Google Posts: Less Visible but Still Valuable

Mike: We both have been out of pocket for a while, but it is good to be back and working on this article. We just finished up one of the best ever Local U Advanced events in Santa Monica.  

David: Good to talk with you again and start down the path to normalcy. Yeah, sorry I missed Local U. I did follow it from Twitter though, and it looked like you guys had some very lively conversations.

Mike: One of the interesting pieces of data that surfaced at Local U was some numbers around the impact of Google moving Posts from the Knowledge Panel Business Profile down the search results. Many marketers were justifiably discouraged by the move as they saw fewer conversions. But Joel Headley of Patient Pop (a Local U sponsor) was actually able to put some hard numbers to the impact of the move.

David: As you know I’ve been skeptical since Day One that Google would turn over so much premium real estate to the business owner, to the detriment of Adwords.

We obviously can’t and won’t know the rationale behind Google’s decision to alter Posts’ placement, but it’s a good reminder that even though Google Is Your New Homepage, it’s still a Homepage that they own, not you.

Mike: You definitely rent it and, in this case, it seems the landlord can change the lease at will. Not optimal.

But in looking at thousands of locations, Joel was able to track the changes to clicks on all of their links in the Business Profile. They found that while the clicks to their Posts had dropped from 3% of total clicks to 1%, their clicks to the booking widget stayed about the same at 8%, and they actually saw an increase in clicks to their website link at the top of the Panel.

Obviously their use case for Posts is very specific to the medical field and their need to drive users to their booking widget on their website.

David: Joel’s obviously one of the smartest people in Local and had their Posts offering dialed in from the get-go. But not everyone has his eye for process and I’m sure many marketers, not to mention business owners, have moved Posts down the priority list accordingly after this change.

Mike: Using the API Joel absolutely figured out how to automate Posts at scale for many locations, so while a drop by ⅔ is significant, it was still generating real money and the costs were very low.

David: I wonder to what extent Google noticed the same drop in clicks to other portions of the Knowledge Panel, and even separate and apart from any lost Adwords revenue, lamented clicks to an unstructured content item that they couldn’t necessarily track.

I.e. appointment URLs, clicks for driving directions, clicks to call…these are all actions with discrete purpose that, even if they don’t keep searchers 100% in the Google ecosystem, give Google better insight into searcher intent and behavior.

From Google’s perspective, perhaps there is little point in sending searchers to a website unless they are monetizing that click?

Mike: Well actually website clicks in the study showed as continuing to increase during all of this, whether due to removal of Posts or just increasing interest in local search, so Google is still sending significant traffic.

That being said, it does mean that website owners need to carefully optimize their home page as a landing page to help convert those users.

David: Is it possible that Patient Pop clients’ Business Profiles just ranked better over the course of the same timeframe? And they just got more clicks than before from more searchers?

At any rate, I don’t disagree with your takeaway that small businesses need to do a much better job of setting up their GMB landing page to convert searchers. The average business still misses so much with slow-loading websites, hard-to-find contact information, offering the ability to email or text instead of call, and weak or missing calls to action.

Mike: To your earlier point about Google’s motivation, there is always a tension in Google between income and information, but it could just be that many businesses were not optimizing their Posts enough to start with and Google found that users generally were not clicking through.

David: I think that’s a great point and is probably closer to the truth than either of my tin-foil-hat theories. Google has been making a serious effort to get more business owners more engaged with Google My Business over the past 12-18 months.

The irony is, though, that deprecating the success business owners can see from easy, compelling offerings like Posts makes them less likely to remain engaged. It’s a little bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Business owner engagement, searcher satisfaction, revenue, and information—to balance any two of those considerations at once, let alone all four, is a serious challenge.

Mike: True that and many, marketers included, are still finding value in Posts for conversions.

Greg Gifford of DealerOn uses them in the auto industry for things like coupons for oil changes and still sees strong conversions.

David: Right, and even in areas where the conversion use case for Posts isn’t as natural as appointment booking or featuring coupons, some of our peers (Dana DiTomaso in particular) have suggested that Posts may yield benefits in terms of visibility.

Mike: There are a lot of other “soft” benefits to Posts as well.

We saw our first report the other day of Google showing content from a Post in the 3 Pack (thus indicating Google using the content for entity understanding),

David: Right, it’s not a stretch to think that Posts may increase a local business’s relevance for long-tail keywords outside of Google’s categorical taxonomy.

Mike: Although, if word gets out that that is what Google is using Posts for, the spam will really start!

David: Yes, but Posts are public enough that you would want to put your best conversion foot forward as opposed to your most keyword-stuffed.  

And—at least so far—only one or two Posts shows up at a time. So there’s a limit on what you can, or at least should, do to stretch your relevance.

Mike: The other real benefit to how Posts are processed is that the photos shared in Posts get cross-posted to the Photo area and the Google My Business Website. Thus, your photos stay updated and get shared more broadly, something that you have noted might help in the coming era of image assisted search.

And, like in the case of Barbara Oliver Jewelry, it just gives her that much more control over her branding message in the SERPs.

David: For sure. Posts will remain a centerpiece of our offerings at ThriveHive for the foreseeable future (we’ve already built a Posts assessment into our GMB Grader). And despite my initial skepticism, your enthusiasm for them, and data-driven studies like Joel’s, I have become a long-term believer.

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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, he’s a co-founder of Local University.

Mike Blumenthal is a co-founder of GatherUp, a feedback and reputation platform, and LocalU, which provides small business and agency training in sustainable local search marketing. His motto: All Local All the Time. He writes at his blog and does a twice-a-week podcast about Local marketing. 
 

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Got an idea for what you want Mike and David to discuss next time? Send it to either davidmihm@gmail.com or mike@gatherup.com, or just leave a comment below and we’ll put it in the hopper!

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