Cutting Out the Local Advertising Agency: Google Goes Direct

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google LSA

Google just debuted their new Local Service Ads (LSA) in 30 markets, and are calling plumbers, locksmiths, electricians and HVAC companies directly. Participating businesses must pass “Advanced Certification” guidelines to verify they are established and have safe employees.  When certified, they may purchase the GOOGLE GUARANTEED ads at the top of local search listings. A good article about LSA can be found at Street Fight.

Advanced Certification is really ad verification. Generally speaking, advertising verification is designed to decrease online fraud. For example, Facebook recently started verifying all political ads in wake of Russia’s tampering in US elections. From an advertising agency point of view, verification improves the industry. Digital ads have more trust with consumers. Verification should be a win for everyone – consumers, ad agencies and publishers alike.

However, in this verification case, we are talking about Google. Part of their business model is based on industry disruption. Paid search has disrupted the Yellow Pages.  Free Google Sheets and Docs continue to target Microsoft Office revenue.  Google Analytics eroded paid analytics services like HitsLink. With LSA, verification is a tool to disrupt the advertising agency model. Now companies like Royle Media are in their cross-hairs. Our active clients include electricians, plumbers, and HVAC contractors.

What’s Wrong with Google Going Direct?

  • For 18 straight years, we’ve been telling business owners that, “Google never calls you,” and telemarketers posing as Google are frauds and scammers. That all changes now as Google makes outbound sales calls. They have opened Pandora’s box and created more opportunities for bait-and-switch advertising criminals. Business owners beware.
  • Google AdWords was introduced Q4 2000. Since then, local digital agencies have been Google’s bread and butter, their biggest advocate, and sales force. Going direct means Google is cutting off the hand that feeds them. There is no loyalty in Mountain View. Will the direct sales model backfire as agencies shift more budget to Bing, Facebook, Pandora and programmatic ad networks? Why send business to Google when they are a competitor?
  • Now that Google will “guarantee” a company’s trustworthiness through LSA, does that mean their other paid and organic listings are full of unethical companies? Did Google create verified ads because AdWords and Google organic search results have always been full of predators?
  • Removing the agency reduces accountability. Google only cares about Google. Facebook ads often CRUSH Google AdWords when it comes to ROI. Pandora and Bing regularly provide better return than expensive Google AdWords. Digital agencies measure ROI, verify that ads were properly delivered, and recommend the best advertising options for the business owner.
  • Google’s new Local Service Ads push the organic listings further down the page, maybe even page two. For the businesses that have invested heavily in search engine optimization (SEO), they now need to pivot to Google paid advertising. That does not diminish the value of SEO with Bing and their partners.
  • For the last couple years radio, television and newspaper companies have moved to the “agency model”, where they build and optimize websites, sell Google AdWords, and programmatic banner campaigns. Now LSA will be competing directly with broadcasters and publisher-sold AdWords campaigns. These media companies will surely drop Google from their digital advertising toolboxes once they figure it out.

Ten years ago, I held a corporate position with Entercom Communication, and Google was courting our radio group to sell AdWords. I attended a conference in Mountain View where they wined and dined us broadcasters, as well as newspaper and phone book publishers. Google wanted us “partners” to sell their ads. We had the sales teams, and AdWords seemed complimentary to local radio spots.

The Stanford MBA’s at Google created complex formulas to determine commission rates. The commission tables were difficult to understand, much less explain to a commission sales rep in the field how they got paid.  A simple percentage of gross sales was unreasonable to Google. They needed to have leverage over their partners. When it comes to partnerships, win/win is not in Alphabet’s vocabulary. One decade later, and Google is still up to their same tricks. There is no loyalty or win/win in Mountain View.

Previously when we had problems with Google, we simply called them and were routed to Mountain View or Arizona. Now Google customer service calls are routed overseas. Unfortunately, the new customer service folks do not have the same depth of advertising knowledge as the North America-based client service professionals. This makes Google frustrating to work with. Will the Google Guaranteed customer service people be overseas also? I’m not sure the busy plumbers and electricians will have the patience for off-shored customer service.

This blog post may seem overly critical of Google, but sorry Silicon Valley, you can’t always have your cake and eat it too.  Maybe we’ll lose our Google Partner status for slamming them. If that’s the case, then so be it. We can buy around Google with Facebook and programmatic display ads and hot beholden to Alphabet’s cold soup.

Voice Search and the Importance of Featured Snippets

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The world of search is evolving in many ways – the way results are gathered and presented, the way search results are ranked, and, most importantly, how people are searching. Search is driven by and catered to users, so with 20% of searches made within the Google app now made by voice and the increasing use of digital assistants like Google Home, voice search is a major driver in the way search results are being formatted. One of the most significant changes is the increased relevance of Featured Snippets.

What Are Featured Snippets

Featured Snippets are born from Google’s Knowledge Graph and Knowledge Cards. These are the cards that come up with an immediate answer to a question entered into Google, such as “what is the largest city in Oregon?”

google knowledge card

Featured Snippets are similar to Knowledge Cards in that they offer an immediate answer to a user’s question, but these answers are pulled from other websites, not Google’s Knowledge Graph. For example, if you search the cost to ride Portland’s MAX train, Google pulls a Featured Snippet from the TriMet website.

table featured snippet

Crawling for information is inefficient for Google, especially when coming up with simple search results, so the creation of the Knowledge Graph and Featured Snippets cuts back on crawling time and optimizes search for Google’s users.

mobile featured snippet

A Featured Snippet on a mobile device.

Featured Snippets Fill the Voice Void

While Featured Snippets are great in desktop results, mobile and voice results are where this tool really shines. Featured Snippets are perfect for mobile devices like smartphones that have small screens and less room to list search results. Mobile users are also often on-the-go and quick-moving and want the answers to their questions and queries as quickly possible. To learn more about the traits and behaviors of mobile web users and their importance in digital marketing, be sure to read our blog post on mobile marketing.

Featured Snippets also play a vital role in delivering voice results. Devices like Google Home rely on Featured Snippets to fill in the gaps of the Google Knowledge Graph and package information for easy voice delivery. Digital Assistants on smartphones are also able to utilize this information to deliver a direct answer to voice queries, rather than just pulling up a link that users must then click on.

Types of Featured Content

There are several types of Featured Snippets, their format varying depending on the presentation of information. Text snippets are paragraph-based answers that account for about two-thirds of Featured Snippets and yield voice answers 87% of the time. These types of snippets are best for answering simple questions with simple answers, such as “what is the name of Portland’s basketball team?”

text featured snippetList snippets, which account for a little under one-third of Featured Snippets, are answers formatted in bullet lists. An example of this would be the snippet result for the query “how to prune a rose bush”. These snippets are often longer and less concise than text snippets and yield voice answers less than half the time.

list featured snippet

Table snippets make up very few Featured Snippets and yield voice answers only about a third of the time. These types of snippets present data in the form of a table and answer questions like our MAX train example above.

Lastly are video snippets, the least plentiful type of Featured Snippets. These types of snippets are currently not available with voice search devices like Google Home, but as inter-device search and display grow, video snippets will become more relevant.

Why These Snippets Are Important

For years, the most desirable place on a page of search results was #1, fueling an entire segment of digital marketing in Search Engine Optimization. Featured Snippets are flipping much of what we know about SEO on its head, as they now occupy “Position #0” in search results. Google’s Knowledge Cards and Featured Snippets always come before organic results, earning the “Position #0” nickname. This gives the sites that provide content for a Featured Snippet a huge advantage over their competition. Additionally, snippet content is always on the first page of search results and often the #1 organic search result, placing sites on the first result page twice – another huge advantage.

How to Get a Featured Snippet

The first and most important step in getting a Featured Snippet is to make sure your content is effectively answering the question being asked. Featured Snippets are pulled from content that answers questions clearly and concisely, so if your answer is too long or convoluted, it won’t be picked as the Featured Snippet. Optimizing your content for text snippets is a good starting point. According to a study done by Dr. Peter J. Meyer’s at Moz, 71% of 1,000 searches yielded voice answers and text snippets generate a voice answer approximately 9 out of 10 times, making them by far the most common type of Featured Snippet.

Secondly, to rank for a Featured Snippet, your site has to be mobile-optimized. As mentioned, every Featured Snippet also ranks on the first page of search results, so if your site is not on the first page of results, then it will not be a Featured Snippet. Google prioritizes fast, mobile-friendly sites, so if your site isn’t, your chances of getting a Featured Snippets are low.

Lastly, don’t forget regular website SEO. Your content may be perfect for a Featured Snippet, but if Google doesn’t like your site and puts it on the second or third page of results, a Featured Snippet is not in your future. Optimizing for new search trends is vital in staying relevant in the digital world, but if you ignore the basics, you’re already falling behind.

Voice search and digital assistants like Google Home, Amazon Echo, and Siri are reshaping how search results are presented, challenging what we know about SEO but also giving marketers a huge opportunity to reach users more effectively than ever. Tools like Featured Snippets open the door to the voice search market and provide a springboard into this new wave of internet marketing. Featured Snippets are just a taste of what internet marketing and SEO will look like in the coming years.

Sources and Other Resources

Why Voice Command Usage on Smartphones Is Growing

4 Things You Need to Know About the Future of Marketing

Featured Snippets: New Insights, New Opportunities

Google’s Featured Snippets: Automated Continuous Improvement

Lessons from 1,000 Voice Searches (on Google Home)

Ranking #0: SEO for Answers