New Apple Business Connect Features & Implications

Join David Mihm, Mike Blumenthal & Greg Sterling as they discuss why the Apple Business Center is significant for SMB and enterprise marketing. Both a video and full, edited transcript are available.

New Apple Business Connect Features & Implications

What is new in Apple Business Connect?

Mike: Apple Business Connect rolled out yesterday as both a new small business interface as well as an API (Documentation). The small business interface is quite elegant, easy to use, simple and dramatically expanded. Apple positions it as a way for small businesses to achieve the same presence across their iPhone and mobile platforms as large enterprises.

The API may be more significant from an Apple point of view, because historically they haven't ever provided an API. They've done digital sneakernet with Json files from & to their big providers. They haven't trusted the data coming in, so they never built an API. So the Socis of the world would literally have to send a file off to Apple that would then get processed into Map’s listings.

The API is significant in a number of ways. One is it will lead towards real-time changes in the Maps data for large organizations as well as these primary data suppliers. The other part of the API is that Apple did imply or state in their documentation that large organizations could get access to the API directly.

It will be interesting to see how they control data quality in that, because historically some of these large data providers, I won't name any names, have allowed spam in for a price and have sent it off to Google. We'll see what happens with Apple.

Maps will now offer Insights

In addition to this improved enterprise option in the API, they've provided Insights for the first time into what they call “taps”, which is number of clicks (sort of actions) what people searched for and where they searched from. I don't know if the API has more [analytics] features than that but ..

Greg: So they are including keywords searched on and the location of the users?

Mike: Yes. [Update: turns out this is not the case. They are only showing whether a search was a business name, category or other search and they are not providing granular search detail.] Obviously with privacy issues, if there's not enough volume of any of these data points, they are not going to show.

Campaign tracking URLS?

And then David mentioned on Twitter yesterday that they're also now allowing tracking URLs, which would for the first time Apple allows you to see traffic in Google Analytics.

So with tracking URLs plus Apple Insights, you'll be able to see how many conversions you're getting both from your website and possibly from your phone calls.

David: Just a quick note. I was able to get a tracking URL into an existing claimed verified listing. They did not like and I couldn't even click the submit button, putting it in, trying to claim a listing for the first time. So, it appears that you have to get the listing approved and then go in and make changes to, to be able to add that tracking code.  

Mike: But it's the first time we have Insights. I think it would be interesting to see, having dealt with some folks in the high end hospitality industry that see a lot of dark Apple traffic in Analytics  and it'll be interesting to compare conversions from Apple to Google in an industry where I think it's going to be most popular. But we'll see.

What else is new?

They also introduced what they call Showcases (plural) and that's a call to action Post where the business has some offer. It's very easy to do, very quick, and of a limited duration, 30 days.

Greg: Google Posts.

Mike: Google Posts equivalent, yes.

They have new Place Card header and logo capability that publishes almost instantly.

It's a very fairly high resolution with an aspect ratio of 2.5 to one. So it's much wider than it is high image of the business with a small logo that publishes very quickly on the Place Card.

They now allow multiple users and a user can be assigned to multiple accounts. So it's a much more flexible structure for listing management.

Why is this significant?

And they emphasized in their marketing that it's across their whole ecosystem, not just Maps, but messages, wallet, Siri, and other apps.

Which implies to me, when you view that in light of their high resolution image requirements, (which they're accepting up to four thousand pixel images versus Google’s 750 by 750  pixel images…. And Google rejects images that are more than about 1500 pixels) Apple's high resolution requirements, along with their statement about the data spreading across multiple apps, implies that it's going be integrated with their augmented reality system in some way.

So it's an interesting product.

We don't know the role that Apple's been playing in local because it's been hidden from us. I think we'll find in certain verticals it's very strong and in other verticals there's no presence at all. But we'll see.

We know it's been used for navigation, we just don't know how much discovery and conversions are going on with it.

David: I can't remember a press release in the marketing tech world that undersold the level of improvement more than the one that Apple put out this week. I read it, I thought: "ah, this is, you know, re-skinning the existing thing and, putting a couple of bells and whistles in".

Then I logged in and it was like, WOW! Wildly different experience, much more functionality. The incredible juxtaposition with -  I'm not saying it, it has gone beyond where Google's My Business Dashboard was even three or four years ago - but the juxtaposition of, “hey, this is a real product for managing location information” versus the absolute dumpster fire of the NMX new GBP experience.

I mean, it's just incredible that Apple is doubling down in a 180 degree direction from where Google is going. I think it is certainly an MVP. There's a lot of stuff in the interface that is clunky. I think the user management stuff is actually really poor although it's better than it was before.

I think it is, it's clearly laying a very strong foundation however, for future development that I don't think we've seen from Apple before. I think that the previous business register and the original Maps Connect were just incredibly limited by Apple standards. It had clearly had not been given TLC that Apple is known for in terms of design and experience.

And I think this feels like a very real Apple product to me which is very impressive and I think it will continue to expand and attract a lot more usage because it is so easy and delightful to use.

Mike: And the API being both real time and available was also undersold and not even mentioned in m any of those other articles.

It really means that when you do an update at Rio or Reputation or Soci or Uberall or Yext, it's going flow right through or

Greg: or DAC Group. As I was reminded by them…

Mike: or DAC Group, they weren't mentioned in the press release.

So I'd be curious to know how many beyond the five mentioned in the press release have access currently. I do know that over a year and a half ago, Apple went around to virtually every listing provider and said, we want to engage with you on listing provision and improved photography.

That was a year and a half ago, and I had heard rumors at that time, a year and a half ago, that they were going to provide Insights. The speculation amongst the listing providers was that it would be a JSon file transfer. And so this is significantly more than that on so many levels.

And it's all of what they said. And in talking with others in the industry I have heard rumors this has been a full on press by Apple. That it hasn’t been just product people, but that product people, technical people and marketing people have all been made available to make sure this is a success. So it's unlike the rumors that we are seeing that Apple is cutting back development.

This is a huge development which took a lot of resources. They've done a really good job of it and it's a great V2.0.

David: In particular, I just have to highlight one example, which has been a huge UX nightmare since I've been in local search since 2005. It's the first incredibly simple, exactly how it should have been designed from the beginning, way to input hours for a business it.

I was able to go in and as part of a new claiming process, literally with a single click, it prefilled kind of the default stuff. And it's so, so easy and such a joy to actually select hours in Apple as opposed to Google and every other product. I just think it's a really, as a single data point, it just illustrates the amount of care and thought that I think has gone into this release.

Greg: So there is an interesting question about why are they doing this? Let's defer that to a later discussion because I think that involves a lot of speculation.

We talked yesterday, in a private conversation, that they are going to put ads into Maps and this is trying to beef up discovery and so on and so forth to make that more viable. But let's, let's leave that aside for a moment.

How will Business Connect achieve uptake with SMBs and Enterprise?

Greg: I have two kind of overlapping questions.

Which is how are they going to get the news out to small business owners who don't really think about Apple as a marketing channel for themselves? That's one question.

And two is sort of below the line of these enterprise multi-location vendors like, Uberall and Soci and DAC and so on and so forth. There are a whole bunch of agencies, agency broadly defined to include the Vendastas of the world and some traditional media publishers, that have a lot of small business customers, directly or indirectly:

Is the API going to be available to them because they aggregate hundreds of thousands of these small business customers who are less likely to go to Apple directly, at least in the near term?

Mike: I have an answer for that. In their guide they say that it will be made available both to large enterprise and third party service providers. They provide links to the application. They tell you what you need to do, so it appears, we don't know what the vetting process is like, but it does appear that large organizations and third party vendors will have access to the API.

So the answer is yes. They're opening that up. And we don't know how far this initial rollout went. They only mentioned five listing providers, but you mentioned a sixth.

I'm sure, given that they went around the whole industry a year and a half ago, they know who the players are. You know they have a strong presence at SIINDA, so I know they know in Europe who the players are.

The answer to that is yes, they will be opening it up to others.

David: And I'll answer, answer the first question about getting the word out to SMBs.

We've seen just, in the last six months, business Apple Essentials, the Apple version of, of Google Workspace.

I can totally see this being a bolt on module of a Business Essentials subscription. Not that they're necessarily going charge for a Place Card, but just like “Hey, as part of that, yeah, don't you want to manage your business' locations on Apple Maps?”

Greg: They have an enormous consumer channel obviously, and small business owners are a subset of the consumer audience and they could use those channels hypothetically to educate people and get them over there.

Mike: David, question for you on this: Is there any bulk upload? I couldn't find a bulk upload.

David: No. I did not see, see one yesterday.

But I am eager to apply for verified API status with my two large enterprise healthcare clients for sure. I've had trouble actually getting locations approved because there's not a utility bill that comes to a particular hospital department or whatever.

It's very hard to get those clinics approved. So if there is some sort of bulk verification, I think it's worth an enterprise probably investing some internal development time just to be able to make the real-time connections with your  CMS or location management system as opposed to through a vendor like a Yext or Soci.

Mike: There was a process for those enterprises to assign a third party developer to the project. It looked like in the documentation where they could hire you and you then become the interface or whatever. So it looks like that's all set up.

It'd be interesting to hear how you make out with it.

Greg: I know from my time at Uberall sort of vicariously, I wasn't directly involved in Apple, but I have knowledge of their interaction and they're very, very, very, as you, I think Mike pointed out, they're very, anal, for lack of a better way to put it, about the data quality.

And I think that will be an issue in this process as they open this up to lots and lots of entities that will be a challenge for them to ensure data quality. and accuracy, meeting their standards that while at the same time encouraging a lot of people to participate. It'll be something interesting to see how they reconcile these things

Mike: And the, the negative side of that is spam. Which we haven't seen a whole lot of in Apple Maps because they've been so reliant on Yelp as a data provider, and Yelp's got reasonable, if not perfect processes in place, so we'll see. But it does bode well.

Like I said, I think this is going be vertically relevant and I think the businesses in the critical verticals will learn fairly quickly that, that they're getting traffic from Apple.

And particularly, if it allows for URL tracking so that it shows up in your Analytics that this came from Apple Maps and it's a conversion that is going be huge.

David: And Greg, to your point, I mean that's the kind of data that would theoretically incentivize people to start advertising on Apple Maps when that comes out.

Greg: Right. Precisely.

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