Lessons from 2018 Local U Advanced

April 26th, 2018

Between Mark Zuckerberg going to Washington and a recent CNBC piece on Google’s Maps’ Wild West this month, it’s an eventful time to be advertising online. It was coincidentally good timing for local search professionals to meet in Austin to talk shop at Local U Austin Advanced.

Google, of course, dominated the topics of conversation, even if just to say don’t put all your eggs in the Google basket. (Same goes for Facebook, Amazon, and any other silver bullet you’re pinning your hopes to.) Here’s a bit of what to look out for in the coming months as businesses strive to best connect with their customers online.

1 – “Eyes-Free” Is Coming Here

Cindy Krum of Mobile Moxie gave the morning keynote, detailing how Google is all about the voice search these days. A complete “eyes-free” experience is the ultimate goal, with four actions (know, go, do, and buy) that happen to coincide with four products (Explore, Maps, Assistant, and Express).

Krum is valiantly re-naming the mobile-first algorithm “entity-first indexing.” She encourages businesses to think beyond keywords and instead embrace the idea of entities. Put another way, Google is more interested in categorizing people, places and things than just the keywords used to describe them. Why? Because “voice is driven by AI & entities.”

Krum’s point of view is one that leaves you thinking for days “but what does this all mean?!” It left me putting myself in the shoes of our clients’ customers, closing my eyes and brainstorming the ways I would be able to perform a transaction “eyes-only.”

2 – Google Posts Encourage User Action

Google Posts is but one in a constant stream of new listing features Google My Business has rolled out. And if you aren’t taking advantage, you are leaving leads on the table. Because Posts are relatively new, it was exciting to already get this interesting tidbit from PatientPop’s Joel Headley: adding a booking call-to-action as a Google Post increased the clickthrough rate of their appointment links (located elsewhere on the listings) from 7.5% to 10%.

Why does this matter? It suggests that by just adding Google Posts to your listing, you are encouraging more actions on the listing as a whole. And if you aren’t a doctor’s office with a booking feature, you still should care. More actions mean more website visits, calls, direction requests, and more.

3 – Google Q&A Is A Branding Hazard

Google is the new website homepage; it’s where the conversions are happening. It’s something “Professor Maps” and Local U co-founder Mike Blumenthal has been saying for more than a year now. As Google My Business continues to roll out new features encouraging customer actions, it’s not so hard to believe. Google Q&A joins Google Posts in one of the latest ways you can maximize Google My Business for your brand. Except that in this case, if you aren’t pro-active, the Q&A feature can actually hurt you.

Blumenthal demonstrated this in slide after slide of unanswered questions that ran the gamut of “Do you design custom jewelry?” (for a jewelry store) to “Why does your location run out of cars?” (for a rent-a-car company). In his most powerful example, a shopper asks if others agree that a neighborhood store has racist tendencies.

So you could see how leaving these answers unmonitored could challenge your brand. The key, Blumenthal says, is to monitor diligently for questions and answer promptly. Businesses should also get ahead of this feature by posting already frequently asked questions. In addition, any questions that violate Google guidelines should be reported for removal.

4 – We Don’t Live In A 5-Star World

This line of wisdom was dropped more than once during the event. It’s something we all know, but it’s hard to remember when you’re scanning reviews and getting a little heartsick (… but why the 3? Why not the 4?). They aren’t all going to be 5s, and that’s okay. And if that’s not enough to stop you from filtering for 5 stars only, Google’s updated guidelines should.

Aaron Weiche of Get Five Stars shared some interesting review insights, including how to set healthy goals and benchmarks for your reviews. He recommends setting a 10% goal in terms of securing reviews, which is best achieved by the human ask. Meanwhile, Weiche shared consumer stats like this gem: the average number of reviews most people need to trust a profile is 34, and nearly half will believe a profile with at least 10. New to securing online reviews? Say hello to your new review goals!

5 –  Google Maps Is Spammier Than Ever

For those of us who are in the Google Maps results regularly, it’s no secret that there is some spam going on. But the degree in which this is prevalent continues to surprise, and it’s only gotten worse.

Joy Hawkins of Sterling Sky described in detail review exchange networks that have gotten increasingly sophisticated in how to avoid getting caught. And the thing is … it works until you’re taken down. But no matter how many times it gets taken down, Hawkins says, there’ll just be more tomorrow.

Conclusion

The aforementioned CNBC article digs deeper into Hawkins’ observations on Google Maps spam, asking where Google’s responsibility lies in keeping the public properly informed, a sentiment echoed by several during Zuckerberg’s hearings that same week.

For business owners and the advertisers who advise them, it’s a lot of food for thought. How we do business online will continue to change and, for this online marketer, the answer is to just be good at what you do and fully use the tools available to you (especially stuff like Google My Business, which is free … for now).