Google Now Becomes “Platform,” Incorporates Third Party Content, Apps

Google Now third parties

Yesterday Google announced Q4 and full year 2014 results. The company made a boatload of money ($18 billion) but still fell short of Wall Street expectations. That resulted in a short-lived stock drop, which recovered as people realized things “weren’t as bad as feared,” to quote one analyst.

Google continues to struggle in mobile to generate revenue growth. Mobile CPCs (search and display) are less than on the PC. This, despite the fact that Google is overwhelming the dominant mobile search engine, with an 84% share of mobile search in the US and 92% worldwide.

Conventional search (query in a box) in a mobile context is a somewhat awkward product. But Google Now, by contrast, is a fantastic product and well adapted to mobile with its time and context awareness. It makes sense that Google would continue to build it out as both an alternative to its main mobile search — it’s “predictive search” — and as something entirely different, along the lines of a virtual assistant.

Today Google opened up Now to third party developers, starting with 30+ hand-picked apps. Among them: TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Kayak, Ford, The Economist, Smart News, Zillow, Duolingo, Lyft and others. Content from these developers/apps will appear as “cards” within the Google Now experience, triggered by different variables (time, location, etc.).

Google Now apps

This is very smart and useful all the way around. This is another “notification” tool or channel for publishers and developers to build engagement with users. And it’s way less annoying than conventional notifications.

It’s Android only “for the time being” according to Google. But I suspect Google will expand the capability to the iPhone.

In mobile Google has been trying to reinsert itself between the user and content, a role it has successfully played on the PC. In mobile Google is used far less for navigational purposes. Google’s “deep linking” initiative should be seen in this context: trying to make mobile search more relevant and useful and trying to put Google back into the center of the user experience.

In a way, third party content integration into Google Now replicates that “discovery” or “curation” role that Google plays on the PC. Google Now thus becomes a doorway into content from across the mobile web. It also makes the product into a “platform” that will likely boost frequency and engagement as well.

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Has Y! Just Given Up on Local/Mobile Search?

Yahoo logo

Yahoo released Q1 earnings yesterday (so did Apple of course). As as been pointed out, the company’s core business is basically flat. Partly this is a result of more intense display ad competition (Google, Facebook, etc.), more overall display impression “liquidity” (supply) and the pre-Mayerian outsourcing of PC search to Bing.

Yahoo revenues

Pressured by institutional shareholders CEO Marissa Mayer is spinning off the company’s remaining Alibaba assets into a $40+ billion holding company, appropriately named “SpinCo.” That news overshadowed Yahoo’s mixed earnings and boosted the company’s stock after hours yesterday.

Mobile revenues were one of several positive notes in the company’s earnings. Yahoo said it had $1.2 billion in mobile ad revenues in 2014.

Yahoo mobile earnings

There’s growth potential for Yahoo in its “MaVeNS” cluster: mobile, video, native (ads) and social. Mayer said this group of ad products generated $1.1 billion in 2014 revenue. Gemini (as a part of that) appears to be doing relatively well.

Yet even as Yahoo promotes itself now as a mobile-first company it continues to have a big hole in its offering: local search. You can do local queries in Yahoo Search (PC and mobile). But what’s available today — especially in mobile — is basic and doesn’t compete effectively with Google or Yelp or verticals/vertical apps. It doesn’t motivate repeat usage.

Yahoo local search

Back when Mayer took the helm she said she wasn’t going to compete in local. What she meant was she wasn’t going to go up against Google Maps and all the technology and investment behind it. But there’s a way to do local that doesn’t require going toe-to-toe with Google Maps or Apple Maps.

For some time I had thought that Yahoo would try and buy Foursquare to try and plug the local search/local-mobile hole. That obviously hasn’t happened.

However I continue to believe that to grow mobile search revenues and to attract and deepen mobile usage it needs to have a more compelling local offering. Yahoo has basically outsourced reviews to Yelp, maps to Nokia and search to Bing. That makes it difficult to imagine what Yahoo might develop internally that could capture and retain usage.

Acquisitions remain an option. Alternatively, rather than building out a new local-mobile search capability beyond what already exists, Yahoo could supplement with specialized vertical apps: restaurants and entertainment or city guides or travel. This approach might be more “do-able” and yield a better return for the company.

Yahoo could partner for some of the content (with a mix of third parties) and use internal assets to develop something different or unique. Regardless, I continue to believe that it needs to do something with local search in mobile. Given the company’s limited resources and apparent lack of will it’s not clear what or whether that will be.

What’s your view?

Where might Yahoo be able to build or buy a strong local-mobile experience? Or is it just a rabbit hole not worth going down as Marrisa Mayer seems to be implying?

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SMX West Local Search Advantage Workshop — Space Is Limited

local_search_adv

I was asked this year to plan the local search and SEO workshop at SMX West. This has traditionally been programmed by the folks at Local U.

I just discovered that the capacity of the workshop will be limited and it will definitely sell out. If you’re interested in a deeper dive on local SEO, social, mobile and local search marketing tactics you definitely should sign up soon. In addition the SMX early bird rate ends this week.

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 7.35.52 AM

Here’s the most up-to-date agenda:

8:30 – 8:45 — Kickoff & Introduction

Welcome, announcements and a “top 10” presentation of the latest key local and mobile metrics to set the stage.

Speaker: Greg Sterling

8:45 – 9:25 — Google My Business: Everything You Need to Know Now

You may know the basics. But you probably don’t know everything you need to get the most out of GMB. This session presents the latest inside information and tactics from Google My Business Top Contributor Joy Hawkins.

Speaker: Joy Hawkins Product Consultant @Imprezzio Marketing and Google My Business Top Contributor 

9:25 – 10:30 — Local SEO Strategy & Key Tactics (Bonus: Apple Maps Clinic)

Local search and SEO mavens Adam Dorfman and Andrew Shotland share critical insights and tactics for a post-pigeon world. Shotland also presents a bonus Apple Maps clinic offering a concentrated dose of everything you need to know about getting accurate listings information and multi-location data into Apple Maps.

Speakers: 

Adam Dorfman, SVP Product & Technology, SIM Partners 

Andrew Shotland, LocalSEOGuide

10:30 – 11:00 Break 

11:00 – 11:30 — Google: Ask Me Anything 

Audience Q&A with Google

11:30 – 12:10 — Building or Fixing Your Online Reputation 

Online reputation is more critical than ever. Chris Silver Smith offers best practices for obtaining “legal” online reviews as well as tactics for addressing negative reviews and negative-review SEO visibility.

Speaker: Chris Silver Smith, President Argent Media

12:10 – 12:50 — Executing a Winning Local-Social Strategy

Social has become as important as search in many respects. How can you fully exploit social media to generate local leads, store visits? Kelley O. Williams, will address overall local-social strategy and managing multi-location businesses on Facebook and beyond.

Speaker: Kelley O. Williams, Director the Honey Bee Company  

12:50 – 1:50 Lunch 

1:50 – 2:30 — Mobile SEO, SEM and Attribution

Mobile has arguably become the most important “platform,” especially when it comes to local/offline information and transactions. A bad mobile experience isn’t just a missed opportunity, it can damage your brand. What are the top things you must do right now to improve usability and drive leads and conversions from mobile devices?

Speaker: Jaclyn Jordan, Senior Paid Search Strategist at WordStream 

2:30 – 3:05 — Top Tools for Local Marketers

From bulk submissions to keyword research and sales automation, there are dozens of tools out there. Which ones are most effective? Which are going to make your lives easier? Conrad Saam will share the conclusions of his research and experience.

Speaker: Conrad Saam, General Manager Atticus Marketing 

3:05 – 3:40 — Leveraging Video for Local Lead Generation 

Video is an often overlooked tool for local lead generation. Mat Siltala will present two illustrative case studies showing how local marketers can use video to successfully generate new business.

Speaker: Mat Siltala, Founder & President Avalaunch Media

3:40 – 4:00: Break

4:00 – 4:30 — The In-House Perspective

In-house marketers share experiences and tips for success representing chains, franchises and other multi-location businesses

Speaker: TBA

4:30 – 5:00 — Advanced Tips and Tactics: Secrets of the Masters 

Our speakers share some advanced tips, hidden tactics and hard-won local lessons in this audience Q&A.

If you’re interested in attending, register here.

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LSA Insights: New Tool With Real Local-Media Campaign Data Across Channels

lsa_insights_graphic2

This morning The LSA formally announced a new media performance, benchmarking and planning tool: LSA Insights. This has been in development and beta testing for the past two years. It’s “mature” enough for launch but it will continue to add data and categories over time.

When I joined LSA late last August I was surprised and impressed when I saw this in action. There are lots of tools and databases in the market but nothing that addresses location-based media across categories like this.

It is and will be the most comprehensive resource available on local media performance. In the past there have been isolated studies and reports that have shown how location-targeted media outperform “national” ads. But that information has been isolated, anecdotal or looked at from a point in time.

LSA Insights contains actual ad-campaign data (350,000 campaigns to date) that can be sliced and diced by vertical/business category (150 in all), geography, ad type, time frame and other criteria (e.g., calls, clicks, impressions). Which media are driving the most calls for landscape designers in Des Moines? There’s also national ad data so that localized and national ad performance can be compared.

lsa_insights_graphic

Right now LSA Insights covers mobile, paid search, print and internet yellow pages. Ultimately it will include video and social media as well. (LSA will keep adding categories and data, which is no small feat. Everything has to be normalized so it can be compared.)

The potential use cases are many here: media planning and budgeting, development of sales and marketing collateral, performance benchmarking. For example, an agency trying to determine the most efficient allocation of ad budgets (national-local or SMB) can use this to see which media are delivering the most efficient leads by category and market. Those seeking to convince an advertiser about local media ROI can pull data on that advertisers’ category nationally or by specific markets and channels to compare performance by industry and national ad benchmarks.

My hope is that the tool can also be used ultimately to determine out how much money is actually being spent on localized media campaigns, rather than relying entirely on forecasts or surveys, which are often inaccurate.

The tool right now doesn’t have any newspaper or radio data. But in terms of most local-digital categories it has an impressive body of campaign information. Partners that provide data gain access to the tool for free (third parties only gain an aggregated view). Otherwise it’s a subscription product with a few levels of access.

If you want to learn more about how the tool works or want to discuss access, contact Jason Peaslee (Director of Research)
Kevin Kalinowski (Sales). Below is a short video demo drawn from a sneak-preview webinar LSA hosted earlier this month.

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Google Renames Review Program: ‘City Experts’ Is Now ‘Local Guides’

Google has renamed its City Experts local reviews program. It’s now called “Local Guides.”

Local Guides

To be a part of the program you have to apply (or be currently enrolled), be at least 18 and have a valid Google+ account. Google appears to have gotten rid of the rigid “at least 5 reviews a month” rule in favor of different participation levels based on cumulative reviews:

Level 1: 0+ reviews: 
Access our monthly newsletter
Stay up to date on the latest program benefits, features, and news
In select countries, invites to members-only contests

Level 2 — 5+ reviews:
Join Hangouts with tastemakers, connoisseurs, and Googlers worldwide
Submit your own Local Guides meetups for promotion
Eligible to test new Google products and features before public release

Level 3 — 50+ reviews:
Get highlighted in the Google Maps app with a Local Guides badge
Join our private Google+ community
Apply to moderate Local Guides Google+ Communities
In select cities, invites to exclusive events

Level 4 — 200+ reviews:
Eligible to be featured on our official Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and more
Annual thank you gift for consistent, high-quality contributions to Google Maps

Reviews must still meet the “high quality” standards previously used to determine credit/eligibility.

I have no sense of how well the program is going or how much participation Google has managed to generate but the fact that it’s still around suggests that there is at least some threshold level of engagement.

What have you heard? What do you think about the name change and other program changes?

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Review Inflation: What Happens When Everyone Has 5 Stars?

5 stars

There’s plenty of data that show consumers rely heavily on ratings and reviews to help them make purchase decisions. Dozens of surveys and studies affirm this.

Businesses are starting to become much more sophisticated about online reviews as well. They understand the importance of these consumer trends and are increasingly asking customers provide feedback and review them on Yelp, TripAdvisor and other key local sites.

Tools such as GetFiveStars, Refgo and Customer Lobby help local businesses obtain and syndicate consumer reviews. Amazon and vertical sites such as OpenTable and Hotels.com solicit reviews from verified buyers.

But what happens when the tools and growing sophistication of local businesses results in what might be called “review inflation”?

Five star reviews

This morning I was doing research on local electricians (for myself) and came across the above page on Yelp. There were at least 10 listings that had five stars and a comparable number of reviews. I had to go to the second page before finding an electrician that wasn’t as highly rated.

Either these are all great local businesses or these businesses have gotten very good at generating positive reviews — or both. I’m not suggesting that these reviews are fraudulent. However Yelp becomes less useful when there’s less variation among ratings.

A user has to spend a lot more time reading reviews in depth or go to “secondary criteria” or filters to make a decision. Of course I could pick three electricians, call and get price quotes, etc. That’s the “old school” approach.

This “review inflation” as I’m calling it won’t happen across all business categories. But it will likely be more common over time. The best and most digitally savvy local businesses will have mostly positive reviews, making it hard for consumers to use sites like Yelp to differentiate them quickly.

This becomes a potentially bigger problem for mobile users unless proximity becomes the chief variable after business quality.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you believe:

  • Over time more businesses will be favorably reviewed as I’ve suggested?
  • If that happens, it will diminish the value of review sites like Yelp?
  • That more “selectively solicited” reviews will start to game the system?

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Report: Zomato Buys Urbanspoon for Roughly $50 Million, Entering US Market

Zomato International restaurant directory Zomato is reportedly entering the US in a splashy way: it has bought Urbanspoon from IAC. Based in India but operating in 130 cities around the world, Zomato raised $60 million from Sequoia Capital late last year and has raised over $100 million to date.

The rumored purchase price is that $60 million from Sequoia.

Urbanspoon was founded a year before the release of the iPhone but it was the Apple device that propelled the site to success with its long-gone carousel restaurant finder. That novel feature helped gain attention and put Urbanspoon on the map.

In 2009 the company was acquired by IAC but largely neglected thereafter. Urbanspoon established enough of a brand to have maintained a loyal following however.

Zomato is entering the North American market with the acquisition. It’s unlikely however that Urbanspoon will survive as as a brand. It’s pretty clear that Zomato is building a global brand and dining platform. Urbanspoon will probably be absorbed into that effort in the relatively near term.

The company is not simply a directory. It currently offers booking (in the UK through OpenTable) and is moving into payments. At least in the restaurant category Zomato could emerge as a formidable rival to Yelp over time.

GeekWire has reported that current Urbanspoon CEO Keela Robison will leave as part of the acquisition. Zomato has publicly said that it has 30 million monthly users around the world, most of whom use its mobile apps. That user-number would potentially double with Urbanspoon’s traffic.

Given the sale of Urbanspoon I would anticipate IAC soon unloading Citysearch, which is a much weakened and diminished version of its former self.

Update: the company confirmed that the purchase price was “between $50 and $60 million.”

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Tomorrow’s Webinar: The Future of SMB Digital Ad Sales

LSA logoLate last year the LSA published a white paper I wrote with Neal Polachek on the future of local digital media sales. It doesn’t offer a definitive list of solutions but clearly lays out the challenges, questions and issues facing traditional media publishers and digital-only channels.

Tomorrow at 2pm Eastern 11 Pacific, Neal Polachek, Kerry Baldwin (of Web.com) and I will be discussing and debating the issues and questions raised in that report. The webinar is free and we hope you’ll attend and participate in the conversation.

We want to webinar to truly be a conversation with the audience so it’s been structured around some key discussion topics:

  • Can traditional sales reps be retrained effectively to sell digital or must publishers/channels go with digital-only reps?
  • Is the “consultative selling” rhetoric real? If so is it only for high-value accounts? Can it be done on the phone?
  • How should sales teams be organized – by product, industry segment, advertiser spend, other?
  • What’s the right balance between generalists and specialists in the sales organization?
  • What’s the right balance between T-sales and outside sales?
  • What’s the role or responsibility of sales managers? How significant is their impact on success or failure?
  • How can advertiser retention be improved?
  • How can sales organizations differentiate in an extremely noisy market?

We’re going to be asking audience members to engage and participate throughout the webinar rather than simply waiting until the end to ask questions. There’s a lot of important material here and lots of strong and conflicting opinions.

Add your perspective to the discussion. Register here. Everyone that attends will get a copy of the report.

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Two Major ‘Local Metatrends’ of 2014

2014 reflections

There have been a lot of year-end roundups and predictions posts over the past two weeks. I participated in a couple of those for ReachLocal and StreetFight. I specifically declined to do that here.

Now however I want to offer an abbreviated year in review post. Looking forward to 2015, there are lots of interesting things happening in wearables, online film and TV distribution, virtual reality, indoor location, the smart home/IoT and beyond.

But as I reflect on 2014, it strikes me that there were two interconnected “metatrends” that stand out. People will use different terminology to discuss these but I would name them as follows:

  • Marriage of online and offline
  • Emergence of real-world location data

In both cases mobile devices are playing a central or enabling role. In the latter case, mobile-location history is delivering real-world behavioral data and insights to marketers and brands, enabling the kinds of targeting, tracking and attribution that simply weren’t possible a short time ago.

Location for mobile users, in some sense, is like a search keyword. Physical presence in Macy’s or a Honda dealership or Five Guys is an indication of intent to buy (if not actual buying behavior). But location and location history also provide broader insights into consumer patterns and “identity.” My presence at the Intercontinental hotel vs. a Hampton Inn reveals me as a certain type of traveler-buyer.

As an indication of the value of location data, almost all your apps are now seeking to capture location in the background all the time. Accordingly, there are obvious and significant privacy implications to all this.

Putting those aside for the moment, these types of audience data were previously only capable of being inferred or imputed from PC site visits or magazine subscriptions or your postal code (which is also a contributor to mobile-location profiling). Now however location history and real-time location are yielding new and incredibly valuable information for digital marketers.

Mobile-location was also previously seen by most as a narrow, real-time opportunity. I’m near Target or near Starbucks right now, hit me with a coupon — essentially geofencing on the display side and something similar on the search side: I’m looking for an open bagel shop right now. Yet something more complex and nuanced has emerged that has as much or more relevance to brands as it does to direct-response marketers.

The proliferation of mobile devices has also been a driver of, though not the only contributor to, the related “online to offline” phenomenon I referenced in the first bullet above. This broader category includes:

  • Online scheduling for offline visits or services
  • In-app payments for offline services and offline-mobile payments
  • The digital availability of real-time inventory data (products and services)
  • Cloud-based back office services that power many of these consumer-facing capabilities
  • Digital analytics for offline behavior and online-to-store ad tracking

The digital and “real” worlds only continue to become more and more interpenetrated as more offline and real-world data are captured, digitized and made accessible via the internet and mobile apps. While mobile isn’t the sole variable behind these trends it’s in most respects the keystone.

And as I look ahead to 2015 I see a year when mobile truly comes to dominate the PC in almost all respects — except for ad spend.

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Holiday Message: Radical Acts of Kindness

Winter

First, I want to thank everyone who has continued to follow my blog. I’ve not been as active over the past few months because I’ve been busy with lots of projects for the Local Search Association (soon to be simply “LSA”). Thank you all for your continued interest and support.

One of my challenges is trying to figure out what I want to write about here vs. the LSA blog vs. Search Engine Land/Marketing Land. (Malcolm I’m still going to do that post.)

Overall this year was a transitional one for me. I was unexpectedly recruited and joined the LSA in late August. I’m excited by what we’re doing. It’s a rapidly evolving organization and there’s lots of creative and interesting work going on. You’ll see new offerings, a different LSA conference and much more in 2015.

I spent a lot of time this year thinking about how I didn’t want to sleep 4 – 5 hours a night anymore. I’ve been working like a crazy person and seriously sleep deprived for the past decade. It was really taking a toll on me. Among other things, I gained roughly 30 pounds and needed to make some changes.

I really enjoy most of what I do but I was starting to burn out. That’s not the way I want to relate to my work.

In parallel, I also became increasingly distressed by everything going on in the world: police shootings, global instability, religious fanatics and terrorism, climate change, the state of public education, a culture caught up in the trivial, the dysfunctional state of US government and politics. I started to think that what I was doing was pretty frivolous and unnecessary compared with the immediacy of these larger issues.

One day last month, however, I came to a simple but powerful conclusion: one very concrete way for me to “contribute” and address some of the challenges in our society is just by being nicer to people. Being kind is something I’m totally in control of. Each day I can choose to be more patient and compassionate.

What I’m trying to do now is be kinder to people I don’t know in my daily interactions. As basic as that sounds it’s quite potent. I’m trying to stop myself in ordinary situations and be more gracious and generous.

There are a lot of these opportunities every day.

I’m letting people come into my lane on the freeway. I’m letting people with only a couple of items go in front of me at the grocery store. I’m trying to open doors for older people. I’m trying to be more patient with my kids. I’m trying to recognize that annoying telemarketers or customer service people on the phone are just trying to make a living.

Often we treat each other as “objects” or “impediments” and “obstacles” to achieving our goals or objectives. Trying to be more humane and identify with the people on the other side of phone or counter or those who seem very different is important and potentially transformative.

It takes a high degree of awareness to pull this off. Being kind in this culture is tough. But I figure if I can do this — if I can “model kindness” — I will not only make my own interactions more pleasant, I will improve my overall outlook and encourage others to follow.

It’s very hard for individuals to do much about climate change (yes, you can buy a hybrid) or institutional racism or ISIS. But we can all be kinder, more compassionate and considerate of one another. It sounds simple and even “dumb.” But it’s actually pretty radical if you think about it.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.

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