Google’s calculated risk in creating a low bar for verification works out fine in a world where most business owners simply want to gain legitimate access to their own listings, and most businesses do operate within those ethical boundaries. But as we’ve seen elsewhere at this stage in the evolution of social networks, fraud and deceptive manipulation have become a kind of ghost in the machine, dominating darker sectors of the local marketplace and creating an atmosphere of distrust that may eventually prove more broadly contagious.
All of this is only possible when lots of activity is consolidated on a few platforms. Just as fake accounts attempting to engineer the 2016 election thrived in the vast and complex Facebook ecosystem, so too has Google’s dominance in local attracted its own horde of opportunists, drawn like moths to its flame. Indeed, fraud in local listings is just the latest in a long history of attempts, from link farms to keyword spam, to manipulate loopholes in Google’s regulations and algorithms.
The notion of “helping you get things done,” emphasized by Sundar Pichai in his I/O keynote, provides a through-line for many of the event’s announcements. It struck me watching the presentations how thoroughly Google has become a consumer electronics company, a marketer of devices where search is more a central feature than a standalone product. Google, in other words, has become thoroughly dedicated to marketing its famous search capabilities in the context of devices that help you perform daily tasks. In the process, it is transforming local search and how we relate to the world with electronic devices.
Google recently sent surveys to a number of Google My Business (GMB) users, asking a range of questions about their local marketing activities and their level of interest in certain paid features within GMB. The survey suggests that Google is at least thinking about a paid version of the GMB feature set. For the local search industry, a paid GMB product offered to businesses of all types could be quite disruptive, especially if it ended up gradually degrading the value of organic listings.
Google’s Knowledge Graph ambitions are expanding to include obviating heavy reliance on secondary sources like Wikipedia and being able instead to classify and cross-reference information as a native, self-sustaining activity on web pages themselves. That’s what makes a recent patent filing different from the evidence of the Knowledge Graph we’ve already seen in the wild.
While this more ambitious way of surfacing information about entities is not yet standard, in researching Google’s new interface for hotels, I think I’m seeing evidence of a real-world example.
Damian Rollison: Google’s Curtis Galloway, software engineering manager from the Google My Business app team, offered a fascinating peek into that team’s development process this week in a presentation at LSA19 in Dana Point, California. Galloway’s presentation revealed aspects of Google’s user-oriented focus when revising the app as well as its customer-centric orientation.
Damian Rollison: Among hundreds of sessions, exhibits, and demos, one theme came through clearly at IBM Think this month in San Francisco: for large enterprises especially, the AI-driven future for which we’ve been told to prepare is already here. In fact, enterprise companies are using IBM’s Watson technologies today to address a myriad of challenges inherent in the scale of those businesses.
For brand marketers, addressing the expansion of local search into voice and visual contexts is really a matter of digging in and getting more involved with rich local context that appears to grow more expansive by the day. Google alone has introduced a vast array of opportunities for business to differentiate themselves from the competition, including photos, videos, 360° virtual tours, business descriptions, menus, Posts, reviews, and several other features.
Damian Rollison: The annual report’s main takeaways are clear: to rank competitively for local searches today, you must focus your attention on three areas: one, providing Google with as much relevant local content as possible; two, pleasing your customers, pointing them to where they can review your business, and responding to their reviews; and three, creating a useful, relevant local landing page or website with authoritative backlinks.
Damian Rollison: It became clear to me, during Yelp’s presentation at the recent Brandify Summit, that the company has become a data amplifier. Here I’m making use of Gib Olander’s helpful term for companies whose data finds its way into a multitude of consumer-facing channels. In this column, I break down the significance of that state of affairs for hyperlocal marketing.
At times, the research findings published in our industry seem a little suspect. But in one vertical in particular, there’s a body of academic research that speaks to exactly the kinds of questions we want answered about reputation management—namely, does online review monitoring and response really make a difference to a business’s bottom line?
You’re well covered today on the three top voice platforms if you have strong listings on Google, Apple, and Yelp. If you want to do even more, make sure your Bing listings are up to date for Cortana (note that Yelp reviews show up here as well), and submit your listing info to Here and Foursquare in order to be found in Samsung’s Bixby interface.
As non-review content grows in prominence, brands and small businesses with be forced to reckon with it. Like reviews, such content both reflects and shapes a brand’s reputation. Unfortunately, many brands are still behind when it comes to engaging with local reviews, so these new developments will represent an even heftier challenge when it comes to crafting an effective and scalable strategy. Brands who neglect UGC in local will suffer greatly in comparison with those who learn how to engage.
Reputation management services should focus on helping businesses understand what consumers are saying and engage with reviewers by responding. Unbiased review content is a true goldmine for the brand who works with a reputation company to glean deep insights about consumer sentiment offered by consumers themselves for free.
Justin O’Beirne marvels that, with the AOI initiative, Google has figured out how to “create data out of data,” meaning that AOIs are a mashup of 3D modeling and data extraction from images. Looked at more broadly, this is not the only example where Google has built features on top of features within the Maps universe.
Aditya Tendulkar is about as close to the source as you can get when it comes to the strategic direction of Maps and Google My Business. We asked him a few questions about the quick pace of feature releases in recent months and the new openness Google seems to be showing toward listing management companies and crowdsourcing.