Archive for the 'google' Category

Simple Product, Flat Fee, Proven Performance

Simple product, flat fee, proven performance – those are the ingredients for a successful local advertising offering to small and medium sized businesses.  Google’s new Local Listing Ads seem to have the right ingredients.  There are lessons here for all local advertisers.

Simple Product

Small business owners are busy running their business.  They don’t have the time or inclination to figure out complex products.

In Google’s case the offering is simple to set-up and easy to understand.  To set-up up local listing ads, you just have to:

  1. Claim and verify your Google listing (a good idea any way).
  2. Select your landing page – which defaults to a very functional Place Page provided by Google (so you can almost ignore this step).
  3. Select the categories where you want the ad to appear.

Google then creates your ad automatically (based on the information in your listing) and presents it based on the category  a user is searching, the location where they are searching and the location of your business.  All optimization is performed by Google.  There are no controls to tweak and monitor.  The ads automatically include a tracking number (more on this below)

Flat Fee

The business owner pays a flat monthly fee which is apparently based on their location and the categories they’ve targeted.  There is no bidding – it’s no haggle-free pricing.

Oh – and the first month is free.

Proven Performance

Google provides detailed information through Local Business Center that includes:

  1. How many people saw your ad.
  2. How many clicked on it.
  3. How many got directions to your business.
  4. How many people called your business.

And – whenever you receive a call you get a whisper telling you ‘this call brought to you by Google’.

The service is fully transparent.  At the end of the first Free month a business owner will easily be able to assess whether or not the service is providing value to them for the fee they are paying.

Applying the Recipe

All providers of local advertising can follow the same recipe:

Simple Product – This has always been a strength of traditional media like the print yellow pages.  People understand how the product works.  Someone visits you in person to set the product up!  But many digital offerings fall short by failing to ensure a functional landing page is used.  Google has addressed this with their Place Pages which are designed for optimization.  A landing page is an integral part of a complete digital solution – without one there are a lot of wasted clicks.

Flat Fee – I’ve said this many times.  Small businesses want simple pricing – combined with proven, transparent performance.  People too often link the idea of performance driven advertising with variable, performance driven pricing.  This just scares a lot of small business people.

Proven Performance – This is the most important part: you have to deliver the leads to the merchants and PROVE that you’ve delivered those leads.  Google’s service is fully transparent.  As a merchant you don’t control where and when you ad get’s placed, but you do know how well it’s performing and can choose to carry on or not.  As I’ve written before, all forms of advertising should be tracked – including print media.  Imagine a small business owner hearing ‘this call brought to you by the print yellow pages’ every time someone called a number from the book.  That would prove value in the media to them.

More on Local Listing Ads from Mike Blumenthal and Greg Sterling.

Want a review of your local advertising product  strategy?   Contact me at eric AT predictabuy.com.

Google Patent’s My Invention to Simplify Reviews

Google has just published a patent for a process to simplify creating reviews using a smart-phone.  Bill Slawski describes the patent on his SEO by the Sea blog.

In simple terms, the idea would be to have UPC codes printed on something like restaurant menus.  Then you use the camera on your phone to photograph the code which automatically identifies the restaurant and lets you link your review to the restaurant.  The use of the code and the camera is intended to be faster and more convenient than having to enter the name of the restaurant manually.  The broad goal is to make it very easy for users to provide feedback.

And as Mike Blumenthal pointed out in a tweet, one nice thing about this process is that you would actively engage local merchants in the process.  Of course, that’s also the biggest hurdle — you have to get all those businesses to use your code.   Fortunately, there are alternative ways to simplify the process.  More on that in a future blog post.

Here’s the funny thing.  I remember discussing this concept with a colleague sitting in an airport in the fall of 2007.  Google filed their patent in March of 2008.  Of course, I didn’t disclose anything and I didn’t file a patent of my own.  So, Google wins.  And my generally ambiguous feeling about the worth of these kinds of patents continues.  I guess I need to either write my own patents or disclose the ideas on my blog in sufficient detail to prevent patents.

Google’s Place Pages are Designed for Optimization

Google’s new Place Pages are designed for optimization which potentially makes them great landing pages.  Is Google positioning itself to simplify advertising for local businesses?

The downfall of most SEM offers to local merchants is that they deliver lots of clicks but few conversions.  That’s because too often nobody is optimizing the landing page (or has even defined what a conversion is).  Google has now put themselves in a position to address that by allowing the landing page to be optimized.  They could even have merchants use Google Voice if they want to optimize to receive calls.

What Does Designed for Optimization Mean

Recently I wrote in Picking Winners about the use of controlled experiments and A/B testing to optimize website performance.  Perhaps the most widely known application of this principle is the optimization of website landing pages using tools like Google Website Optimizer.

The basic idea in landing page optimization is to empirically test the performance of several different design options against some specified conversion goal.  For example, if your goal is to get people to ‘sign-up’ for something you’d test different page designs and see which one performed best.

If you want to do this easily – and especially if you want to do it using some automated process – you need to adopt a web page design that is amenable to such an approach.  Andrew Chen has written a great post on keeping the design consistent during A/B testing.  He says that the secret is to create an open design – and gives Amazon’s home page as a classic example.

Well, it turns out that Google’s Place Pages are another excellent example of open design that allows automated optimization.  Have a look at one of the example pages Google highlighted:

Google Place Page Showing Block Structure

Google Place Page Showing Block Structure

As shown above, the page is broken in to two columns and the content is organized in to various blocks.  This makes it easy for an automated process to vary both the placement and size of each of the blocks and the content shown within each block.  What’s more, you can select and optimize the look of the page based on where the traffic is coming from – varying the look and feel of the page based on how the user got there.  So, if you arrived at this page as a result of a search for ‘Tartine Bakery reviews’ the ‘review block’ might be much more prominently displayed.

The fact the pages are well suited for optimization doesn’t necessarily mean all that much.  Google is well known for being an A/B testing fanatic.  So, this may just reflect a desire to be able to more easily optimize how information is presented to users.

But it could also be a first step towards something more…

Could Google Try to Close The Optimization Gap?

Optimizing landing pages is a fairly well understood process.  Unfortunately, it’s a process that few smaller businesses have the time and expertise to perform.  So, it doesn’t get done.  And the end result is that small businesses don’t see the expected results from clicks and become discouraged.

But now Google has designed a landing page that it’s possible for a machine to optimize.

Imagine a tool that allows a local business to set up an Adwords campaign that automatically creates and tests landing pages.  The tool might suggest appropriate keyword alternatives along with appropriate landing pages and then start running the alternatives and select the combinations that deliver the best ROI.  All with minimal involvement from the business owner.  Google certainly has the scale and machine learning expertise to accomplish something like this.

What’s Missing

For one, Google would need local merchant’s to define some sort of ‘conversion event’.  This is conceptually as easy as defining a new ‘block type’ that will appear on the landing page and be optimized.  For example, a restaurant might view a phone call or an Open Table registration as a conversion event.  If it’s a phone call, I imagine the merchant could be encouraged to use Google Voice to provide a closed loop analysis of the conversion event.

Perhaps more likely than having individual merchants doing this (at least in all cases) would be a small army of SEO and SEM experts doing it on the businesses behalf – but within a closed looped system managed by Google.  Google could potentially create a whole new eco-system.

Updated (September 28, 2009): Lots of concern around a core issue of whether these pages are being indexed.  In fact, Google representatives have weighed in the comments on posts by Erin Schonfeld at Techcrunch, Greg Sterling and Mike Blumenthal.   Google is confirming that these new pages won’t be indexed directly, but they may be indexed if they are referred to by other sites.

They probably didn’t want to muddy the issue, but I couldn’t help but notice that they did NOT comment on my thesis about using these pages as landing pages!

The Evolution of Pay for Placement

As factors such as reviews become increasingly important in the filtering and ranking of local information, the way local advertising is presented changes.  Traditional pay for placement schemes are replaced by relevant sponsorship.

Pay for placement finds its origins in the Yellow Page book where advertisers pay to be more visible by purchasing larger ads and colour.  This works well in a printed book because the normal mode of usage is to flip through several pages in a category of interest.  Larger ads tend to catch one’s attention and allow the advertiser to communicate more information to a potential buyer.

Ads for Movers in the Yellow Page Book

Ads for Movers in the Yellow Page Book

As yellow page publishers moved online, they replicated this pay for placement approach but replaced the idea of a larger advertisement with being placed higher in the list.  In a pure pay for placement scheme the results are primarily ranked on the basis of payment by advertisers.

Search results for movers from Yellowpages.ca

Search results for movers from Yellowpages.ca

When reviews are added to the equation, a purely commercial ranking of results becomes problematic since the user is expecting results that are ranked on the basis of the reviews and any suggestion of commercial interference in these rankings undermines the credibility of the site.  Yelp, a site focused on community generated reviews for local products and services, adopts the elegant approach of allowing sponsored listings at the top of the search results.  This sponsored result is still relevant to the user’s inquiry and also has it’s own reviews.  The sponsor get’s to choose a review to highlight in their listing.

Search results for movers in San Francisco on Yelp

Search results for movers in San Francisco on Yelp

Of course, Google has always enforced a clear separation between what they call ‘organic’ search results and sponsored search results.  This is the very basis of AdWords.  And in practice, the net effect of the Google approach looks very similar to the Yelp appoach.  The difference is that in the Google approach the sponsored advertising could potentially be anything whereas in the Yelp approach the sponsored result is one selected from the ‘organic’ results and elevated to the top of the list.

Google results for a search for movers in Edmonton.

Google results for a search for movers in Edmonton.

As users expect searches for local products and services to be ranked on the basis of reviews or other factors that are personally or contextually relevant to them we are likely to see approaches such as Yelp’s becoming the ‘norm’ for local advertising.

Why Google Wave Matters

Lots of discussion around the web about Google Wave.  One common meme floating around dismisses it as an Outlook clone.

I think it’s a mistake to focus on the ‘features’ and the ‘user interfaces’ Google demonstrated.  They are of course necessary to illustrate how this new architecture can be used.  But these interfaces will evolve and morph over time.

Wave matters  because it shifts  communication and collaboration from a document transmission paradigm to a shared document editing paradigm where all documents exist in a shared repository potentially accessible by anyone.  This makes it much easier to ‘mix and match’ different kinds of communication and collaboration — which will likely lead to entirely new forms of interaction over time.

The Traditional Document Transmission Paradigm

Traditional paradigms are all based on the idea of a document being transmitted from one or more authors to one or more readers.  An email, is a very directed communication.  The document may be ‘passed around’ and forwarded to others who might add to the content.  An IM is typically quite a short document.  A tweet is by definition a short document, but one that is shared with many people.  A blog is a longer document – again shared publicly with many people.  Comments on emails, IM’s or blogs are all (typically) document based – your comment is appended to the document.

Likewise, collaborative editing is also document based.  Multiple people can edit the document – it can be sent around to different participants for comments – but (at least in the Microsoft paradigm) the document itself is passed around and edited and is the repository of the collected activity.  People tend to edit the document sequentially appending their edits to it.  The document itself is physically ‘passed around’ – either by email or checking it out of some shared repository.

The New Wave Paradigm

In the Wave paradigm every communication takes the form of a shared document in the cloud.  Communication is accomplished through shared editing of the document and real-time transmission of the changes to a group of readers or participants.  Every document is potentially accessible to anyone and everyone – you extend or contract the circle of people involved by explicitly controlling who has access to the document and what their rights are.

This paradigm easily accommodates all the traditional forms of communication and collaboration.  An email is a shared document with a restricted audience.  An IM is also a shared document with a restricted audience – just shorter.  A blog or tweet is a shared document with a public audience.  Social network type communications are shared documents with defined groups as audiences.  Changes in documents are transmitted to readers or listeners in real-time.  And of course, in the case of collaborative documents anyone given access and authority can participate in the construction of the document.  At any point in time.  There is no need to ‘pass the document’ around for editing.

So What?

If all Wave did was replace existing paradigms – it might not be that interesting.  This explains why some people are  shrugging their shoulders.  To them, it just looks too much like existing applications.  A ‘cloud based’ re-engineering effort.

It realizes it’s true power when you start to utilize the new paradigm to ‘cross boundaries’.  Let me try to illustrate this with an imagined example:

When I read a blog post or tweet there are many different things I might want to do with it.  For example, let’s say it’s something a competitor is doing.  I might want to forward it to colleagues and have a private conversation about it.  I might want to make a comment for public consumption.  I might want to blog or comment on some or all of it for public consumption by people who are following me in some way.  In some cases, I might want to do all three.

I can do all of this today.  But it’s ackward and this ackwardness places barriers that impede the flow of communication.  It causes me to ‘not bother’ with certain kinds of communication because they take too much effort.

In a Wave world I can participate in the conversation on the existing wave (the equivalent of commenting on the blog), create a derivative wave for public consumption (the equivalent of blogging or tweeting it) and create a private conversation with a limited audience (my colleagues say) discussing the original ‘blog post’.  There can of course be both private and public conversations about my derviative public conversation as well.

The comments on the original blog post can also take the form of ‘long and thoughtful commentary’ or an interactive dialog where people are commenting and getting updates in real-time.  You don’t need to have a ‘real-time’ tool for discussing the blog contents in real-time.  You just have the real-time conversation on the blog itself.

So, I use the same tool to manage all these communication streams – my public communication, my public comments on the publications of others and various forms of private communication.  I can seamlessly move between the different paradigms.  The flow of private and public communication is unimpeded.

This reduction in ‘communication friction’ will change how we communicate.  In five years time we’ll look back and marvel at how primitive the ‘document transmission’ paradigm seems.   Communication and collaboration by editing documents ‘in the cloud’ will seem perfectly normal.

Microsoft and Google Declare War

On Thursday, May 28, 2009 Microsoft and Google officially declared war.

Microsoft announced Bing their new search initiative competing directly with Google’s core business.

Google announced Wave: a new product, platform and protocol that re-imagine communication and collaboration in the cloud.  It has grand ambitions that includes a direct assault on Microsoft’s core business of office communication and collaboration.

Initial reviews of Bing by industry insiders suggest it is competitive with Google’s search and offers some interesting features.  Most also believe these features and function won’t be sufficient by themselves to overcome people’s entrenched familiarity with Google.  Microsoft has anticipated this challenge by also announcing a massive advertising campaign to get people to try their new offering.

Microsoft is betting that search has matured, even becoming something of a commodity.  As such, by offering a comparable product they are able to shift the battle-field to a marketing and branding effort.  This MO is consistent with Microsoft history.  They have never been a first mover or an innovator.  They are an exploiter – a very determined one with deep pockets and patience.  And arguably, Bing is their ‘3rd generation’ of search engine (MSN and Live being the prior 2) — and it took them three tries to ‘get it right’ with Windows.  It will be interesting to see if they can finally grow their market share in search.

Google is not standing still on search – they continue to announce new search offerings at a heady pace.  It’s clear they intend to seriously defend their core business of search.  This highly profitable business is what allows them to make all their other big bets.

And Wave feels like a big bet.  It redefines how people communicate and collaborate.  This directly challenge’s Microsofts traditional paradigm of a ‘computer on every desktop’ in which that desktop computer is the primary repository of one’s information.  In Google’s cloud based future the desktop computer becomes irrelevant.  It people shift to the cloud, it represents a huge threat to Microsoft’s ability to license software stacks running on each of those computers.

Google has made many previous guerrilla attacks with products like Gmail and Google Docs.  But these are really just cloud based implementations of traditional paradigms.  Wave on the other hand is a full frontal assault because it encompasses not only these traditional means of communication and collaboration but also extends to include blogging, micro-blogging (Twitter) and activities currently associated with social networks.

It’s unusual for Google to announce such a grand product in such a relatively immature state.  The timing seems chosen to steal some of Microsoft’s Bing noise.  But it is a grand enough vision that Google will need help from legions of developers to make it happen   It is those legions who are the foot-soldiers in this battle – and they are mercenaries who will go where they see the biggest opportunity.

This battle is going to be played out over many years.  But we’ll likely look back and see these two announcements as a significant milestone in the struggle.

Twitter is Real-Time + Public-Posting

You may have noticed the frenzy of excitement about real-time search sparked by the continuing explosive growth of Twitter.  Even Larry Page had to ‘weigh-in’ on the topic.  Real-time is the new IT trend.

But an equally important factor in Twitter’s rise and the excitement around it – especially among marketers – is that the posts are PUBLIC.  This means they can be analysed by many different people from researchers to marketers.  Not a day goes by without another story on how to use twitter (or twitter search) for marketing.  Marketers love it, because it gives them ready access to data that is normally hidden behind someones wall.

Google can no doubt index it’s searches in real-time and has it’s own vast real-time database of intentions.  But this data is not public.  Sure, they could probably make certain kinds of aggregate information available in a public format – but they can’t really start releasing details of individual searches.  Twitter on the other hand is based at it’s very heart on the idea of public posting.

Facebook has already implemented ‘real-time’ but their paradigm also runs up against a complicated set of privacy considerations.  They’ve developed a comprehensive  set of tools to let users determine who sees what – so the idea of ‘private’ and ‘group’ communication is central to the paradigm.

Twitters approach to public vs. private is simple.  It’s all public or it’s all just between friends.  And for most people – it’s all public.  If you don’t want something posted publicly on twitter – just don’t post it.

Twitter = real-time + public-posting


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