Ep 58: Antitrust Laws Closer, Google partners with CVS on appts, Consumer review trust down but usage is up

Antitrust Laws against self preferencing closer to passage in US & Europe, Google partners with CVS Minute Clinic on appointments in the Google Business Profile, Consumer review trust down since 2017 but usage is up in the past 2 years

Ep 58: Antitrust Laws Closer, Google partners with CVS on appts, Consumer review trust down but usage is up
Photo by Rachel / Unsplash

Part 1 Video start 0:13 - Part 1 Video start 0:13 - Antitrust Laws against self preferencing closer to passage in US & Europe

Part 2 Video start 9:12 - Google partners with CVS Minute Clinic on appointments in the Google Business Profile

Part 3 Video start 17:08 - Consumer review trust down but usage of reviews  is up in the past 2 years. Why?

Reference Articles:

  1. US Antitrust Law Closer to Passing
  2. Google Search will soon let you book checkups and other medical appointments
  3. Consumer Review Trust Down but Usage Up

Transcript Ep 58:

Greg: Hello again, welcome back everybody to the Near Memo with me, David and Mike, as we do every week bringing together the news about search social and commerce with a kind of a local twist. And as always, we are challenged to come up with just three items because there's a lot of news and a lot of interesting things going on.

So we may sneak in a couple of other things. Um, how are you guys doing today on this fill in the blank morning?

Mike: Yeah, I got a job offer from Google.

Greg: Did you really? Oh, this is April 1st. Oh, all right.

David: You may be listening on April 1st, but that's an important an important caveat when it's not impossible.

Greg: Given, given how Google is. Google is trying to bring its, its critics in house on some level.

Mike: That's the best joke, one that is believable.

Greg: That's right. That's right.

David: That's true. I did propose that in full disclosure. I did propose that very very thing to Carter Maslin back in like 2009, that they should hire you as the head of community support.

But evidently it fell on deaf ears or you declined their offer, who knows?

Greg: Well, and many and many, many, many, many years ago on my screen work Yeah, it was probably 2006 or seven. I wrote an April fools post that said I I'd gotten an accepted an offer to go, and I did it totally straight and people, people bought it, you know?

So, so that's why I, you know, I mean, Known, but anyway, all right. On with the show. Okay, here we go.

So I'm going to lead off today because I feel like it, and I wanted to talk about two things that are happened this week or within the last 10 days, let's say.

The European parliament kind of finalized what's called the Digital Markets Act, which is a European piece of legislation, which is designed to sort of blunt the power of so-called gatekeepers, which are the big US tech companies, Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft to a lesser degree and Amazon, and what I want to zero in on is their anti self-preferencing provision.

And then also bring in the American Competition Innovation act, which is a similar, but not identical piece of legislation working its way through the U S Congress and the Senate and the House committees that are tasked with dealing with this kind of legislation have both approved versions of essentially the same piece of legislation.

So it's out of committee and it has to go to a floor vote in the Senate and in the House. And the Justice Department indicated this week that it supports the legislation, which suggested Biden would sign it if he got it on his desk. So a lot of things can happen between now and then.

It could be diluted.Things could be materially changed. Google and others are very concerned about this piece of legislation and are claiming very loudly: “This is going to result in consumer harm”.

They've been doing all this sort of astroturfing lobbying where they're getting small businesses to try and support the idea that the small business owner is going to be hurt if any of these antitrust laws come into effect.

But, but what's interesting about these two pieces of legislation is that both of them prohibit so-called self preferencing. And what that means in practice is going to really, assuming that it passes in the U S, is going to have to play out over time, but it means that Amazon conceivably couldn't promote its own products in prominent positions in search results.

It means quite dramatically, potentially that Google could not put a map or its own shopping results at the top of search results. And there would have to be this sort of level playing field.

Now, Europe has had a taste of that with Google shopping, where they were supposed to integrate third party results into third-party comparison, shopping engines in the shopping results and that's been very problematic for everybody, but I think it's, it's very interesting and potentially could really reshape the way that these, these companies operate in the SERP and the SERP for purposes of our discussion could look quite different.

David: Um, do you think this is more likely? Well, two questions, I guess, do you think it's more likely than any antitrust action to actually have.

And number two, does it does it preclude the need for antitrust in any way? Are they too?

Greg: Well, it is, it is an antitrust. It is an antitrust thing. It is an antitrust thing. So it's one,

David: not a DOJ.

Greg: It's not coming from the DOJ. It's not litigation. It's not, it's not a regulatory action. It's not litigation.

This is legislation. Um, you know, which would of course be challenged and so on and so forth. And there's still a bumpy road ahead to passage, but Democrats and Republicans are both aligned in this, in the broader conceptual sense that they see these kinds. Uh, as, as monopolies or quasi monopolies that need to be restrained and Biden is also in alignment with that.

So that's a pretty rare situation these days. And we'll probably get something, what it will be in particular remains to be seen. But this self preferencing provision is really interesting because it's, it's inherently difficult to, to Figure out what that's going to mean in practice, but it will probably mean that Google can't put its own universal search results or answer boxes or whatever that point to Google's own products, you know, YouTube maps, shopping, whatever it is at the new news right at the top.

Now news is a little bit, you know, Because Google news is just an aggravation. ha I didn't slip. It's an aggregation play. So there's no Google news published. It's like, it's just third-party content. So they may, that may be sort of exempt, but it'll be fascinating to see. And maps is the one that, that we are most concerned about, obviously.

Um, you know, it's, it's a product with high utility, but it's also a product that has won in the market by virtue of its tight bundling with. And Google maps is, are also subject of uh, of of a separate antitrust investigation going on right now.

Mike: So I'll Google it. And you have to say, though, is linked to your Google local listing and it will rank higher.

And then there'll be able to prove that they're not self preferencing because more people linked to their Google listings and linked to their Yelp listings or whatever.

David: Right. They could start by actually letting GBP be indexed, which they've never done since David's.

Mike: And this may force that

Greg: that's that's, that's what they, that's what they would have.

That's right.

David: And and so that'll be, that'll be interesting to see if they actually released a, a directory with the domain authority of a hundred coming from the Google doc domain. Um, I see you know, it, it will, it will certainly not benefit Google, but I see a potential way around this, where they simply make the The click-through on a maps listing, go much.

It goes straight to the business website, right? There's nothing in my mind that would prevent them from displaying rich information from Google maps, as long as the click-through is still going to the SMB website, which theoretically could be a great thing for small businesses everywhere. And and it's also my number one complaint with.

Uh, with what I would say is Yelp's AstroTurf lobbying efforts have focused on the user where they don't actually ask the user. What are you hoping to click through here? There, there where do you expect this to go? They're only asking, would you rather see Yelp reviews here or Google reviews here?

So, right. Um, so I, I think that there's, there are ways around this that actually could that could still benefit small businesses. Um, And also where Google could still leverage its incredible Corpus of review. Other signals. Um, that won't mean the end of maps in the

Greg: universal search results. Yeah, no, I'm not saying it's the end of maps.

I think it's, I think it's very complicated. And again, this is, this is not something on, on, on the cusp of becoming law and, and the idea that you're, they're sending traffic to small businesses is an argument against you know, sort of returning to the world where third-party directories, which we're doing arbitrage sort of rank at the top of search results.

So it's, it's a very problem. Yeah. Area, because you're either benefiting the small business directly or you're benefiting somebody who wants the small businesses advertising, um dollars. So we should, we should move on. I mean, this is a complicated, but fascinating question, but we need to get onto other stuff.

And so David you we, we didn't get a chance because we recorded early last week to talk about. Uh, doctor appointment, medical scheduling announcement that that Google made. So tell us a little bit about that.

David: Sure. So I'll tell you as much as I understand about it anyway, so this, and by the way, this entire segment may be preempted by this legislation that would pass.

Um, so, so what the announcement was is the ability to schedule an appointment to book. Uh, for primarily, I think urgent care type pains and ailments, excuse me, with a doctor directly from a Google business profile. And I think they're rolling this out as a, as a pilot right now with CVS pharmacies, I've saw on the marketers is expecting them to roll it out with Walmart and Walgreens as well.

So sort of following their traditional playbook of starting with a very high scale partner before they even open it up. You know, through an API or anything like that. So in a way, in my mind, they're sort of self they're not self-referencing, but they're, they're picking winners here in the medical space by not by not allowing for an open playing field, but the, the bigger story to me is this sort of inexorable March towards this transactional local surf, no matter what business you're in, right?

I mean, healthcare is one of the most complicated business types. You have insurance issues. You have. You know, a whole host of, you know, HIPAA issues, you have a host of, of particular pains or illnesses or whatever that you're trying to get to, to understand the query of the person. So it seems like a particularly complex thing for Google to try to tackle much more complex than the other instances like restaurants.

Yeah, exactly. Restaurants and spas which would have been available with reserve with Google, for you. Um, and I, and so I'm not sure, you know, I think this, I think it signals the clear motivation on the part of higher ups at Google to enable a fully end-to-end transaction on google.com properties which again is potentially problematic if there if antitrust legislation comes through.

Um, but I don't know that this, this one feels like it's going to take years to succeed. Um, and in fact, Mike and I was trying to look this up before we spoke today, but, you know, Google has experimented with third-party providers in the medical space. Before I remember Zoc doc had released an integration several years ago that, that enabled this kind of thing to happen.

And that really didn't go anywhere. So I wonder, you know, how. What do you guys think in terms of how likely this is to be a permanent fixture, or is it truly just a pilot or, or limited to an extremely small set of, of medical

Mike: queries? Well, firstly, they've implemented the appointment link, which is functional.

It takes you right to the website and can schedule there. And with CVS minute clinics, you can do that now. Um, so in some ways it's only bringing that I presume.

Greg: Upper

Mike: level, upper level and making visibility of those appointments up a level. So I'm not sure that there's as many legal impediments as you might.

It depends on how they implement it. And I agree that it's complicated, but I think that 30 happening with companies like CVS, I mean, I think to some extent it shows the roll up of the lower end clinics and the play that CVS is making too, in terms of the chain. The landscape of healthcare that Google has picked them, that they're there to be picked that they are already doing all this stuff.

Um, I, it, it depends on what, how far they bring it in, though. If they're just bringing in an interface up that shows availability from the CVS API, how's that any different than what CVS is doing now, it's,

Greg: it's not really different. It just means that CVS is not competing. With anybody else in the organic listings.

Right. So if you do, if you do some sort of urgent care search and it's right there in a, in a UI that allows you to make an appointment, that's a privileged position and really privileged, right? Yeah. And it's not, it's not functionally different than what you described. I mean, it's worth noting that Google did an issue.

Um doctor insurance, right? So enabling you to search for doctors that take your insurance, which is one of the big obstacles in this, in this whole space. And that, that

David: is a field that's available in GBP for physicians and medical clinics to select the insurance carriers that they will accept. So

Greg: it's, it's, it's it's interesting, Mike, you pointed out this week in, in slack In our conversation on slack, this.

Uh, the Kaiser family foundation discussion about the expanding role of pharmacies versus versus doctors and pharmacies gaining the ability to do medical testing and prescribing medication sort of coming out of COVID right. And, and how people are turning to pharmacies. You know, pharmacies are becoming a version of urgent care in some instances and doctors are very unhappy.

The American medical association is very unhappy about. You know, saying that oil patient health and, and is, is it steak and really their potential problems and errors. And really what they're concerned about is the, is the you know, the coin, right. That they may or may lose if Murphy, Hey, ma

Mike: is always about 10 years behind the curve, right.

They're still fighting insurance when they should be fighting for single pair. Right. I mean, it's and we've already seen the change that insurance will had on the next. Industry, and this is going to have an equal change because it's going to be more efficient and more cost-effective

Greg: it's one thing.

That's one thing that's also very interesting here is, is, you know, Google is sort of right when they talk about how consumers appreciate the convenience of what they're delivering in the search interface. I mean, it is very convenient to see all these transactional links right there, you know, at the top, all this information being presented to, without having to.

You know, go down the page, click back and forth and figure out what you want. That that is a tremendous consumer convenience in the same way that the snippet or answer box is when you want the weather, you don't necessarily want to, you know, you just want the information. You don't necessarily need AccuWeather versus weather underground versus the weather channel or whatever, but it does have this sort of anti-competitive impact on the market.

And, and does, you know, pick winners and losers in this as we're just describing. So, I mean, there's, there's tension between competition and consumer convenience in this, and at least in the near term, in this instance, the

Mike: one other instance of comparable activity by Google was when they tried to roll out insurance quotes in England and they failed at that.

Again, it's a more complex environment that. State-by-state regulatory intervention and they didn't succeed in England and they didn't even try it here. But I think they've, they've I to David's point about whether it will be equally difficult here. I, I would assume that they have learned from that when it does involve more of a regulatory environment and I've developed a way that's going to not make that.

So, because they've heard through the grapevine that this will soon open up to us. And I don't know if that's true or

Greg: not, but that's what I've heard. And by others, you mean other

Mike: healthcare providers through a more open API type of arrangement? Um, well, I don't know what suit is in Google's universe though.


Greg: Well, so let's, let's move on to the final item today. And Mike, you've been, been doing a series of pieces on near me. About reviews and what's happening in the review, the larger review landscape, you talked about Yelp and, and the decline in Yelp review volume. You had a comparable piece on Google and showing that the trends are similar for Google, even though the Corpus is much, much bigger than Yelp.

And then most recently you wrote an article about sort of reviewing bright local data over the past. Eight or nine years. And, and the trends that, that unveiled or revealed. Why don't you tell us a little bit about that?

Mike: So the nice thing about bright local is that they do have 10 years worth of data.

It's not totally consistent, but in this case, I looked at two data sets. One was consumer trust and reviews, which was increasing regularly through 2017, started a brief decline and then plumbing. Over the last two years and it's now let's right around 15% who got up to 77%. So consumer trust interviews has plummeted.

Meanwhile, review readership and reliance on local regions. Climbed through 2017. So slight declines in 20 18, 20 19, but then rebounded in 2020 and 2021, where readership is now at an all time high. So the question I was asking was, what does it say about reviews, right? That people don't trust them or say they don't trust them.

And yet they still rely on them. Um, and I think. I know you have some theories about this, but I think at the end of the day, whatever the reason is, I think it's dramatic. It reflects a change in the review landscape that small businesses have to accept, and they have to understand that they know the goal.

Shouldn't be getting more five star reviews at Google. The goal needs to be getting higher quality reviews, both positive, negative that help consumers. Appropriate choices. And I think that change is a big change for businesses. And yet I think it's critical if they're going to play in this new sort of world where consumers don't trust, they're skeptical.

Therefore they look at other sites, they look at negative reviews. They look around before they make a deal.

David: Yeah, I would say that I don't think we're quite there yet. Um, I think that a reviews still matter a great deal for rankings and visibility. So specifically reviews on Google and reviews on Yelp.

Mike is your case study is. Uh, so compellingly demonstrated. So I think that from a ranking standpoint, reviews are still going to be very much in demand for, from businesses, whether or not they're of a certain qualities, as you say, Mike, the second thing is I still think that even if consumers don't necessarily trust reviews, that the notion of a certain threshold at which below, which you will not do business with a business, that that data is still looking very strong and bright local.

It's still, it's probably didn't that, whatever 4.1, 4.2 range. Forever. And so you're going to need to have a sort of critical mass of reviews above an average of 4.2, just to be considered. And then at that point, consumers might get deeper into the research phase where they actually do the kind of deep, deep dive that you're talking about.


Mike: I think Greg has pointed out in many of his local searches. So many businesses are already at that. Right. They have a ton of reviews and they're all clustered in 4, 4, 4, 5, 4, 6 star ratings. And so what does a consumer do in that situation? And it's not that businesses shouldn't continue to ask for reviews.

I think they should, but I think they should spread out where they're asking. And I think that they need to help consumers create better reviews, even if they're negative and.

Greg: Let me, let me ask you, let me ask you, Mike, how, how does, how does a business do that? How does a business help a consumer create a better review?

I mean, the mechanics of that,

Mike: right? So for example, gather up upward, which I originally founded no longer worked there, but they have the ability to insert and personalize and review asset-based. Uh, a tag that has been applied by the business and a tag could be what they purchased so they could easily gather up customized review, asked to specifically ask for the product or service and information about that.

So leading the consumer down the path of review. The product or service rather than just reviewing the business. So there's an example, a prompt, right? Yeah. And people respond to prompts. They don't know what to review, what to write. They want to write something, you give them a prompt, they write. So, gee, we'd love to hear how your experience with your oil change went

Greg: well.

So let, let me be devil's advocate. Okay. Here, because, because you know, on this podcast and elsewhere we've complained about Yelp's kind of, um clinging to long form reviews, right? And they've held that out as a, as a indicator of the superiority of their content to Google and, and the response to that has been well, people don't want to write these lengthy reviews and they're also often on their mobile devices and they want to just be able to do something quick and express their opinion.

Now doesn't this vindicate Yelp on somebody.

David: I would say, no, I don't think consumers actually do want to read, you know, sort of entitled millennial Warren piece tomes on, you know, the taco truck that they're considering getting a taco from. So I don't think it vindicates Yelp in the slightest. Uh, I think that there's still, I think that it does vindicate needing Mike, as you said, needing a review presence on a diversity of reviews or.

Um, I think that's absolutely true, but what, what indicates to me is Google is actually Google's philosophy, which they've. Since, I don't know, man, 2008, probably when they started pulling they, they started tagging reviews that are relevant to a particular topic. And that's where, okay, Mike, I'm thinking about getting my car serviced, how good are the oil changes at this dealer?

That, that would be very useful to me to click the button in the GVP that says oil change and see only reviews about oil changes. So I think that that, that sort of philosophy. Of condensing and giving me added an added glance view of the product or service reviews that I'm actually interested in is much more important than, you know, a narrative essay from again a person whose opinion I don't take particularly.

Mike: And Google is structuring that in their product. Like when you go to do a restaurant review, now they'll ask you the price. They'll give you specific boxes to check about the pricing. A few other attributes. And, and in terms of service businesses, they're asking about quality of service as well. So they are also taking this more structured approach, which is another way to deal with it.

Greg is that you, you, you give them a very brief, easy way to provide nuance or.

Greg: Detail. Yeah, an apple it's an apple, apple maps. We should mention is doing a version of that.

David: Right. And I just happened to, I just happened to leave a review for an Airbnb host and Airbnb does kind of the same thing. Like how was the check-in process communication?

You know, they ask you about the specific buying criteria for your stay. Um, and so I think that that's a much better way to go about things, easier for the consumer to click a button or move a slider than it is to write this, you know, well, expository.

Greg: As we sort of approach the end of our episode today, I just want to throw out one, one sort of final topic, which is which is kind of a big topic, but nonetheless, I think important dimension and, and, you know, reviews in terms of their ranking impact are important across the board, whether it's Amazon or TripAdvisor or Google or Yelp or whomever you know, clearly Google is, is, is.

Explicitly using reviews as a ranking factor. And as Darren Shaw pointed points out and the local search ranking factors th the, the highest conversion factors, you know, he has ranking factors and then conversion factors. And the consensus is that reviews are the top, essentially the top three conversion factors.

You know, these are the things that drive consumer conversions. So everybody on the, on the SEO side is. Convinced of the importance of reviews and businesses, themselves, who at one point had to be convinced about the importance of getting reviews and review the value of reviews. Now see reviews explicitly as an SEO tool.

However what you're advocating for Mike is, is something more like you know, what, what you know, reputation.com this week released a kind of new product. Tries to aggregate a bunch of information together and get people more insights into reviews. And I know you've been an advocate of that kind of using reviews as a business insights tool for a long time.

This is the sort of future of reviews for smart companies, but there's a big disconnect between, you know, just seeing reviews as purely a means to an end. And you're looking at reviews carefully and using them to help guide your business's decisions. And that's, I mean, that's a big topic, but it's, it's sort of.

Relevant to this larger conversation. I

Mike: have the faith that I may be dead, but the industry will catch up with me on this point.

David: I guess Mike is the only one who's getting vindicated here.

Greg: Well, I, I mean, I think it's, I think it's very challenging for small businesses to take the the approach to reviews.

That you're advocating, which is look a bit, look at the content, help it help make business decisions, you know, gain real insight into your customer's mindset and experience. I think that's very hard for small businesses because they're so focused on, you know, there's just so much complexity in their relationship to reviews.

And that being said,

Mike: though, what we saw, you know, before I left, gather up, was that the best small businesses were in fact doing that and had accepted reviews in a. Holistic sense and appreciate in that. So I think that what reviews create is an environment in which businesses have to get good, or they will fail, right?

I mean, we're in that world now and that's a very re you know, there's no longer can hide and that's the reality of small business. And so those that don't will

Greg: fail well, reviews and reviews provide an incredibly valuable bucket of insights about your business and the customer experience. And you have.

You have to sort of internalize that, understand it? Yep. All right. So any last words before we adjourn for this week? I can't wait until next April fools.

David: Uh, it's not my favorite day. So I'll say I can't wait for the NCAA tournament and the masters. This is my favorite week of sports coming up, so,

Greg: all right.

Okay. Everybody have a great weekend. Rest of your. Whenever you're listening to this remember to subscribe to near media, to our newsletter. And we've got some interesting things coming up in the next couple of weeks that we'll let you know about. So have a good one.