The Near Memo, Episode 2

Welcome to the Near Memo. Our conversation about the important developments of the week and beyond.

The Near Memo, Episode 2

Greg: Welcome to the Near Memo. Our conversation about the important developments of the week and beyond. I'm here with Mike Blumenthal and David Mihm, my co-conspirators and collaborators. And we're excited to be bringing you our second conversation. So anything you guys want to say before we jump in?

Okay. All right. Well, David Mihm, let's go for it with you.

David: All right. So, we typically do, you know, one, one piece that caught, each of our eyes this past last week. So the one that caught my eye the most actually just came out the other day. The great, amazing Barry Schwartz (I don't know how he has time to cover everything he does) wrote up on SearchEngineLand that Google is now introducing messaging inside the desktop GMB dashboard, which I think is sort of continuing the fairly obvious, march towards the...whatever the word for primary-ness of messaging is, for Google inside of GMB. It's clearly something that customers want.

I can certainly speak to that. I'd never want to pick up the phone to talk to any business. I think it's Google reacting to consumer demand. I am a little bit skeptical that it's going to be successful, inside of GMB. Google has not really ever had great success in getting businesses to sort of be permanently logged into the GMB dashboard.

I it has never reached the same sort of “always on” level that Facebook and Instagram have for a lot of businesses. and so I do worry that this is going to lead to a sort of conflict of expectations versus reality, with respect to consumers and how regularly and actively, small businesses in particular are able to respond to messages within GMB.

Greg: I think you're exactly right. I mean, let's separate the bigger messaging opportunity, demand for messaging, as a tool for businesses and consumers from this particular implementation. I would agree that Google is being sort of coercive in the same way that it sort of had to write messaging into the GMB app.

It's trying to force businesses to use its tool. And I think that that's counterproductive because it's sort of contrary to the way, as you're saying. that people actually operate and they would do much better to facilitate messaging, you know, to people's phones, as opposed to.

David: Yeah, exactly, connect your phone number to get SMS messages from customers and, you know, be able to respond to multi, multiple threads, that sort of thing.

Mike: So they did have that feature. That was what got canceled in the beginning in the beginning. But what's interesting to me about this particular incarnation is that it's part and parcel of a much larger messaging strategy and the part of Google, which is the first time we've seen, sort of consolidated efforts and all pulling on the same oar in terms of the underlying technology they're using and, and two, they released the API to this feature, last December. So while it is one more surface that a very small business may need to interact with. It does have the possibility of moving into other dashboards. LeadFerno has plans, for example, to integrate this into their messaging dashboard so that businesses will be able to consolidate, which to me is the critical issue, is having a single place where a business can communicate with users. The problem is Messenger and SMS and their phone and, and Google My Nusiness and all these others. And so you have to view one, the API in the context of them having the most viewed service, which is the business profile.

And I think in, if enough dashboards come to the fore that small businesses can afford to use, I think you'll see it become a viable communication channel.

Greg: Well, I mean, isn't that a SAAS opportunity for somebody to consolidate all the ...

Mike: There's a lot of companies doing that and that's the direction that LeadFerno is taking, Aaron Weiche’s new company, and where he's attempting to do that.

David: I would say that there's, I agree with you, Mike. I think the long term, SAAS prospects for LeadFerno and others, like it, are quite strong. I would argue that there's a really, really easy agency service add on here, which is if this truly is available through the API, is there a way to hook up a Zap to an SMS in the meantime, before anybody gets too far down the SAAS path. It's a really easy add on for an agency to say, yeah, let us, let us enable text messages from Google to your phone. It takes 10 minutes to set up and assuming that the API is, you know, is enabled through Zapier and it's done.

Mike: and I don't know that it's bi-directional, I'm not sure. I don't know the API that well.

The other area about SMS that strikes me is, in having used it to communicate with businesses and having received unsolicited promotions is that it's viewed at least by me as the most private social network I have. This is where I communicate to my dearest friends, closest family members.

And it is to some extent sacrosanct. When I do get an unsolicited promotional message, I am annoyed.

Greg: Yeah, totally. I think this is a big risk for SMS related communication, that businesses that mishandle it really risk screwing up their opportunity and, and alienating you in a way that email, does not.

My, my question though. And maybe, you know, you guys have a sense of this, maybe Mike, cause you've been in this space. What do you think this is going to do to enterprises? I mean, do you think Google is going to condition people, as this gets more momentum, to expect that they can, they can text enterprises and that enterprises aren't going to be able to really respond in the way that consumers want. I mean, this is sort of a problem with responding to reviews by location or Q and A, you know,

Mike: So enterprises are just getting on the response, managing reviews and responding to reviews bandwagon last year. We've seen a lot of uptake in the last 18 months and a lot of interest, now in that. So they are definitely behind, but I think once they get on the review response bandwagon than an SMS response isn't far behind, it's a very similar process, similar consolidated dashboard. It is a SAAS opportunity.

And I think that, or an internal opportunity as David pointed out, it's not rocket science. but I think that this will follow quickly on the heels of review responses, which they're just now getting acclimated to.

David: I would say that there's already the good customer focused enterprises already have a pretty good triaging system in place with Twitter and Facebook Messaging through brand pages. So, I see this as just an additional channel that sort of pulls into that same bucket.

Greg: Let's move on to your item, Mike, that you wrote yesterday that you wanted to talk about, about the ordering and e-commerce.

Mike: Sure. So with the redesign of the mobile user experience by Google, we're seeing a large number of tests in local space, both on keyword searches, as well as brand searches and a number of changed, interface elements around reputation. One that I spotted this past week is an e-commerce and shopping panel. I'm not sure if they're not really cards anymore but they are sort of cards

When you do a Google local search that is very intent driven, liking “vintage engagement rings Buffalo”, or “unique engagement rings Buffalo”, we're seeing a card that includes e-commerce stores, but not national e-commerce stores but rather local e-commerce stores. Which is interesting on both the technical front, that Google is identifying e-commerce stores that are part and parcel of a jewelry website as purely local in nature. And it's interesting that Google is surfacing them.

Clearly. It's a test and this test exists, fairly low on the page. We have to scroll two or three screens to get to it. And interestingly, I discovered during the day I see that it seems to respond to open hours. So if a business closes or has closing hours, sometimes these disappear

It did also bring a few national brands in.Although they seem to typically have some local presence like their national brand is in local local jewelry stores. As we've seen over the past three, four years, Google is moving local, very aggressively, into a transactional space. And as we've seen over the past year with products, they see local as their entree into the world of selling products, sort of as a surface to present all the products that are out there.

And this local play is where they are strongest. vis-a-vis both Walmart and Amazon. And I see this as part of a long term trend that we've seen at Google. First. initially was their acquisition of Pointy, which allowed very small businesses to create online inventory through their through checkout.

We also saw that they made product uploads free. This hearkens back to 2008 and the era of Froogle for those of you who have long memories, and the increasing use of these calls to action in the dashboard. And the recent alignment was Shopify, where Shopify shops can automatically upload their inventory in real-time to Google.

So Google is moving towards this world in which, a world of entities, of businesses of that are in specific categories, they're attempting to get more and more granular information that relates to that category. In the case of jewelry, it looks like they're looking to understand not just what they sell, but specific models and to make that available (as e-commerce in the search results).

Greg: So good, good. So you can read Mike's article on, on the site at

There are two things that are interesting to me about this. I mean, one, I think Google is trying to offer this holistic, e-commerce local store inventory kind of approach.

You know, we're seeing that, both with enterprises and the merchant feed and then with Pointy and them trying to sort of enable, product inventory, distribution online for small businesses, but this term, you know, that, that shows up in your article “local e-commerce” is really interesting to me because it's, it sort of sounds like an oxymoron, but it's really not.

I mean, I think, you know, a lot of the surveys that showed up in the last year about consumers wanting to support local businesses, but are doing much more shopping online, this is very consistent with it. So Google, I think, wants to give people options, to buy online from businesses in their communities, as well as just direct people to stores (via local search).

And I think it's very consistent with broader e-commerce trends in general. You know, we're not going to fall back to where things were before COVID-19 started. So there's going to be a lot more e-commerce and Google wants to help local businesses getting onto that. And, there was also a piece, on a company called, Nearby, which is also trying to do that.

But that's another discussion.

David, what are your, your thoughts?

David: I agree with a lot of, yeah, I agree with a lot of what Mike wrote and said, in terms of Google's positioning against Amazon and even Facebook, right? Facebook has tried this sort of local marketplace thing, which I don't think has really been talked about very much.

Greg: It's been pretty successful for them, but not a breakout.

David: So I just think it's, it's, it is a really strong place for Google. I would just add one sort of fringe comment, which yes, Google and Shopify have tried to make this a sort of frictionless connection between Shopify and Google.

I don't think it works very well for very small businesses. I have to say, I actually have tried to set it up for a number of Prosper Portland clients in the last six months and just the account creation rigmarole to get set up with merchant center if you're not already in it, is really a pain in the butt, when you're coming from Shopify and you expect to just click a button and have everything done.

So, I still think it requires, and I would consider myself when it comes to GMB type things, a relative expert, I still think it's going to require a relative expert to help a lot of these small businesses make that quote unquote frictionless connection. So it's still, still plenty of opportunity for service providers in this space.

Mike: I would add two more comments. One is that I discovered a similar but different card available in restaurants where restaurants that are, using either third party or Google's own food ordering platform, to be shown in a similar but more, local looking panel to order. And this demonstrates two things about Google.

One is that they're going to customize this functionality per category per industry. Which they've been doing in the knowledge graph for a long and two that when the opportunity is big enough, they're going to build their own backend platform like they are doing with this food ordering program which is very difficult to track down the details of, I've tried to get to the bottom of the food ordering program, which is a Google front Google sort of payment processing, and order entry environment.

And I haven't really been able to quite wrap my head around it, but it's two trends that are typical Google; segment by market, and then build out where it's a really good opportunity for them.

Greg: Yeah. I mean, there's some antitrust stuff there that we could talk about. I think, you know about Google, you know, there's a lot of third-party third-party platforms that would be displaced pretty quickly if Google were to aggressively roll out its own food ordering tools, which, you know, the company I think is inclined to do.

Mike: They bought one. Yeah, yeah.

Greg: Right, exactly. So for my sort of time here, it was kind of a tough call for me because there were a bunch of items this week that were pretty interesting and a couple of things that I'll be talking about today in the newsletter that we haven't put out yet.

But I was really struck by this story about a survey that was done about privacy inertia, or so-called privacy inertia. The idea is that people care about privacy overwhelmingly, you know, surveys show that consumers care about privacy.

They're increasingly concerned about it. But then there's the inability to do anything about it or the lack of action to take to protect themselves. And there've been a number of surveys that have reinforced that idea.

And one of the things that's so fascinating to me about the Apple app tracking transparency initiative, where you have to opt in to tracking is that it's really the first time that people can express their privacy concern with a single click and have it be effective. It's very easy to understand. And the burden is really on the developer or the publisher to overcome the consumer's concern there, you know, like Facebook is trying to do with their language on their own app. You want to, you want to allow tracking because we'll give you personalized ads.

David: (and because you care about small businesses)

Greg: And because you care about small businesses. Exactly, exactly. So, that was really interesting to me. And, and I think it's really right, is that consistency people express concern, but then it's too cumbersome or too complex for them to do anything about.

Mike: Absolutely. So I have a little anecdote, my wife expressed deep concern about Google's spying or tracking whatever and Facebook’s. And so I said: “Oh, all you need to do is go into private browsing and use Duck, Duck Go. And you know, here's a few other settings to limit ads. And she's reasonably savvy and she had no idea what I was talking about.

I had to literally take her phone, set it up, change the default browser, go default to private mode browsing, turn off the tracking and since then she's been very happy and feels more comfortable, but it really was huge, everything.

All those were not defaults: private browsing ad tracking, Duck duck go.None of those were defaults. The defaults were on their iPhone. Google and tracking was on and a non-private browsing. So clearly there's room for improvement, even beyond what Apple is doing both with location and with ad tracking to the things like private browsing by default or a different, search engine by default, which maybe Apple will be the search engine, but there are other things they could do

So people have had to opt out of privacy invasion rather than opt in to ads.

David: I don't have much to add to this other than, you know, as president of the tinfoil hat society, I thoroughly endorse what Apple's doing and I actually have made a pretty good effort thus far to switch over to Safari for my own browsing away from Chrome. You know, it hasn't been a huge concern to me, but I feel like, the easier r it gets, the less I'll use Google products to, to do anything on the internet.

Greg: So the thing that keeps me using Chrome is the password (Firefox has this too) saving feature and also the form fill feature. Just the combination of those keeps me on Chrome. You know, Safari has it too to some degree, but, everything is sort of in Chrome. And so even though intellectually, I'm guilty here also.

I understand all this. I'm still using Chrome.

I'll say, I'll say one thing, sort of before we wrap, you know, consumers do care about personalization. They do care about relevant content, but they don't want that at the expense of privacy. And one of the industry's big challenges really is to reconcile those two things.

I mean, I think one alternative way I was going to write a post on this and I haven't yet, one alternative way to think about personalization is convenience, right?

Sort of better customer experience and convenience, not necessarily super one-to-one targeted messaging, right. That the industry thinks about as personalization, but giving people convenience and a better experience overall as a kind of an alternative mode to this whole personalization kind of mania that people are preoccupied with.

David: So I think that's a great point, Greg. I think that there is an appetite for personalization in CX, there is not an appetite in my mind anyway. There's not an appetite for personalization in advertising. Right. If I'm the one in control of having the conversation with the company, then yes, I'm happy for them to see my order history when they're talking to me. So they know what I'm talking about in my query. But that doesn't mean that I want to see, you know, 18 ads for a product. I just viewed that I have actually no interest in buying.

Greg: So, I mean, search is a personalized advertising environment, right?

Because you're making the query and then the ads can respond to it. So that's sort of privacy proof in a certain way, notwithstanding sort of the effort to take search data and use it, mix it in with other stuff. All right. So I think we're, we're at the end of our time. Anybody want to say anything final?

Any thoughts? Before we end. No?

David: It was just a great, great piece by Mike on the Google local e-commerce, play. So if you haven't read it, check it out on It's the featured article on our homepage.

Greg: And I'll add that we're interested in your feedback.

If you have any ideas or comments or recommendations, we're happy to hear them. We've got the email at the bottom of every newsletter. All right. Thank you guys. David: And thanks for joining next week. Take care.