling suggests, perhaps this move comes in response to public market perception, but if Yext believe as we do that more and more strings—not just location-related entities—will end up surfacing Knowledge Cards in the future, this is as good a time as any to update their positioning.
Mike: As far as Yext goes, given the realities of the market and Google, I think that it is both astute marketing and a recognition of an ongoing shift that has led to the repositioning.
I think that as Google builds out its Knowledge Graph with ever more detail, Google has much less need for listing data. As they do that and continue to “crush” other local competitors, I think that the era of “listing services” for primary product positioning is largely over.
But in this new reality, Google will have more need for the ever-increasing granular details that they are looking to understand. The (paid?) Google GMB API would be a perfect way to do that. I think Yext and many others in the local space are thinking of “leaning into” the GMB API and providing value-added services around that.
While it’s risky to sleep with an elephant, as you never know when it might roll over, I think many in the local space will figure out ways to make money around giving Google the data the search hegemon wants.
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.