Adam Dorfman – Search Engine Land News On Search Engines, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Fri, 27 Aug 2021 20:27:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.8.1 Where Google is placing its bets in 2021 /where-google-is-placing-its-bets-in-2021-344368 Fri, 04 Dec 2020 14:56:49 +0000 /?p=344368 A look at where Google might be headed in 2021.

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Despite a year of tumult and a jolt to its ad revenues, Google is as important as ever. Google is the world’s fourth most valuable brand according to Interbrand’s recently released Best Global Brands 2020 report. And even though Google reported its first-ever ad revenue drop because of COVID-19, the company’s business has rebounded sharply even as the Justice Department hits the company with a massive anti-trust lawsuit. You can never count out Google. In fact, Google will emerge stronger than ever in 2021 because of its scale, leadership, and ingenuity. Here’s what we can expect Google to do.

Google is investing to protect ad revenue

Even though Google has done a good job of diversifying, 80 percent of its revenue remains advertising based – from search results and the properties that they own. Google will continue to invest in new online ad features. For instance, Google is testing a larger font size in ad paid search ad headlines, with an eye toward improving click-through rates and driving more paid search revenue. Google is also trying to provide more ways to convert users in search results, an example being Google extending lead forms to YouTube and Discovery campaigns. Google wants to show advertisers the value of its platform to own the entire customer journey from awareness to click.

Device adoption

Another way Google is protecting its ad revenue is by encouraging device adoption. A really good example: Google’s investment in security firm ADT. Why did Google make this move? Well, Google is not interested in home security. Google wants ADT technicians to become more proficient installing Nest devices, which are Google’s smart thermostats. Many Nest owners don’t know that within a Nest thermostat is a microphone and speaker – a trojan horse for more Google Home voice devices. From there, it’s easy to see people doing voice queries through Nest. In turn, Google collects more data about its customers to improve its ad products. And, Google may even advertise. 

Google also wants to get users to adopt Android devices. This is why we’re seeing Google build out features such as Verified Calls, which will tell you why a business is calling you. Google wants people using those devices to be more comfortable using Google’s ecosystem, where more advertising happens.

Google will enter new markets

Google is a global company. And increasingly it is acting like one. Google recently announced a $10 billion investment in India, a sign of its resolve to expand globally. India in particular represents a big opportunity in India for Google and its many services including Google Cloud, education, and other services. For Google, growth is all about expanding its footprint. And India, the world’s largest democracy, is a good place to start. 

Local is massively important to Google

2020 reminded us of how valuable local businesses are to Google. We saw a huge growth of services to help local businesses stay open during COVID-19 (I recently wrote about them in Search Engine Land). What impressed me especially is how quickly Google rolled out these changes. Google had to. Local search remains an essential user activity on Google. Google needed to protect its turf.

Google also wants to make GMB listings more essential to business owners. For example, Google has expanded the GMB business messaging feature, made it easier for businesses to update their GMB profiles, and helped owners get easier access to performance analytics.

We also saw Google invest in Google Maps updates, another sign of Google’s investment in local. Google is also making Google Maps more relevant to current times, such as rebuilding its traffic data to help people travel during the pandemic.

In 2021, Google will work even harder to protect its relationships with local businesses.

Google is pushing hard into healthcare

Google is making a very active push in healthcare. Google now operates a cloud to help healthcare systems ingest patient data and manage Google algorithms against that data in  way that is compliant with HIPPA. With the pandemic continuing to shape how we live, I see Google becoming a stronger partner to help healthcare systems use patient data to improve outcomes. I suspect if Google can get the privacy issues right, Google will be well positioned to help because of the power of its cloud platform and its army of data scientists. 

I also see Google making a stronger push into virtual care. Healthcare systems have been pushing virtual care for years. Patients have not always been interested in adopting telehealth, but the tide has turned – and Google knows this. For instance, Google is partnering with Amwell to bring deliver healthcare solutions that run on Google Cloud. Google is not being complete altruistic here. Telehealth gives Google an avenue to help healthcare systems collect patient data including their total lifetime value, a possible boon to Google advertising. 

Google is getting into education

Education is ready for Google, with both secondary learning and higher education being rocked by the pandemic. And Google is responding. Just in time for the 2020-21 school year, Google beefed up its virtual learning platform, Google Classroom, with 50 new features including more controls to make online learning safer. Anyone who has kids at home in secondary school appreciates the reality of trying to learn in a secure environment. Google is responding. 

At the same time, I was also impressed with Google’s recent moves into higher education, an industry that has been upended by the pandemic. Google’s new certification program will take only six months to complete and at a much lower cost than attending a four-year college. And Google is putting its money where its mouth is by treating these new career certificates as the equivalent of a four-year degree for related roles. In 2021, I expect Google to expand this program with a more diverse curriculum. 

Privacy is center stage

As we all know now, the Justice Department filed an anti-trust lawsuit against Google, saying that its business practices are harmful to users and competitors. The lawsuit said, “By restricting competition in search, Google’s conduct has harmed consumers by reducing the quality of search (including on dimensions such as privacy, data protection, and use of consumer data), lessening choice in search, and impeding innovation.”

The lawsuit will make privacy an even more front-and-center issue (although the larger issue in the lawsuit is Google’s alleged monopolistic practices). But the lawsuit is going to take a very long time to even make its way to the courts – and then possibly years to either get resolved or settled out of court. Google is very good at defending itself legally, and the company has deep pockets. 

Google has prepared for the moment by taking very visible steps to show that it respects consumer privacy. For example, Google launched an ad disclosure schema to make it possible for consumers to see all the cookies tracking them on Chrome. Google’s aim: make a public record of its efforts to respect privacy. Meanwhile, Google will continues to push the boundaries of privacy. I find it interesting that consumers can launch “People Cards” that allow them to create their own knowledge panel – which of course makes it easier for Google to learn something about them and serve up more personalized ads. And consumers are doing the heavy lifting to create the cards!

Google is trying to be a more purposeful brand

Google, the company whose unofficial motto for years was “don’t do evil,” is trying to do good. For Google, doing good means doing what is both right and sensible.  In 2020, we saw Google add “Black-owned” as a business attribute to local listings, a clear reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement. And Google updated Google Assistant to provide more mindful answers to questions about Black Lives Matter. These actions were both the right and sensible thing to do at a time when Google’s U.S. user base is increasingly diverse and it seeks to hire more black workers at senior levels.

In addition, Google’s attempts to help small business owners during the pandemic (which I mentioned earlier) are also an example of doing what is right and sensible. When Google said it was offering ad credits to SMBs affected by Covid-19, the company was being purposeful, yes – and at the same time, Google was protecting its base of future ad revenue. 

What’s next?

As I write this column, the world seems as uncertain as it was when the pandemic hit in full force back in March. One thing I think Google is going to do more of in 2021: provide leadership in uncertain times. Google is stepping up to the center stage after a year in which the company was disrupted by the pandemic. Google will become a stronger partner to businesses, educators, and healthcare providers while extending its reach and providing some measure of certainty.

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The 2020 holiday season is here: Get your digital house in order /the-2020-holiday-season-is-here-get-your-digital-house-in-order-343665 Thu, 12 Nov 2020 16:20:53 +0000 /?p=343665 Retailers that win the delivery wars will win the holidays.

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It’s the 2020 holiday shopping season and it’s different than previous shopping seasons, and retailers everywhere are going to need to manage things carefully. Let’s take a closer look.

Shoppers will lean on digital

Google-commissioned Ipsos survey says that 74 percent of U.S. Shoppers are going to do more online shopping than they did previously this holiday season.  In response, retailers will need to:

  • Make sure that they are findable online, including websites, Google My Business (GMB) listings, and socials – especially on GMB listings, which act more like a digital front door to retailers nowadays. This means ensuring that GMB listings are up to date with accurate location data including store hours (especially any holiday store hours).
  • Put GMB features such as Posts to work in order to promote holiday specials, deals, and any special virtual (or offline) events.
  • Make sure that GMB click-to-website functionality is flawless. After people visit your GMB listing, how easily can they find your website? Is the information about holiday deals on your site consistent with your GMB listing?

Shoppers are still going to stores, though

According to Google, people do plan to go to stores this season, but on certain conditions. More than half say they will go to stores that offer contactless shopping, and 47 percent use options to buy online, pickup in-store, or use curbside pickup. Shoppers searching online will look for retailers making those services easy to find and use.

In addition, according to new research by CodeBroker, most shoppers who are avoiding actually going into brick-and-mortar stores would change their mind if they received a high-value mobile/digital coupon for a product in which they were interested. So even during the pandemic, shoppers are open to going into the store. 

Retailers need to:

  • Ensure that GMB click-to-directions functionality works effectively. When my company Reputation.com studied retailers’ GMB traffic during the height of the pandemic, we saw that GMB clicks-to-directions among our clients had increased as states eased up their lockdown restrictions, which demonstrates the power of GMB listings to drive traffic to stores. But the conversion needs to be seamless. 
  • Lean in hard with the online offers. People are receptive to location-based offers. Here again, functions such as Google Posts as well as Google Maps can be instrumental to creating offers that attract shoppers at a moment when they are most likely to visit your store.

Shoppers are going to need some TLC

People are going to be shopping under a different mindset. Each time they leave their homes to visit a store, they’ll be acutely aware of putting their personal health and safety at risk. They’ll be more cautious before they visit. For example Google says that 67 percent of holiday shoppers will confirm online that an item is in stock before going to buy it. 

In addition, for most shoppers, large gatherings with family and friends won’t be possible during the holidays for perhaps the first time in their lives. It’s going to be an emotionally trying time as they shop for loved ones who cannot be in the same place with them.

Retailers should go overboard to be responsive to shoppers online. That means:

  • Being ready to handle a spike in queries on your Facebook Message, Messaging on Google My Business, and your website. Shoppers will ask about order status often. How well will you be prepared to be responsive?
  • Being mindful of the tone you employ. People will need more than holiday cheer. They’ll need comfort and assurance, too. Avoid language that reinforces being home for the holidays or using images that depict large gatherings of family and friends. Put the focus on the shopper and their needs and priorities.

Shoppers are shipping

Because shoppers will be buying gifts for people as they practice social distancing, they’re likely to be shipping more gifts far and wide. So it’s no surprise that FedEx is hiring 70,000 people to meet holiday demand. It’s clear that this holiday season, retailers that win the delivery wars will win the holidays. How visible are your delivery options everywhere people find you online, starting with your website and GMB listings? How well you answer this question may make or break your 2020 holiday shopping season.

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The rise of reputation experience management /the-rise-of-reputation-experience-management-341026 Thu, 24 Sep 2020 18:20:37 +0000 /?p=341026 Reviews and ratings influence search rankings and customer acquisition. Here's how marketing and customer experience teams can work together to improve both SEO and customer outcomes.

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If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s this: as businesses embrace a digital-first world, they also need to adapt to the feedback economy.

We’ve always known that customer feedback influences whether people choose to do business with you. According to a consumer survey conducted by Fan & Fuel, 97% of participants said customer reviews factor into their buying decisions, and 92% of consumers hesitate to make a purchase when there are no customer reviews.

But something else is going on. Consumers are making decisions based on how they perceive a business in Google search results. Consider, for example:

  • Nearly 75% of consumers lose trust in a business due to inaccurate business listings on destinations such as Google My Business (GMB).
  • That erosion of trust affects not only a business’s reputation – it can also influence how Google itself perceives the business. How? Because consumers are leaving reviews on GMB listings. And those reviews affect a business’s ranking in Google. In other words, consumer feedback, both negative and positive, affects more than consideration. It affects visibility. 

This reality rang true in 2020, as Google attempted to respond to the reality that the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused massive disruptions in service beyond the control of businesses — including automotive dealers, restaurants, and retailers with GMB listings.

Google knew that in most cases businesses lacked the tools to properly update their listings with information on temporary hours, temporary closures, and the addition of workaround services such as curbside pickup (which would become permanent services). Google responded by quickly offering new features to help businesses properly manage their listings. And during a transition period, Google suspended customer reviews to protect businesses from being criticized for problems beyond their control. 

Google knew negative customer feedback could do more than hurt ratings/reviews on GMB. The feedback could cause serious damage to a business.

Rethinking the role of reviews and ratings in customer experience

Going forward, businesses need to think of the relationship between marketing (including SEO) and customer experience differently. They need to think in terms of reputation experience management. With reputation experience management, businesses think of customer feedback in three crucial, interconnected ways that influence their entire operations:

  • Getting found: Google says that high-quality, positive customer reviews will improve a brand’s visibility and increase the likelihood that a potential customer will visit you. Because of this relationship between customer perception and visibility in search, it’s all the more important that businesses elevate and follow SEO best practices to make their GMB listings accurate, complete, and optimized for search. Better GMB listings affect the entire customer experience – even more so now when customer experiences are largely digital first in nature. 
  • Getting chosen: Ratings and reviews are the top factor consumers use when choosing between local businesses, and more than half of consumers pass up locations with less than a 4-star rating. And at a time when more than half of all Google searches stay on Google, that feedback looms even larger. Consider also where people are making those decisions about doing business with you. Facebook now has more than 3 billion monthly average users on all its apps, such as Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Facebook has become a more influential review amplifier along with Google in 2020. 
  • Getting better: this is where many businesses are falling short. Too many aren’t taking both ratings/reviews and unstructured feedback on social media and messaging apps to ask how they can actually get better from one location to the next. Why? Because marketing and customer experience are disconnected. The marketing team, which owns social media, focuses on responding to people, promoting products and services, and building their brands on social. But the insight they gain from customer feedback too often stays with the marketing team. It does not get shared with the customer experience team to identify problem areas that need to be addressed before they hurt a company’s reputation. 

Marketing and customer experience alignment

Here’s something else many business are overlooking: when you use both customer ratings/reviews and unstructured feedback to get better, you:

  • Get more positive reviews, which makes you more likely to get chosen.
  • In turn, those reviews also improve your visibility on Google — a virtuous cycle that can make or break a business as online usage continues to climb at a time when visiting a brick-and-mortar business literally creates a health risk.

But you cannot wave a magic wand to get the benefits from this virtuous cycle. Businesses need to:

  • Get marketing and customer experience to collaborate on sharing customer feedback data that has a far-ranging impact on visibility, consideration, and operations. 
  • Elevate the importance of SEO. SEO does more than help a business get found. Good SEO affects a company’s reputation.
  • Invest in better tools to track and report customer feedback, including AI platforms that collect and make sense of unstructured data faster than any human being could.

Reputation experience management recognizes that the customer experience is intertwined with all phases of the marketing funnel. And customer feedback is the common thread.

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How 9 major Google My Business updates in 2020 can help you rebound /how-9-major-google-my-business-updates-in-2020-can-help-you-rebound-338022 Thu, 23 Jul 2020 12:00:00 +0000 /?p=338022 A long road of recovery awaits but the good news is that your customers are paying attention to your GMBs so capitalize on that to help your business make it to the other side.

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So long as the COVID-19 pandemic remains in our lives, brick-and-mortar businesses will experience a roller coaster of re-openings, temporary closures, victories and setbacks. Along the way, it’s clear that they’ll need to monitor their Google My Business (GMB) listings closely to protect their reputations. In recent months, we’ve seen Google launch several features designed to help businesses react to the pandemic by updating their GMBs with relevant information that affects their operations. Let’s take a closer look at those features and how businesses should view them.

Temporarily closed

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The introduction of a Temporarily Closed feature made it possible for businesses to make the distinction between a permanent closure and a temporary one, as with the case of COVID-19. Businesses had been needing a way to mark temporary location closures before the pandemic hit, an example being a seasonal business that closes for the winter. The pandemic caused Google to respond to this much-needed feature. It’s likely that Temporarily Closed is here to stay. Of course, businesses should use this feature if the pandemic causes another temporary closure, but consider its use for other times when your location is closed, as noted above. 

Google Post chain restrictions removed

The Google Posts feature – technically known as Posts with Google – makes it possible for organizations with GMB listings to update their knowledge panels with dynamic content, such as special events, changes in hours, special offers, or the opening of a new location. Historically, Google has not allowed chains (businesses with more than 10 locations) to publish Google posts automatically across multiple locations. But as the pandemic took hold, Google lifted that restriction to make it easier for businesses with multiple locations to respond to customers with critical updates. I recommend that you take advantage of this feature while it lasts. Use Posts wisely to promote holiday sales, promotions, and special events, while informing customers about protocols you are following to permit these onsite activities safely. At some point, I believe Google will reinstate the chain restrictions. 

New COVID-19 post type

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This COVID-19 Post Type enables a business to post content about COVID-19 and make that post appear prominently on your GMB. When it’s posted, it is labeled specifically as COVID-19 related information affecting your business. Such posts always appear more prominently than others. So let’s say on a Monday you share a COVID-19 Post Type and then on Tuesday you use Google Posts to share a standard offer. The COVID-19 Post Type will appear above your standard Post. Obviously the COVID-19 Post Type will remain so long as the pandemic disrupts our lives. Continue to use it to your advantage – for example to highlight that your location offers COVID-19 testing services. But remember to delete the COVID-19 Post Type when it no longer serves your needs.

New GMB attributes and displays

Google added new attributes for businesses to add curbside pickup and no-contact delivery, which have been essential for restaurants and retailers. What interests me especially is how they are being displayed – very prominently in your knowledge panel. Not only are those attributes above the fold, but Google notes their existence with a check-mark or X that makes the attribute even more visible. If these attributes are available to you, it’s critical that you use them. And make sure they are accurate. It’s likely that these attributes will be permanent especially as curbside pickup becomes more popular among large chains. More like these will likely appear for other industries, too.

Local Service Ad attribute updates

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Service area businesses, such as plumbers and home maintenance businesses have special requirements. For instance, they need to make it clear to their customers how they’ll protect their health while visiting homes. Fortunately, Google has addressed their needs with a local service ad attribute that makes it possible for businesses to share this kind of essential information. If you make use of Local Service Ads, capitalize on these attributes to reassure your customers that they can trust you to respect their health and safety.

Telehealth and COVID-19 links

My company works with many healthcare systems, and in March, one of the first things they told us was, “We need to stop people from coming to our locations and emergency centers unless they absolutely have to do so.” Of course, that’s because visiting a hospital during a pandemic creates a health risk. Fortunately, Google responded to this need by allowing healthcare systems to share on their GMBs prominent links to online care options and to information about getting information about COVID-19 without needing to visit a medical facility. These options have provided some relief to already beleaguered healthcare systems. If you are one of them, you absolutely need to put these features to work for you.

Support and donation links

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Google has allowed businesses to post information how their communities can support them such as buying a gift card or making a donation. These options will most certainly remain for the foreseeable future as brick-and-mortar businesses fight through a recessionary economy. Although retail sales have rebounded after a disastrous March and April, brick-and-mortar businesses are going to continue to experience hard times especially if states reinstate shelter-in-place mandates. Don’t be shy about using support links. You need your communities more than ever, and your customers are willing to help however they can.

Secondary hours

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Businesses that offer special hours of operation have lacked a way to publish those secondary hours on their GMBs. But as COVID-19 took hold, Google stepped up. In recent weeks, Google has support the publishing of secondary hours. An example is a grocery store adapting its hours of operation to accommodate people with special needs, such as retailers offering an hour each day exclusively for seniors to shop. 

This feature isn’t going away. Too many businesses had been asking for the feature before 2020 especially as large, big-box stores accommodate special hours for multiple hours.

Updated safety maps features

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Google has revised Google Maps to help people use the app to find routes and times that will make travel safer, an example being a recommended commuter train or driving route that avoids crowds. The safety feature also focuses on people traveling to COVID-19 testing sites: Google Maps now includes an alert reminding people to verify eligibility and facility guidelines to avoid being turned away or causing additional strain on the local healthcare system.

If you are a business owner in an urban environment, let your customers know about this feature in order to encourage customers to travel to your business. If you provide a testing facility, make sure you use the features discussed here to communicate eligibility and facility guidelines, as your visitors might check out your GMB listing after being prompted by Google. 

Visual content on your GMB

As you use these COVID-19-related features, don’t overlook one of the most important GMB features: visual content. Video and images speak the language of our visual age, and for some time, Google has provided the ability for businesses to upload such content on your GMBs. It’s super important that businesses update your images to:

  • Literally show your safety protocols, such as employees wearing masks and gloves.
  • Show what it looks like for customers to do business with you now – such as images of customers using marked spaces to practice social distancing while standing in line at the check-out lane, or customers in restaurants seated six feet apart.
  • Humanize your business with smiling, welcoming faces. A warm smile shines through a mask!
  • Consider video to give customers a tour of your facility, showing them how your location is configured to provide a safe, pleasant shopping experience. 

It boggles the mind to consider that in July, we are only one month into the second half of the most tumultuous year in recent history. A long road of recovery awaits. Businesses need to capitalize on every tool to make it to the other side. The good news is that your customers are paying attention to your GMBs. Our own company research shows that GMB views and clicks have rebounded. People want to do business with you and are using your GMB listing to do that. Make sure you manage their expectations and support your own business. 

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Is automotive a bellwether for Google My Business trends during COVID-19? /is-automotive-a-bellwether-for-google-my-business-trends-during-covid-19-334890 Tue, 19 May 2020 17:58:02 +0000 /?p=334890 Compared automotive results with all others to find customers are actively interested in supporting businesses that share updates and respond to reviews.

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Over the past few months, COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on the performance of Google My Business (GMB) listings across every industry. Businesses have scrambled to keep their GMB listings up to date and relevant with Google suspending customer reviews and scaling back support. Meanwhile, how has GMB performance been affected?

To find out, I worked with my company Reputation.com to examine GMB performance across all verticals. One trend that seemed to come out of this analysis was that automotive appears to be not only a bellwether for the U.S. economy, but also as an industry to look at to see what is likely going to happen on GMB for other industries. So how have people interacted with automotive GMBs during COVID-19 so far? This is an important question. A GMB listing acts as a business’ digital front door. And importantly, performance metrics on GMB listings provide a useful predictor of consumer purchase behavior. To answer the question, we examined GMB performance from the perspective of GMB views, clicks, and customer reviews across 100,000 GMB listings and compared the automotive results with all other results. 

Here is what we found out:

GMB views and clicks are rebounding

We looked at both GMB views and clicks throughout March and April, which gives us a measure of how much COVID-19 affected automotive especially after a national emergency was declared on March 13. Both views and clicks showed a steep drop in March. Throughout April, automotive showed the strongest rebound of any industry. But as April progressed, we saw a steady increase in people viewing dealerships’ GMB listings and then taking action by clicking to get more information such as driving directions and phone numbers as these charts show: 

A few factors may explain the turnaround. Across the United States, depending on how states enforced their shelter-in-place mandates, a number of auto dealerships remained open, many for service exclusively, but others for both sales and service. Unfortunately, interest did not translate to purchase enough to forestall a decline in auto sales for the first quarter of 2020. Other factors counteracted consumer interest, namely the recessionary environment that quickly took hold as the pandemic spread.  Automotive, like many other industries, felt the effects of COVID-19 on the bottom line. 

It’s also interesting to note that other industries followed automotive with similar patterns a week later.  The orange trendline in the two preceding charts showed that automotive was a reasonable barometer of what would happen to other industries when it came to GMB performance.  

Customer reviews 

It was widely reported that Google suspended customer reviews from March 20 to April 9, but on April 10, Google announced its reinstatement. Here we took a close look at review volume and sentiment for automotive and compared that data to other industries. We found that:

Customer reviews are returning to automotive GMB listings – and review sentiment is positive. 

In April, customer reviews began to return measurably in automotive to the point where, by the second week in May, volumes were 60% of where they were on March 1. By contrast, for most other industries, Google reviews were being published at a much slower rate. In many industries, review volume barely registered a return at all. 

Note that on May 13th Google began to more aggressively release reviews in other industries; so, a recovery in more industries should be expected.

The data tells us:

  • If automotive GMB performance is any indication, customers are actively interested in supporting businesses, and we can expect GMB usage across all industries to increase as more states relax shelter-in-place mandates and people start going out to shop.
  • Customers continue to give feedback to businesses, and they’ll respond positively to those that demonstrate responsiveness and attention to managing customer service with proper social distancing in place.

The turnaround for automotive is another reminder of how important it is for businesses to monitor and revise your GMB listings frequently, including sharing updates about your service availability (are you open? If so, what’s the new shopping protocol?) and, of course, responding to reviews.

GMBs are as important as ever. 

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When your Google My Business listing becomes your lifeline /when-your-google-my-business-listing-becomes-your-lifeline-333482 Thu, 23 Apr 2020 17:21:47 +0000 /?p=333482 During coronavirus, we see how GMB can be a business’s lifeline during a time of disruption. Here are some lessons learned.

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The recent days and weeks have been a blur as I’ve helped clients manage their online reputations amid a global pandemic that continues to inflict a heavy toll. Oftentimes Google My Business has been in the eye of the storm, with businesses turning to their GMB listings to notify people of sudden changes ranging from scaled back hours to temporary closures. Here are three truths that have emerged from this experience:

1. Your GMB listing is your lifeline

Under normal circumstances, people rely on a GMB listing to get essential information such as store hours and customer reviews to learn more about a business’s location. During the coronavirus pandemic, the nature of those searches changed rapidly as consumers’ behavior changed. “What are your hours?” became “Are you open while we shelter in place?” “What does your menu look like?” became “Do you offer curbside delivery?”

Businesses needed to respond quickly especially in the early going when Google had not yet rolled out special features to support posting COVID-19 related information. They needed to share special procedures they were following to ensure the health and safety of customers, the availability (or lack thereof) of products on store shelves, and either reduced hours or temporary closures, among other critical updates.

As states enacted shelter-in-place mandates, essential businesses needed to remind customers that they were, indeed, still open. Many relied on Google Posts or Q&A features, but doing so was not always a reliable avenue with Google suspending Q&A functionality at one point. Simply put, keeping a GMB listing up to date could make the difference to a business even staying afloat – and it still does as the pandemic continues to spread.

2. Google is responding

Even though Google warned of reduced support, the company still took several steps to help businesses mind their reputations through their GMB listings. For example, Google suspended customer review and Q&A functionality to protect businesses from the spread of misinformation and from people unfairly maligning them due to circumstances beyond their control.

In time, Google began to launch features to make it easier for businesses to communicate vital information, such as the COVID-19 Post type to help businesses quickly update their Google My Business (GMB) pages with coronavirus-related information that affects their operations or a “temporarily closed” option for businesses shut down by COVID-19. When businesses reported glitches in those features, Google responded quickly to fix them. Normally, Google simply lives with flaws when they are reported, accepting the reality that even an imperfect first launch helps its customers. Not this time. Google realizes businesses are fighting to survive, with zero margin for error.

There is a silver lining amid the pain. I expect Google will make permanent many of the temporary features that the company has put in place during the pandemic, such as curbside pick-up and no-contact delivery attributes for restaurants. The possibility of making these features more visible in a knowledge panel can only help a business.

3. “Good enough” is no longer good enough

Back in December, I wrote about the need for businesses to manage their GMB listings as frequently as possible. I divided businesses into three categories: Google Master (those who update their GMBs daily), Google Journeyman (who update their GMBs weekly), and Google Apprentices (who do so monthly).

Four months later, it’s time to revise our thinking: you’re either a Google Master or you may be out of business. We’re seeing now how a GMB is a business’s lifeline during a time of disruption. And there will be more: both natural disasters and human-inflicted ones that disrupt a business without warning. When those disruptions occur, a GMB listing provides the first line of response.

The lesson to be learned is this: don’t wait for a disruption to mind your GMB listings. Businesses that had already been managing their content closely were better prepared to react to the pandemic than those who had allowed their listings to fall out of date. Businesses that had taken the time to learn how to manage features such as Google Posts were able to move faster to keep their customers informed in the early days of the pandemic than the ones who were caught flat-footed. Master your GMB listings now. And never let up.

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The rise of customer review amplifiers /the-rise-of-customer-review-amplifiers-330575 Wed, 11 Mar 2020 19:09:19 +0000 /?p=330575 We live in a feedback economy so if resources and budget are limited, prioritize managing reviews on Google and Facebook.

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Back in 2016, I introduced the concept of data amplifiers in this column. I defined them as consisting of publishers (such as Apple and Google) and data aggregators (such as Infogroup) that together make sure an enterprise’s location data is made available to all the places where people conduct near me searches. Since then, a few of the data amplifiers have become something else: Customer review amplifiers.

Review amplifiers wield an inordinate impact on a business’s online perception. They not only amplify a company’s presence via search – but they also get more attention for a business through customer reviews. In 2020, Google and Facebook have emerged as the two leading reputation amplifiers. I touched upon this topic in my January Search Engine Land post. Let’s take a closer look at why review amplifiers are so important.

We live in a feedback economy

Companies now operate in a feedback economy, where customer feedback such as reviews and ratings has multiple impacts on a business. For instance, customer reviews influence visibility online (as Google makes clear), they shape public perception, and they give businesses valuable data to improve their operations. About 95 percent of shoppers read reviews before making a purchase decision, according to the Spiegel Research Center. An increase in one star in a customer’s business rating can lead to a five-to-nine-percent increase in revenue, according to the Harvard Business Review.

In this context, it behooves businesses to place more weight on the value of customer reviews. This is where review amplifiers come into play. Currently, there are two of them: Google and Facebook. That’s because a customer review on Google or Facebook is going to receive more attention due to Google’s monopoly on search and Facebook’s influence on social media. In 2020, businesses need to place more priority on maximizing the value of customer reviews on these two sites.

The reign of Google and Facebook

Google dominates the galaxy of customer reviews. That’s because Google is the world’s most popular site, easily the go-to destination for people to find things to do, buy, and to discuss their customer experience. Consequently, reviews on Google have an inordinate impact on a business’s reputation. People are finding what they need on Google, Google Maps, YouTube, the local 3-pack, Google My Business, and everywhere else people discover businesses on Google.

In addition, as noted, reviews – and a company’s response to them — influence a business’s findability in Google’s world. Review signals – including review quantity and velocity — remain one of the most important local ranking signals on a company’s Google My Business page, per Moz and Local SEO Guide. In addition, the sheer volume of reviews on Google affects a business’s reputation more so on other sites (beyond affecting a company’s ranking in Google’s search results).

The second most important review amplifier is Facebook. Despite controversies that have dogged Facebook for the past few years, Facebook keeps growing its user base. According to its latest earnings report, both monthly and daily active users increased year over year, to 2.5 billion (monthly active users) and 1.66 billion (daily active users). Facebook now accounts for more than half of social logins made by consumers to sign into the apps and websites of publishers and brands.

So it’s no surprise that as a review destination, Facebook is becoming more influential as people use Facebook to search for businesses and discuss their customer experiences. In addition, Facebook has been encouraging more businesses to use the site to conduct commerce and build their brands (automotive being a good example), which generates more reviews. According to Facebook, about one-third of people on Facebook use the platform to look for recommendations, and two out of three visits the Facebook page of a local business or event once a week.

What business should do

It’s reasonable to ask: what about all the other review sites out there? Why aren’t they important as Facebook? Well, you cannot ignore other review sites. But if your resources and budget are limited, you need to prioritize Google and Facebook – especially Google. No other site in the world can match Google for amplifying both a review and a company’s data simultaneously. No other site can match Google for influencing a business’s location information and customer reviews at the same time.

I would suggest:

  • Make sure your house is in order on Google and Facebook. For example, how complete and accurate is your location information on your GMB, 3-pack, Maps, everywhere else people find your business? How up to date are your customer reviews, and how often are you responding to those reviews? The two types of data go hand in hand: accurate location data and a compelling presence on Google affect how people perceive your brand. And those perceptions influence your ranking. The same principles hold true for Facebook: people need to find accurate, compelling content, and they need to see that your business is responsive to customer reviews. In addition, unstructured data on Google and Facebook (in the form of reviews) provides outstanding real-time feedback on your operations.
  • Maintain a presence on secondary sites such as Yelp and vertical sites. You cannot be everywhere, but you can certainly choose the sites that are most important to your vertical and manage your reputation on those sites. Each industry is different. TripAdvisor is obviously important to travel, for instance.

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Get ready for an even stronger Google in 2020 /get-ready-for-an-even-stronger-google-in-2020-327941 Tue, 21 Jan 2020 20:08:11 +0000 /?p=327941 Brands need to monitor and respond to reviews to improve their online experience because customers will vote with their search behavior.

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Welcome to a new decade. Search behavior continues to shape the way businesses operate in the digital world. And Google continues to influence search behavior. As I talked with my colleagues and researched trends for 2020, it became clear that for all the controversy surrounding Google’s growth – for all the buzz surrounding threats to Google, including the rise of Amazon – Google just keeps finding ways to become more dominant. Here’s what I see happening in the coming year:

1. Google asserts its dominance

The two most popular sites in the world are Google and YouTube, with 108 billion users between them. Google is leveraging these them to become even more influential, as hard as that might be to imagine. For example, Google continues to dominate online advertising with a 36.2 percent market share and strong growth, and the company is carpet-bombing the market with more tools that make it easier for advertisers to keep using Google products, such as the YouTube Masthead format for TV.

The advertising push capitalizes on the fact that roughly half of Google searches stay on Google properties. In other words, roughly half of people searching for things on Google are finding what they need within knowledge panels, Google My Business (GMB) listings, YouTube, Google Maps, and other Google properties. Google is capitalizing on these zero-click searches by doing an even better job monetizing the value of the Google universe, a trend that will continue in 2020. The challenge for businesses is to figure out how to leverage the value of their presence in Google’s world, such as capitalizing on Google Ads products and investing more into their GMB listings.

2. Google, YouTube and Facebook become review amplifiers

As noted above, Google and YouTube are the two most popular sites in the world. The third most popular site is Facebook. Consider them to be like a powerful Roman troika ruling the online world. All three destinations are becoming “review amplifiers” because customer reviews left there get more attention. In Google’s case, customer reviews also influence a business’s search visibility. Meanwhile, sites like Yelp are becoming less influential. It’s not that they don’t matter; they just don’t carry the same clout they used to hold on the marketplace.

One important gut check for businesses: how much care and feeding are you putting into your presence on Facebook, Google, and YouTube? Are you respecting them as customer review sites by devoting adequate time to ask for reviews there and respond to them? How well do you manage customer Q&As on your GMB?

Meanwhile, all of the customer feedback occurring on these sites creates more data in the wild or unstructured customer feedback. Businesses that can properly monitor and respond to those reviews will improve their online customer experience, capture valuable input to improve their operations and improve their search rankings. They’re going to need better analytics tools to properly manage this customer feedback loop from data in the wild.

3. Google goes premium with GMB

Remember when Google alarmed businesses by apparently testing the waters for premium GMB services? Well, bank on this test becoming a reality. No, Google is not going to start charging for businesses to be listed – doing so would discourage too many businesses from claiming their listings. Instead, we’ll see Google develop premium GMB services, such as customer support and products to integrate your GMB more effectively with your YouTube presence. Here again, I refer back to the ecosystem that Google has built across Google and YouTube. Google is only beginning to monetize that ecosystem.

4. Local businesses game the Google system

Unfortunately, Google’s popularity means more bad hats emerging to game the system.

Here is a dirty secret about local businesses: it’s easy for them to spam Google listings through tactics such as creating fake listings, keyword stuffing legitimate GMB listings, and paying for fake reviews – both positive ones for themselves and negative ones for their competitors. Google will continue to try to stop them in 2020, but Google will fail.

There are just too many bad players flying under the radar for Google to stop them. In addition, these businesses really don’t have anything to lose by spamming Google. The most egregious offenders are typically indie mom-and-pop operations with zero visibility. What’s the worst that can happen to them if Google cracks down on them? Getting black-listed by Google matters little if you don’t get much traffic in the first place. Reputable businesses really have no option here but to continue to publish accurate, credible location information and compelling content while spammers eventually trip themselves up by committing sloppy errors such as publishing confusing location information. Customers will vote with their search behavior.

What’s next for Google?

Of course, 2020 is an election year, which means Google will be part of a broader political and social conversation – which also means Google will be a target for criticism as the “tech has become too big” narrative intensifies on Capitol Hill. Google will need to tread carefully. But Google will march forward inexorably. Why? Because consumers and businesses are voting with their behavior and their dollars.

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Businesses need to think differently about customer feedback data in 2020 /businesses-need-to-think-differently-about-customer-feedback-data-in-2020-327122 Fri, 03 Jan 2020 17:45:42 +0000 /?p=327122 Improving the customer experience and improve your business operationally means keeping up with the many ways customers communicate with you.

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Contributor and SMX speaker, Adam Dorfman, thinks the customer feedback ecosystem is going to play an even more important role in the coming year for businesses looking to improve operations and the customer experience.

Below is the video transcript:

Hi everybody, my name’s Adam Dorfman. I’m a director of product growth at Reputation.com and I’m going to talk about some of the trends and one big important trend that we’re seeing right now and that we think it’s going very much carry over into 2020. And that’s how up until recently, the way most businesses would think about how their business was doing was through the use of surveys and collecting survey data. Specifically, NPS being a metric that many businesses like to use to determine how well they were performing.

An example of an NPS question would be: On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend this business to a friend of yours?

And if it was an eight or higher, that was great. And if not, it was lower. And that’s still very helpful because you can ask your customers directly, after you know they visited your business and things along those lines, still a fantastic way to gauge sentiment. However, it’s a very small part in all the places that customers, your customers, are leaving information about your business.

When you think of the customer feedback ecosystem, or the customer feedback economy, whatever you want to call it, there’s many, many places where information about your business is being left. And those could be on review sites. They could be on question and answer sort of sites like Google My Business Knowledge Panels, or the site Quora. It can be in forms. It can be messaging. It can be all sorts of different, all sorts of different places.

If you aren’t tracking all of those different places in the wild, where this information is being left either solicited or not solicited, more often than not, not solicited, you’re missing a huge opportunity in being able to understand what customers truly think about your business and how to improve your business operationally, to make a better business and to improve the customer experience.

This is part of a special feature from our community of experts on what successful marketers will do in 2020. Read more >>

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SMX Overtime: Managing your online business reviews /smx-overtime-managing-your-online-business-reviews-326434 Thu, 12 Dec 2019 20:34:53 +0000 /?p=326434 Product management expert Adam Dorfman answers questions from SMX East about asking for, and responding to, reviews on Google and Facebook.

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Last month I spoke at SMX East about scaling online reputation management – specifically reviews. At the end of my presentation, “14 Tips to Scale Reviews Across Multiple Locations,” I fielded a number of fantastic questions from session attendees and wanted to follow-up on some additional ones.

How do I convince clients to respond to reviews on Google?

First and foremost, responding to customer reviews builds trust. When a business responds to reviews, it demonstrates that it cares enough about its customers to respond to them. Being responsive builds trust not only with the person who wrote the review but also with future customers who might be looking at reviews as they evaluate you against your competitors. 

Responding to reviews specifically on Google also improves your visibility. Reviews have been the fastest growing signal in Google local ranking factors for the past three years, according to the annual Moz Local Search Ranking Factors study. Review signals were correlated with higher rankings in Local SEO Guide’s Local Search Ranking Study from two years ago.

Strictly looking at GMB and reviews, wouldn’t negative reviews actually be helpful in rankings?

Google stresses that “High-quality, positive [emphasis mine] reviews from your customers will improve your business’s visibility and increase the likelihood that a potential customer will visit your location.” So, strictly speaking, negative reviews won’t help.

But the bigger question is this: how can negative reviews help your business beyond rankings? They can if you are willing to learn from them. No business is perfect. Negative feedback identifies vulnerabilities that you need to address before they mushroom into bigger problems.

Responding to reviews by improving your business creates a virtuous cycle: a better customer experience leads to more positive reviews, which leads to improved visibility online. So, long story short, indirectly negative reviews could help your rankings in local search by improving your business.”

Many of our clients like us to handle reviews on their behalf. Do you have any recommendations on how to monetize that as a service?

Don’t try to manage reviews manually – especially if your clients operate multiple locations. Trying to monitor and respond appropriately and quickly to reviews can be overwhelming unless you have a tool that does everything from sentiment analysis to natural language processing of the reviews as they come in. (Full disclosure: my company offers one.) But don’t take my word for it: ask someone who has tried to manage reviews manually at scale. They’ll tell you the same thing: you need the right tool to manage this process well.

What’s a typical workflow like when outsourcing reviews? How do you onboard the new people responding to reviews?

First, talk with your client and establish a protocol for how to respond to reviews. Is the client going to split duties with the outsourcing partner, or is the partner going to handle them all? In addition, what’s the protocol for writing original replies versus using some agreed-upon, preformatted replies? Those (and many others) are the types of questions you need to address. Get the protocol sorted out and documented. Once you do that, onboarding new people comes down to relying on the protocol to train them.

What’s your position on review gating? Only targeting people who give us the best feedback or would asking all be more beneficial?

Don’t do it. Review gating goes against Google’s terms of service and violating that can get you in hot water with the world’s most popular website. Incidentally, as reported in Search Engine Land, review gating won’t materially impact your business’ overall ratings anyway. It’s not worth the risk.

When businesses ask customers for reviews say, for urgent care, what ratio of positive to negative reviews might the business expect?

If you take good care of your customers, then expect a high ratio of positive reviews! The important thing is to ask for reviews. Don’t be afraid of negative ones happening. People who have a bad experience with your business are going to share negative reviews whether you ask them or not. It’s not like asking for reviews will trigger a flood of damaging feedback. Trust me – upset customers need no encouragement. But sometimes happy customers just need a little nudge to share the love online.

How do you combat fake reviews and irrelevant negative reviews? Flagging doesn’t do crap!

Fake reviews are a problem and no doubt that flagging reviews has little effect on having them removed. While there is no guarantee this will work, typically the best course of action to have reviews removed is to post to the GMB forums and hope Joy Hawkins or another Product Expert takes up your cause.

That said, what you can do is ask customers to review your business and make it easy for them to do so. The uptick in authentic reviews will counter the spammy ones.

How do we decide which platforms to focus our review asks on? Zillow? Google? Facebook? Especially given a limited number of transactions.

Focus first on the review amplifiers, Google and Facebook. Review amplifiers have an inordinate impact on your reputation because of their scale and influence. It’s better to focus on a small number of review amplifiers than spread yourself thin trying to be present on every location where someone leaves a review.

Start with Google. Google reviews have the biggest impact on your reputation and search rankings. Google owns 93 percent of the search market, and as noted earlier, reviews are one of the most important local search ranking signals on Google. Accumulating customer reviews on Google is most important for both your reputation and your visibility online.

Facebook remains an important number two choice to focus your time. Research from Vendasta shows that Facebook is a critical site for reviews owing to its traffic and review volume, which is true in my experience working with clients. After all, next to Google and YouTube, Facebook is the world’s most popular site – and its user base is growing.

After Google and Facebook, pick some vertical sites that pertain to your industry – such as TripAdvisor for travel and Zillow for real estate.

But in a world of limited resources and budget, you need to focus first on the review amplifiers: Google and Facebook.

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