Google Is Quietly Building a Facebook Page Killer for Local Businesses

Opinion: This latest shot at making search more social might just be Google’s best attempt yet

For local businesses, Google Posts may provide more value than Facebook
Google

In case you missed it, topping the 2017 American Customer Satisfaction Index, which evaluates how users feel about internet social media companies, was none other than Google+—that’s right, Google’s “failed” social network, which many people are unaware still exists.

Launched in 2011, Google+ was Google’s attempt to compete with Facebook, Twitter and other rising social networks by allowing its users to create “circles” of friends, engage with community pages and create posts.

Evidently, there are still people reaping benefits from maintaining a presence on Google+. However, in recent years, most brands have moved on from Google+ to focus their efforts elsewhere—like on social networks with much bigger audiences. And while Google+ may have been a sad, expensive failure, it was far from Google’s last attempt at creating a successful social network.

In 2014, Google launched Google My Business, a service that allows businesses to manage how their information appears in search. But more recently (and quietly), Google rolled out a new feature for Google My Business users that has the potential to put the search giant back in the social networking game.

Enter: Google Posts

Google Posts were first introduced under the name “candidate cards” in January 2016, and they were exclusive to political candidates looking to boost their search presence. A few months later, Google rolled out Posts to a small number of businesses—mostly sports teams, museums, musicians and movies. And as of July, the feature is now available for all businesses.

According to Google, 82 percent of people turn to search engines to find local information, and a brand’s Google listing is the ideal place to showcase everything a brand has to offer.

70 percent of people look at multiple businesses before making a final choice, and now, with Google Posts, businesses can share timely, relevant updates right on Google Search and Google Maps to help them stand out to potential customers.

So, why does Google believe taking another shot at incorporating social networking features into its products is the right way to go? Let’s take a look.

Google needs to compete with Facebook

As Facebook continues building out its local search capabilities, with Facebook Places and Facebook ads, it has become a real threat to Google’s market share in the local search industry. While Google still leads the way in search, with 3.5 billion searches per day, Facebook sees more than 2 billion per day.

As TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden put it, “Google faces competition from the likes of Facebook, Twitter and now Snapchat for consumers’—and, thus, advertisers’—attention. Many users today do not think of search engines first when looking for information, deciding how to spend their money and finding things to entertain themselves. They go to these other applications, and that ultimately can cut into Google’s mainstay advertising business and revenues.”

Posts is another attempt by Google to even the playing field by incorporating some of the key features users loved most about Google+, which included the ability for businesses to engage with their customers and share relevant information about their brands with them.

While Google My Business allows businesses to customize the “static” information customers see, both businesses and their customers still crave the ability to connect and engage with each other. And that’s where Google Posts come in.

How Google Posts work

There is massive potential for local businesses to take advantage of the new Posts feature. When writing a post, businesses have several options, including the ability to upload an image, write text (up to 300 words) and add a title with start and end dates and times if it’s an event.

Businesses can also add call-to-action buttons including “learn more,” “reserve,” “sign up,” “buy” and “get offer.” Posts can include images, video and even animated GIFs.

According to Google, this new feature gives businesses the ability to:

  • Share daily specials or current promotions that encourage new and existing customers to take advantage of your offers.
  • Promote events and tell customers about upcoming happenings at your location.
  • Showcase your top products and highlight new arrivals.
  • Choose one of the available options to connect with your customers directly from your Google listing: Give them a one-click path to make a reservation, sign up for a newsletter, learn more about latest offers or even buy a specific product from your website.

Google is also taking a page from Snapchat and Instagram with the ephemeral format. Google Posts expire after seven days as a way to encourage businesses to add new posts often, ensuring that fresh content appears in their search listings. The exception to this rule is Google Posts based on upcoming events, which are removed after the event date.

Google is also providing businesses with insights on how many impressions and clicks a post receives. Additionally, all posts can be shared directly across other social channels with a link.

For local businesses, Google Posts may provide more value than Facebook

According to D/O Digital, as many as 62 percent of people claimed that they check Facebook pages to find out more about local businesses. This is especially prominent in the food industry, and that number is estimated to be much higher on Google, providing some real opportunities for businesses to communicate their offerings directly to customers in Search.

Now, armed with an understanding of why Google is getting back into the social side of things, the biggest question is: Will businesses start using it?

It may sound like an enticing add-on service for marketing agencies and local search-engine-optimization professionals, but Google Posts is clearly envisioned to be a direct tool for local businesses to use themselves. Most local businesses rely heavily on social media to share important updates, announcements and events, and Posts allows their customers to view company’s updates right from Search.

The digital team behind Manchester City has been documenting its attempt to get traction with Google Posts on Medium for a while now and, compared with using Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), the club has revealed that it sees more impressions via Google Posts.

“Though I’d like more analytics around interaction, engagement, sharing, etc.—Posts doesn’t provide these are yet—the current figures are compelling,” claimed Victoria Black, product optimization manager for the soccer club.

Black also claimed that Manchester City’s organic search traffic to the new mancity.com domain increased over the past season, and she believes Google Posts have helped to boost this figure.

Failure is nothing new for Google. There are countless stories about Google’s failed products and services over the years.

But as more and more businesses (of all sizes) realize that they now have a whole lot more power over what appears for their brands in search, I believe that in coming months, there will definitely be a surge in Google Posts showing up in search, and this latest shot at making search more social might just be Google’s best attempt yet.

Albizu Garcia is co-founder and CEO of Gain, which automates the collaboration process around creative and social content for major agencies and brands. Follow him on Twitter: @albizu.