Episode 35: Google enhances Lens for image-based commerce, Yelp's restaurant SaaS, Amazon and Facebook stymied by consumer privacy

Google's latest visual search innovation, Yelp's new SaaS app for restaurants, and consumer reaction to Amazon and Facebook's latest devices.

Episode 35: Google enhances Lens for image-based commerce, Yelp's restaurant SaaS, Amazon and Facebook stymied by consumer privacy
Photo by Akshar Dave 🍉 / Unsplash

Part 1 Video Starts 0:13 - Google enhances Lens for image based commerce and shows the way for new image search paradigms

Part 2 Video- Starts 7:28 - Yelp targets restaurant front of house operations with saas product: Yelp Guest Manager

Part 3 Video- Starts 14:35 - Amazon and Facebook stymied by new consumer attitudes toward privacy

Reference Articles:

  1. New ways to find shopping inspiration on Google
  2. Introducing Yelp Guest Manager: Bringing Yelp for Restaurants front-of-house products and features together into one comprehensive solution
  3. Amazon's Astro: Surveillance Puppy

Episode Transcript:

Greg: Welcome back to episode 35 near memo with David Mike, me, Greg Sterling. And we're excited to be talking to you about everything that happened in the week of search, social and commerce with a local twist angle lens inflection. So as always, tons of tons and tons going on, it's always hard to sort of select these topics because there's so many interesting things to talk about.

But first Mike is going to talk about some of the Google shopping related announcements that came out, um, yesterday, I believe. Right? So..

Mike: Specifically Lens, specifically Lens. Right? So lens came out a number of years ago and it, it has evolved using Google. Vision AI to be very good at identifying whatever's in the visual frame of reference.

It, it literally will give you a singular answer when you drop an image in there. And it got very, it's gotten very good at that, but it's never been tied into a. A complete search query where you can ask questions or shop around it with the announcement of mom at the Google IO, they've developed an AI that integrates language and images into a singular sort of experience.

And they're talking about doing that with Lens. And so you can, for example, in iOS, you'll see a new button in the Google app that you can make all the images on the page is searchable through Google Lens, and then they can deliver them back in a shopping experience or whatever. And so my understanding is you can add context to the image and enhance your search as well.

So, you know, the search results have become more visual and Google's vision has gotten better over the last few years, but now they're sort of merging. Sort of the written and the spoken word with the image for a new experience. And I think to me, it's not significant in the specific of it, but in the arc of it.


David: I think that's a good take, in the parlance of our time. As with many features that Google rolls out, right, you never know which one is really going to hit, but I think that directionally, I totally agree with you. That it signals Google's overarching commitment to images as a key piece of the search experience or visuals, even as a key piece of the search experience.

And, and I think it's something that from our standpoint as, or at least Mike and yours and my background as sort of traditional SEOs, I think our industry as a whole radically under emphasizes, images and videos in the search experience and the conversion experience, and the ranking experience and the ranking experience in it.

This should be another wake up call, to really think about how strong a role or how large role images play--

Greg: Well. And just, just from a consumer standpoint, I mean, people repeatedly value, images, and value that in making decisions. So there's that side of it as well. It's like just in catering to the customer, their needs, delivering a better experience--

Mike: Experience, I guess experimental, but it's been around for quite a while that if you do a search on a product in a local market, Google under the pack will surface a search by images.

And it's a totally visual – it's a Pinterest like interface where you click in and you see panels. All you see is the star rating. You don't see anything more, a picture in the star rating, the business name, totally visual interface to local, to products, to items. And it's not been written about hardly at all.

And yet it, to me, it's really part and parcel of this bigger trend. And going to impact local as much as, more maybe, than it impacts anything else. And it's an area too, like David pointed out the businesses, you look at pictures and like, it's like, oh my God, they're terrible. They're absolutely disgusting.

They let customers upload the total crap. They never report them. They don't well it's

Greg: Well, you've got it. You've got to, you've got to sort of...I don't know what to call it. It's a kind of an image. SEO suppressed the negative customer images by flooding the zone with all. Professionally produced, you know, good looking pictures.

I mean, that's going to be something that people need to pay more attention to.

Mike: Okay. Yeah. One of the things I've learned in playing with images over the last couple of months is Google ranks the top 10 images that they want to show you can. I mean, they're ranking everything and they're ranking images.

And so it's critical that you know, that you do that, but so it just, it's a big, I just see it as a, the biggest trend in local that as David points out has gone largely unappreciated. Although there were at least two talks at Whitespark's conference this week about images and the importance of doing them in Local.

So I think that's beginning to change.

David: And even in my presentation, which wasn't explicitly about images, one of the questions was how do you optimize images for Google? So it's maybe something that business owners sort of have a sixth sense for, or at least the savvier ones do, but, I think, yeah, as marketers, we tend to focus on, you know, reviews and title tags and site architecture and internal links. And, meanwhile, the first thing that customers look at on their "homepage" in air quotes, on Google is the image. So, just start to pay more attention to that would be a good takeaway.

Greg: Interesting thing about the last local search ranking factors is that Darren, had the traditional ranking factors, which of course it's derivative of the work that you originally did. But then he did conversion factors. Right? So that was an interesting thing. What was getting people sort of across the threshold?

And I don't think images are...you know...reviews are all in the top three, I think, but I suspect that images will make their way up that list. Eventually, because I do think that they are an important conversion factor, a couple of last kind of comments. So Snapchat, Snap, Pinterest, as you mentioned, Amazon, also doing visual search to varying degrees.

I mean, Amazon introduced a visual search tool years ago and they seem to have done not much with it. It's sort of there you can search bar codes, you can look pointed at objects and it's pretty good. It doesn't seem to have materially changed from what I can tell. I don't use it that much, but I use it sometimes.

Pinterest, I think is pretty good, very much like what you described in the Google Lens shopping experience. And I'm not really a Snapchat user, although my kids are. But they're definitely doing a visual search kind of play as well, so consistent with what you're saying. And...there's no good segue--

David: No good segue--

Greg: That's good segue here. Let me come up with one. Let me come up with one. When I'm looking for a restaurant now,

Mike: after looking at the pictures --

David: Item number two in this week's near memo, is Yelp rolling out their new guest management app. I guess it's a web app for restaurants, a software product for restaurants to deal with not just the waitlist, which they acquired a company several years ago that dealt with wait lists, but also sort of table management and guest interactions and these kinds of things.

So they rolled this out, I'd say essentially a purely SaaS product. And I think my overwhelming reaction to it was fairly positive from a strategic standpoint.

And certainly what you can see in there, their product landing page seems to be fairly well executed. I don't think Yelp has ever lacked for quality engineers and product designers. So I think that it looks compelling from a restaurant user standpoint.

I think the bigger question that which Mike brought up on Twitter is, you know, can Yelp, with what appears to be a superior product, overcome Yelp's sort of branding problems with their restaurant customers.

And I think that that remains to be seen. I think that potentially Yelp's better customer base, and maybe the one that they're really targeting this towards, even though their language appears to be very single mom and pop restaurant focus, maybe the option will really come from multi location and enterprise restaurants who want to convert to use sort of a more modern platform.

But it's strategically, I think, you know, Mike, you and I talked several years ago in our Streetfight column about Yelp's need to move away from CPM, CPC kind of crappy advertising product into something that's more, more traditional SaaS that actually helps their customers. I think this is a strong effort in that regard.

And I would just say it is interesting that as much as Yelp likes to tout how much they're diversifying revenue ad revenue away, outside of the restaurant vertical that this is a deeply focused restaurant, vertical SaaS offering as opposed to something that's targeting multiple service type businesses or anything like that.

So, an interesting release, seems like a pretty nice release, on the surface. And the question is, how well will it get adopted?

Mike: It's interesting too, though, will it increase or decrease the conflict around reviews with the people who use this product? And it depends on how they approach it, right?

Who is their customer and how are they servicing them? And in the past, they've always viewed their customer as the end-user. And they told businesses to take a hike. And obviously that's an attitude that doesn't work very well.

David: So that's right. And, and Greg, you brought up the point though, that potentially there is a way for this to help customers solicit genuine reviews from actual Yelp users.

I guess you didn't have to be a Yelp user to be a guest in this product, but, theoretically they'd be able to help you do things like collect reviews from guests, which they've done with Yelp app users who have redeemed an offer for a long time, that they follow up with them about their experience.

So it seems like a natural extension of that mindset that, "Hey, a, a feedback request from a legitimate Yelp customer is--could lead to a legitimate--"

Greg: I pitched this idea years ago now to Luther Lowe at Yelp. And I said, you know, you really could transform your whole relationship with small businesses if you solicited reviews on their behalf with, with some of your restaurants, you know, once they started sort of doing, reservation tools and other, and RFP tools and things.

You could verify that the person was actually a customer of the business and he sort of disputed that, you know, he thought that could be gamed equally, but I think this is a key thing that they need to do.

They really need to start helping businesses get reviews from legitimate customers. And  that's the path forward for them.

You know, it's interesting, I looked quickly while you were talking, at the market cap of Toast and Yelp, you know, 'cause Toast, which is a point of sale system and marketing platform for restaurants just went public and their market cap, you know, it's this euphoric early days, of course, and they haven't reported revenues for multiple quarters, their market cap is basically 10 X of what Yelp is 25.7 billion today.

And Yelp is at 2.7 and change 2.7, 2.6 billion. So I mean, it's really striking.

Yelp is now afflicted by the problems that the traditional directory publishers, the old yellow pages and old media companies had, which was the perception that their days were numbered.

There was no growth there. And Yelp, you know, by doing this kind of SaaS, may start to change the discussion around their future. They'll have to sort of back it up, but I don't know where they would go next after this from a vertical perspective.

David: Home Services--

Moving more into the sort of verticals with a business operations product for them, I think could be the next step.

Greg: They already do, you know, lead-gen RFPs and they do, I've used the messaging product with, with businesses and it works pretty well, so they could build a couple more tools in there and have something that would be pretty interesting.

Scheduling. Invoicing. You know, that kind of stuff.

Mike: At GatherUp while I was there we interacted with Toast. We had an early multi location client that wanted to integrate with Toast and Toast was totally open with our API and they worked with us so we could build the integration. You know, many of these companies now want to charge for integrations, all this crazy stuff.

I have a little trouble imagining it. Whoever a SaaS product, wanting to interact with Yelp and accessing their APIs in a rational, reasonable open way. It's just, it's like hard for me to even envision, you know, acting that way--

David: They released this guest management, product with Olo and one other.

Greg: Punchh--

Mike: Is it an open API. Will they work with anybody or is it just--

Greg: a big--

David: I suspect all valid questions. Right. And those are fairly scaled startups in themselves. So, you know, whether the next GatherUp will want to integrate with a Yelp API, I think is a really good question.


Greg: On that note. Uh, it's my turn to talk about--

David: Tough week for segues, man.

Greg: You know, it's okay. And so I'm wearing, I'm not wearing it right now, because it's on my bathroom sink, but I'm wearing the Halo band that Amazon put out and I did it. I did it to use it as a sleep tracker and you know, it's been very interesting, but last night it didn't even register.

I had so little sleep it just didn't even read it. And it's changed you-- if you don't have enough sleep. "Oh, poor." That last night was poor, but, but anyways,

David: Is that effective? Is that going to help you sleep better?

Greg: No, it is! It is actually, it is actually interesting to see. It's a pretty good product. And they're expanding it.

Which brings me to what I'm going to start talking about. It is a pretty good product. They've got it – they've got a sort of a 2.0 version with a Fitbit-like screen, that they announced at their hardware event yesterday. (And, see that was a sort of stealth segue that I just did.)

So Amazon had this big hardware event where they announced a wide range of things. There's a couple of interesting services. Kind of services, but mostly it was hardware, Echo devices, new Halo thing, bigger, bigger, many variations on existing 16 devices. But what was striking to me was the Astro robot--Astro was of course the Jetsons' dog's name for those that remember the Jetsons.

And it's described as an Alexa on wheels, or it's like a Roomba with a screen or something, it's like a robot vacuum. It'll follow you around. You can interact with it. You can do video calls. I guess you can do anything you can sort of do on one of their screens with voice control you can do on this.

And they, you know, they make it this very playful, cute thing, in their promotional material. But immediately people started saying, no, this is some – you know, kind of surveillance device, that's going to come into your house and it costs a thousand dollars for the early adopters and it's gotta be $1,500 for those people who wait.

Mike: Certainly when it walks off a staircase and breaks, there's no way to ship it back to Amazon--

Greg: Is that a real thing?

Mike: I read that I read that they tend to step off steps and when they break, there's no repair mechanisms at--

Greg: At this moment. All right. Well, that sounds like a great product, but...

Mike: Just to note on this. I was thinking a lot about why Apple voice and voice interaction works for me. And it's because I have a phone with me all the time, but then when I get in my car, I have a button I can push. And when I'm not in my car, I'm walking down the street, I have my watch or I'm on my bike or I'm at home and I have a home pad.

So that voice is ubiquitous for me so that I can learn to interact with it and it can learn me and the problem with having just an in-home process, like Facebook wants to do, or Amazon's trying to do, is that it isn't a big -- and you can't develop the necessary habits to use voice in a broad range of –

Greg: I wouldn't necessarily agree with that because if you've got, if you've got Google products and you've got Amazon products and you've got Apple, which I--

Here, one of them will train you to do the work more or less the same. Right? You sort of get trained to use Siri or trained to use Alexa or the Google assistant. And you can transfer that into these other devices. Now you're in a complete, like hermetically sealed--

Mike: Apple world. There that's right. All of the time.

Greg: Well, and this is what Amazon was talking about yesterday -- sort of ambient computing, which is their way of trying to move beyond the smartphone. You know, Facebook has got glasses that they're trying, you know, the metaverse whatever,

Mike: --and interact with car, they have car dashes, they're working--

Greg: Right. So, you know, if you've got a smartphone, then that's your sort of anchor asset. I mean, Google's in a little bit of a different position, but if you don't have a smartphone, then you're trying to circumvent or move beyond--transcend the smartphone and say, "this is the future." But what was really striking to me about the Astro was how kind of hostile it was right out of the gate.

You know, it wasn't like in the old days, as we were discussing before this call. In the old days you would have got these people sort of saying, "yeah, this is really cool." Or, "this works, it doesn't work well, it costs this much, you know, here's the market for it." "Here is the competition. "

But now you get these pieces that we'll talk about it being essentially an evil device, you know, coming to do something dangerous and damaging to you, and that is fundamentally different.

And it's been sort of building for a long time, but this attitude now to these companies is one of suspicion and even hostility in many instances.

And that's kind of across the board. I think Apple gets it a--

David: Apple's an exception. Yeah. It gets a little bit. Think of the Apple devices listening in Mike. Well, yeah--

Greg: The app store discussion, you know, Apple has been charged with hypocrisy, both around privacy and the app store and seen as a self-interest of the actor, trying to protect it's interest its own monopolies or advance its own revenue goals by making it harder for other people to do app downloads, ads and other places, apple gets more revenue, that kind of thing, you know, with iOS 14.5.

But, but what's also striking to me beyond the hostility of the coverage is just the general mood. Now that we're all in where we are surrounded by these devices, everybody we know uses them these websites.

We feel compelled to use them. I mean, we work in this industry. Everybody feels compelled to participate and there's more and more and more ambivalence or dissonance around it, but nobody feels like they can stop using these tools. I mean, Facebook is the perfect example. I've talked to a million people, you know, everybody's ambivalent about Facebook, but no one quits and, and--

Mike: The question for Facebook though, is how many are buying into their hardware world?

Greg: Not that many, right. That's where the distrust is showing up because their portal device, as far as I can tell is kind of a failure. I mean, they just released a new version of it, but it has really not sold relative to the others.

There's smart screen. And I think the glasses, you know, it's interesting, the Facebook brand does not appear anywhere on the physical glasses. It's on the box, apparently. Ray-Ban right, right. And that's very self-conscious because I think if it was like Facebook on the side or something, it would be even more rejected than than it may be.

You know, that's the first thing out of the reviewers mouths. These glasses are really pretty cool. They're sort of normal, but I don't know how I feel about them being an extension of Facebook's apparatus. You know, so we are trapped in a certain way in this, in these ecosystems where we are feeling more and more ambivalent about using them.

And like we have less and less power to do anything about it.

Mike: And people draw the line on the Astro, the glasses, and they say, there is no way I'm going to give that--whether the company is evil or not--the question becomes, do I really need to give up more data and is there enough of a game to do it? And I think a lot of people are making that assessment even outside of the evil conspiracy model.

Greg: Well, I don't want to. Go that far and say it's an evil conspiracy. I think there's a logic opportunity--

Mike: --And it gets said frequently. Right.

Greg: But you know, I think that people would have been seduced by the devices. I mean, all the new, the parade of new hardware has always kind of--you know, it's like, "oh, I want the iPhone 13 and I want the pixel six and I want this new, you know, surface computer or whatever."

Mike: I did buy an iPhone 13 pro and I have to say the macro photography is--

Greg: You didn't get the pro max, is there--

Mike: A Pro and there's a Pro X, my hands are not big enough for the Pro Max.

Greg: So the difference between the Pro and the Pro Max is just the size. Is that right? Yes. At this point, we're digressing now into a hardware discussion

David: And on a happy note--

Mike: Fascinating hop that I am an app I'm facing up to my well--

Greg: This is what I'm saying. It's like these devices that used to seduce and, and excite us now are seen as instruments of, you know, some surveillance of apparatus. That's ultimately, you know, coming for our data and will exclude us from health insurance...

...Anyway, anyway, so next week Mike is going to be on a fabulous--speaking of health insurance--he's going to be on a bike.

And, so we will have a special guest hopefully, who we will announce at the time. And Mike, I hope you have a great time on your trip. We'll see you back in two weeks for sure.

David: Sounds good. Thank you very much for listening everybody.