Voice Search Changes Everything: For Marketers, ‘Context Is Queen’ In Today’s Voice-First World

Use of voice-enabled speakers is projected to grow by 130 percent in the next year — and an estimate 50 percent of all searches will be completed via either speech or image search by 2020.

In other words, voice as a primary search interface is here. But according to Yext VP of Industry Insights Duane Forrester, too many marketers are still at square one when it comes to thinking about a voice-first strategy.

For that reason, Forrester just released an e-book titled How Voice Search Changes Everything [registration required] aimed at helping businesses understand how this technology is changing the consumer experience — and the critical steps they can take to communicate with customers and become discoverable in a voice-first world.

GeoMarketing: We’ve seen a substantial rise in the volume of voice searches over the past year — and even the past few months. Why is this trend so important for marketers? And what was the impetuous behind writing this book now? 

Well, as a self-described early adopter of technology like this, I’ve seen this “moment” a number of times: the point where we’ve found ourselves at the tipping point of general mainstream adoption of a product. Smartphones are an ideal example of that — everybody can remember and understand that adoption curve.

With our smartphones today, we now have the ability to stream music, stream video, interact in a live environment, edit documents, everything. Yet throughout all of that evolution from the [comparatively simple] smartphone of over a decade ago, the interface has remained pretty much the same. It’s always been about touching, tapping, or typing on a screen.

Of course, humans being humans, we would prefer something that is easier for us. Enter voice search. It’s been the Holy Grail for a long time; it actually started [quite a while ago] with military applications, and then it evolved over time — similar to how GPS began as a military technology and now it’s standard for everyone.

Anyway, that’s where we find ourselves today with this technology: With the major companies — Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon — investing at unprecedented levels in the voice search arena, it has progressed to the point where functional voice search is a reality. And what’s more, most people become adopters of the technology once they’ve tried it. As soon as they try it, they see how useful it is and how easy it is.

That is what brought me to thinking about this e-book. I interact with dozens of companies in any given week, but in having these conversations [with them] around voice search, in most instances, the conversations are not, “Here’s what we are doing to activate that voice search.” The conversation is more, “uh, yeah, that’s something we should really look into.”

A lot of businesses are still at the very [early stages] of trying to understand what is voice activation and search, how does it work, and how do I play in that field. There just became a natural conversation upon which to build this piece of content and put it out there.

Michelle Robbins at Search Engine Land wrote about your stance on the shift from a “content is king” to “context is queen” world. What do search marketers need to know about the importance of context in today’s marketing landscape?

For about the last four to five years, there has been a really big push in the SEO world around content. Prior to that, you did have a subset of SEOs who were always stressing this — but then, eventually, the search engines actually came out with a statement, “Content matters because that what people are looking for.”

But working in this industry for a long time, I was fortunate enough to be able to understand that content is a sign post on the road. The road is still going somewhere; we’re not there yet. What I mean is, if [a brand basically says], “Hey, I’m going to stand next to this sign. It says, ‘content.’ I feel like I’ve reached the destination,” and they don’t explore where the road continues to go ahead of them, they’re missing an opportunity. That other opportunity is context.

We’ve seen that shift starting to happen, but the adoption of mobile and the advent of voice search have really forced context into the spotlight. It’s so incredibly important. If I’m sitting at home, and I ask my device for information about a restaurant in downtown LA, I’m doing research. That’s very clearly what I’m doing; I’m 50 miles away from the location. I’m not likely to walk in there. There’s nothing immediate about my voice query related to that restaurant. That’s the context of me in my home.

This notion of context, then, flips over completely when my device can tell that I am in my automobile, and I’m driving in the direction of the location, and I ask about it. Now, it understands, “Oh, do you want directions to that location from where you are? This is the best route. I can make reservations for you.” All of these things now have a different context, compared to when I’m sitting in my living room.

We can see, in the very near future, a deepening of this context idea, where the systems will be able to understand things about me — like if I go to Starbucks in the morning five days a week. Then, on Saturday morning, I’m out running errands, and the system will see that I’m running errands because it’s all in my calendar. During all of that, it can actually bring forward the notion that, “Hey, you know what? You haven’t been to Starbucks today. Maybe you want to go to Starbucks.” It can ask me if I want to open the app, pre-order something, and so on.

This is the next kind of generation of contextual alignment. And this is really hard, because it’s not as simple as keyword research in the world of voice search. We’re talking about incredibly long-tail queries. Almost all of them are unique instances; how I would ask for something versus how you would ask for something may be substantially different — even if we are technically asking for the same concrete thing. That is not an easy thing for computers to crack, but that’s the point that we’re at today.

How can brands start thinking about positioning themselves such that an intelligent assistant or voice assistant might recommend them as the best option to users making voice queries?

For example, is it about framing their content such that it’s written in a way that actually answers users’ questions? Is it just making sure that all their business information is really consistent? What are the tips that we can extract here?

Yes and yes — it’s all of that and so much more.

Here’s the reality: You have to think about the customer’s journey. That is the foundation for all of this, right? This is a relatively straightforward thing to do: I mean, all of us are consumers ourselves. So take a look at your own actions during a customer journey. Whether you’re going to get groceries, or you’re going to buy a new Xbox, take a look at the discreet steps you go through as an individual.

To purchase an object, for example, there may be four or five distinct steps that you take. So now you know as a search marketer that there are at least four or five stages this person has to go through. So, then, how do you position your business? How do you create content that actually intercepts those people at each one of those points in that conversation — because you don’t know exactly when you’re going to show up in a search, but you do know that at some point, the person is going to ask for the help or directions, right?

Voice search is very much about “ask a question, get an answer.” It’s not just about, “Let’s go do some keyword research and focus on keywords now.” This has expanded into the concept of topics: If I am purchasing a new Xbox, what else might I be purchasing? I might be purchasing HDMI cable. I might be purchasing an extra controller. I may want games. I’m probably going to want a subscription online. So there are at least four other discreet elements there that are directly related to the purchase someone is making that, as a marketer, I need to be talking about [in my content.]

It’s very important to understand that there are discreet questions, and you need to have answers for them. There does come a point, though, where it gets to be too much. But that’s up to the marketer to determine. Right now, we don’t have reliable tools and systems out there that give us all of this conversational data broken out — that is still difficult to come by.

But you have to adopt that long-tail, conversational phrase approach to targeting what to produce content around. You do need to build the detailed answers. You have to think about this in terms of the common and uncommon questions that are related to your product and services. Let’s use an example: If a person buys a “red widget,” inevitably, they’re going to need a widget polishing cloth, and you sell a widget polishing cloth. Well, that means you have to talk about red widgets. That’s an easy win for you.

Along with that, two other points: Make sure you clean up your own house. That means making sure your website is completely crawlable, it’s fully indexable, that everything is there and logically laid out. Manage your internal link structure properly. If you make it difficult for people to find content that’s related to something you do, or you have broken links, the engines won’t send people to that poor site. They will shift to something else they feel is a better user experience. So secondly, that means making sure of [simple] things like that you are mobile friendly and responsive. In fact, if you are not mobile friendly today, you’re just fighting a losing battle at this point.

That’s just table stakes today. 

Yes. Actually, I’m going to take it even a level lower than table stakes: Think of the little sign on the front door of a restaurant that says, “No shoes, no shirt, no service.” If you’re showing up and you’re not mobile friendly, you’ve got no shoes. You’re not even getting into the building to play the game of poker at that point — period.

Read How Voice Search Changes Everything here.

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Small Business Saturday 2017 – How to Promote My Local Business

Small Business Saturday 2107 is fast approaching, but there is still time to get your business in front of customers.

As usual, Small Business Saturday is sandwiched between the twin retail phenomenon known as Black Friday and Cyber Monday (BFCM) where big brands offer deep price cuts and doorbusters.

Major retailers have obvious advantages on BFCM, but on November 25th, Small Business Saturday 2017 is the day to celebrate and support small businesses and their contributions to local communities. Small business owners and local leaders across the country join together on Small Business Saturday to encourage consumers to shop locally and benefit their own communities and neighborhoods.

Be Easy to Find and Contact

Customers in your community will be using search engines and online maps to find local businesses that are selling what they are shopping for.  Make sure your business shows up at the top of search engine and map results by optimizing your Google My Business Listing.  Try the new Google Posts feature to highlight your best deals and what’s happening in your store.

You want customers to easily find you on Small Business Saturday (and the other 364 days of the year), so it’s essential that your business name, physical address, and phone number are consistent and present on the dozens of directories and websites that feed search engines local information.

It can be a time-consuming task to take on – creating, checking and correcting your business listings – but not impossible and very necessary.  A more efficient way to ensure you are being found with correct information that puts you higher in search results is to use a low-cost Business Listing Management service that does it all for you.

Get Free Marketing Materials for Small Business Saturday 2017

As the official sponsor of Small Business Saturday, American Express is in its sixth year of promoting this event in thousands of communities across the country. Endorsed by the Small Business Administration (sba.gov), the “Shop Small” movement focuses on the brighter side of holiday shopping by promoting local merchants and encouraging people to shop within their communities.

WATCH THIS VIDEO: How to Use Free Shop Small Merchandise to Promote Your Business by American Express

Check Out the Shop Small Studio for Free Customized Marketing Materials and Tips

Celebrate customers and help attract new ones with customizable marketing materials from the Shop Small Studio.  It takes less than a minute to fill in your store name and specialty to get started.  Then you give them a name and email address your free material is downloaded to your device and a download link is sent to the email you provide.

Here are the two ways you will receive your download:

Print customizable material you can use right away like posters, event flyers, offer signage and save the dates.

Your free download includes:

⇒ Facebook cover photo and profile photo images customized with the business name you entered

Small Business Saturday 2017 Facebook Cover

⇒ 2 Social media images customized with your business name

Small Business Saturday 2017 Social Media Images

⇒ Email scripting and email header (below), as well as badges and logos you can use on your website.

Small Business Saturday 2017 Email Header

⇒ Tip sheets for your Social Media, Storefront, and Website

Small Business Saturday Social Store Web Tips

Using Social Media for Small Business Saturday 2017

Join the conversations happening on your networks around Small Business Saturday with #ShopSmall and #SmallBizSat (the “official” hashtags of Small Business Saturday). Jump right into the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.

Small Business Saturday Hashtags:

#SmallBizSat

#SmallBizSaturday

#ShopSmall

#ShopLocal

These hashtags trends high leading up to Thanksgiving. Use this window to promote your local business on social media.  Repost popular Small Business Saturday posts, create eye-catching images of your business and products, and use the free customized logos and images you downloaded to entice customers to come spend some time and money with you on November 25th.

 

RELATED READING:

Local SEO Checklist: 9 Basic Tips to Get Found in Search

Holiday Local Marketing on a Small Budget

Increase Your Small Business Holiday Profits

Local SEO for Brick and Mortar Businesses – FREE GUIDE

 

Small Business Saturday is November 25, 2017

Encourage your customers to get out and support the places they love while shopping with and for the people they love on Nov 25.  This is a chance to support local economies and celebrate the communities we live in.

Images Source: AmericanExpress.com

Free Demo RepLoop

USE THESE FREE GUIDES FROM REPUTATIONLOOP.COM TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS

How to Optimize Your Google My Business Listing  |  8 Low-Cost Digital Marketing Tactics  |  Local SEO Checklist: 9 Tips to Get Found Online  |  2017 Reputation Management Checklist  |  Using & Understanding Google My Business INSIGHTS  | Local SEO for Brick & Mortar Businesses Guide

 

Zach_Color_Trans_small_CroppedAbout The Author

Zach Anderson is the co-founder of Reputation Loop (helping small businesses grow by generating customer feedback and online reviews) who loves online marketing and golf.

The post Small Business Saturday 2017 – How to Promote My Local Business appeared first on Reputation Loop.

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Speaking To Search Engines: How Marketers Can Drive Better Results In The Intelligent Future

With search engines shifting from delivering blue links on a page to structured answers and knowledge cards, a quickly growing number of searches result in a user never visiting a web page at all — and this means major changes for marketers who may have dedicated the majority of their time to writing website copy.

If the most important audience isn’t a group of people but search engines themselves, how can marketers make sure that their business is providing the right information when customers need it most? At a panel moderated by GeoMarketing‘s Lauryn Chamberlain at Yext’s ONWARD conference, SEO experts discussed this topic — offering tips to marketers on “how to speak search engine” in the intelligent future.

Below, an edited and condensed version of the panel discussion.

GeoMarketing: Let’s start by talking about the knowledge graph. How can marketers work to make sure their business is represented there — and how is the knowledge graph different from featured snippets?

Adam Edwards, head of SEO, US, Reprise: When we talk about featured snippets or featured answers, the best content wins. This really has little to do with structured data; it is controlled by Google programmatically, and it [simply] pulls for the content that answers the search query. If you are structuring your content in a way that conversationally makes sense [on your site], Google is going to serve that to the user as the best answer.

When we talk about the knowledge graph, that is completely structured data driven.  So we [need] to mark that out: We can mark up our logos, we can mark the hours, we can mark up the site.

And Google has evolved this considerably over just the last year: Now we can actually go in and respond to customer questions directly from the knowledge graph. That’s fantastic — especially if you’re a local business — to be able to have that evolution in the knowledge panel, which is a way for you to push offers out and to respond in real time to actual questions from your customers.

Casey Markee, founder, Media Wyse: [It’s important to note] that feedback is very important on featured answers; Google does make mistakes with featured snippets all the time. For example, about three months ago, if you typed in “who owned the New York Jets?” the featured answer was “Tom Brady.”

That was just one of the funniest examples. But in the event that they do get them wrong, definitely avail yourself of the feedback option.

How do you manage your search marketing such that you’re reaching people who already know what they want — e.g. searching “new Camry” and seeing the knowledge card with prices and configurations — versus those who are making a more general search? Are there “search commandments” today, or does it vary?

Casey Markee: When we talk about search commandments, when we talk about qualifying for position zero, when we talk about marketing to the machine… we have to [talk about] JSON-LD schema. It’s a beautiful language, and it’s very easy to learn. Google loves it, and they’ve updated basically every bit of documentation they have online around structured data to say that JSON-LD is a recommended standard so you should be using that.

Google is never going to come out and say, “Hey, you should do this.” But when they say, “This is our recommended standard,” you tend to want to use that.

Also in regards to the knowledge graph, if you go in and look at the help pages from Google, they’ll tell you how to mark that adequately. Just type “knowledge graph” into Google and look at help pages; I’m always shocked at how many SEOs have never visited those pages. Google tells you what they want you to do, and it’s just a matter of you implementing those examples and filling out that material as much as possible.

Brendan King, CEO, Vendasta: To me, it’s really important that everything is marked up so that Google understands it [and so it addresses] what consumers are looking for.

[But] to me, the real challenge is to get [business owners] to understand that they need to get that structured data there, and then you can use all kinds of of tools to make sure it’s marked up correctly — and then after that you still have to find a way to close the loop. What good is the data if it doesn’t actually result in a conversion where [that business] gets some money?

Casey Markee: Right. And I don’t know if I’d use the word “commandment,” but one of the biggest things that I try to instill into my clients is recognizing that we need to get everyone on the same page. Not everyone needs to know everything about the different schema, but they need to know that this is important.

We can’t talk about the future of intelligent search without touching on the role of voice: 20 percent of searches in the Google app are now by voice, and humans are intuitively built to talk and listen. How is voice transforming search, and, as an extension of that, what role do intelligent assistants like Amazon Alexa now play in how brands need to interact?

Casey Markee: You could almost look at voice search as a no user interface — it’s literally like a blank slate. What I mean is, you don’t even see the screen, and so as marketers, we have to predict what people are going to ask with literally very little feedback and you have to invest in that.

It’s not just about having mark up; it’s about having content that will actually answer these questions that users are asking. I’m sure in the future there will be some artificial intelligence solutions, but right now, answering someone’s question is going to come down to just understanding what people could ask.

Adam Edwards: This is also kind of why schema continues to be important: There is going to be a new schema introduced next year that is currently pending right now. It’s called speakable, and it’s specifically optimized around marking up conversational content. So, the idea is that it will allow everyone  to actually pull out snippets and just mark those up with structured data — so that it’s easier for voice assistants to pull that information programmatically from the page in as clean and easy a way as possible.

Brendan King: Yeah, they call it voice “assistance” because it isn’t really just search anymore. It’s interesting the uses that these devices see, and it [brings about] a whole change in your behavior. At my house, the people that use it most are my grandkids — and they’re turning the lights off, playing music, et cetera. [There are ] just so many use cases here.

It really is the future, and the only way that it works is with that structured data.

Adam Edwards: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s now table stakes to have that data out there.

Brendan King: If people hear or see an ad, they expect that they can go immediately look for that business. If they don’t find that business right away, they’re going to find a competitor.

So I like to say the best place to hide a dead body is on the second page of the Google search results, because nobody goes there.

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Hilton’s Melissa Walner: To Rank In Voice Search Results, Craft Content That Answers Specific Questions

As search has evolved to provide structured answers to users’ queries, businesses of all stripes are faced with rethinking their SEO strategy in order to rank in these results — especially as an increasing number of searches are made by voice and don’t result in a customer visiting a webpage at all.

But the more physical locations a brand has, the more daunting this task can seem.

“We have over 5000 hotels, so consistency is a challenge with that many locations,” said Melissa Walner, director of global SEO at Hilton, explaining the difficulty of maintaining both listing accuracy and SEO best practices. “Education is important: we have to communicate what corporate is trying to do for them on a daily basis.”

Following a panel entitled “What It Means To Rank Today” at Yext’s ONWARD conference last week, Walner talked to GeoMarketing about managing SEO for diverse franchise locations — and what marketers need to know about the future of search.

GeoMarketing: You mentioned the difficulty of coordinating SEO practices in a franchise model. How do you manage search strategies — and online-to-offline marketing in general — from a national-to-local property perspective? How do you stay consistent?

Governance is important in general: It’s just making sure that the brand itself has a key brand standard in place [at the corporate level.] I hate to say rules and regulations because nobody relishes that aspect, but there does need to be some level of that in place — just to make sure that everybody knows what they need to be doing, what they’re allowed to do from the top down.

General SEO training and education is another big piece of it. But governance for sure is the big thing.

What’s your top priority at Hilton right now when it comes to search?

I would say structured data. Because, like I said, we know that when you have that in place with the rich snippets, your click-through rate is much higher. It’s a little bit challenging, but structured data is critically important, especially in today’s day and age.

I [would also say] that map consistency is a quick win and an easy win — just making sure all of your locations are correct and consistent.

Additionally, everybody has been talking about the HTTPS changeover, so that’s a big priority for us as well — and really anybody.

The things like that are a little bit more challenging to execute around a site that has over 500,000 pages — versus somebody who just has 10 on a website. We’re working through those types of challenges behind the scenes, but I would say making sure you’ve got the SSL certificates in place is key.

Hilton tends to attract customers who plan their vacations ahead of time rather than the last-minute road trip traveler — although you said you do get a smaller number of day-of bookings.  How does this affect your SEO and/or search advertising? How do you make sure that you reach the person in the planning phase — particularly on mobile? 

Well, for the long range guest, think about a large resort where most of the business is probably going to be leisure, travel, maybe some business. It’s important to make sure that you have content on your website that is there for  those micro-moments that matter — and that it speaks to the [kinds of activities] they’re looking for.

In this “dreaming phase,” if customer wants to find a place that is pet-friendly, for example, you have to make sure that you’ve got content on your website that is speaking to that. You can’t just be a pet-friendly hotel; you have to say it [clearly and] explicitly.

For the shorter term hotel guest — someone who is just driving by — local search is critical. You want to make sure that you’re showing up on the map. That means having correct listing information, because that person is probably doing a “hotel near me” search — and very likely doing a voice search if they’re driving and on their mobile phone.

What’s the most important “future of search” trend for you? Is it voice, as you just mentioned? Or something else? 

It is; voice is definitely significant.

What I see as a challenge for some people is making sure that they have the content on their website that is answering the questions that customers are actually looking for.

This means making sure you know exactly what your customers are searching for: Looking at different types of search query data is very helpful. A lot of times, people will think they know what their customer is looking for, but then you find out later on — especially when it comes to using voice search — that they didn’t know the intent [behind the query.]

This is the key: Knowing what your customers are looking for, knowing the intent behind it, and then making sure you’ve got content on your site that specifically addresses and answers that.

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Best Free Online Courses for Small Business Owners – Part 2

Make sure to read part one of this two-part series on Free Online Courses for Small Business Owners to see five more awesome free courses that will help you grow your business.

Read First… BEST FREE ONLINE COURSES FOR SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS – Part 1

Why are these the best free online courses for small business owners?

Well, first because they are free! And you’ll find these courses offer actionable insight but only require a small investment of your time and commitment to learning the skills and activities that build better companies.  You’ll gain technical knowledge you can apply to your business today, as well as tips, resources and case studies that show you how it all works.

These expert-led courses are tailored for small businesses and teach you the essentials in short, easy to absorb lessons. If you can find 10 minutes a day to dedicate to a lesson, you could finish a handful of courses in the next month and set out a plan for a successful new year.

Note: These are truly No Cost courses you can view with free accounts on sites like SkillShare and Facebook – no need to create paid accounts for these free courses.

Free Online Courses for Small Business Owners – Pt 2

Context is Key: Social Media Strategy in a Noisy Online World

By Gary Vaynerchuk

Context is Key Gary V Best Free Online CourseDon’t just tell your brand’s story, tell it right. Learn to develop a results-driven social media strategy perfectly adapted to each major social media platform—a strategy that guarantees your brand is telling the right story in the right context. Gary will break down the right story for every relevant platform—Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, and Pinterest—all in under 90 minutes. These are the same tactics Gary’s used to grow brands like GE, PepsiCo, and the NY Jets. Any opportunity to enter Gary’s brain is an exciting one, and this class is no exception. Don’t miss it.

Watch 23 video lessons. 

  • Winning Combinations of Jabs and Right Hooks. How to balance your knock out punches with building long-term relationships with your customers.
  • Tailoring Your Social Media Content. Techniques for customizing your content for Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Tumblr.
  • Learning from Case Studies. Real-world examples of social media wins and losses you can apply to your own campaigns.

Learn by doing.

Create your own platform-specific social media strategy to apply to your brand immediately. No brand? Not a problem. Create a social media strategy for your favorite brand or just follow along.

 

Introduction to SEO: Tactics and Strategy for Entrepreneurs

By Rand Fishkin

Intro to SEO Free Online Course Best Free Online CourseJoin “Wizard of Moz” Rand Fishkin for a dive into the heart of SEO. This 90-minute class shares actionable insights and tactics for optimizing your content and organically raising the online presence of your business and brand.

Bite-sized, easy-to-follow lessons cover

  • crafting an SEO strategy that “moves the needle”
  • granular fundamentals for content optimization
  • walk-through demos auditing a full site & specific posts

This class is perfect for entrepreneurs, small business owners, startups, freelancers, junior marketers, web designers, and copywriters eager to do SEO that matters! No prior experience or skills required.

How do you know this is the class for you? The best thing about SEO is that it’s not different for every type of site. The fundamentals covered in this class can be applied universally.

By the end, students are all invited to work on a project that can put all their learnings into action: sharing their SEO strategy and optimizing a piece of content based on keyword research.

 

Email 1 K – 30 Day Double Your Email List Course

By Noah Kagan

Email 1K Noah Kagan Best Free Online CourseA free 30-day course to DOUBLE YOUR EMAIL LIST. Learn from experts who’ve grown email lists to
over 10 million subscribers. Email is *still* the single most effective marketing tool. Where would your business be if you doubled your email subscribers? AppSumo is a 7-figure business with over 90% of our revenue generated by our email list. This course consolidates the exact tactics and tools we’ve used. Rather than bore you to death with theory, my expert friends and I will show you firsthand how to double your email list within 30 days.

This FREE Course includes an Email Marketing Toolkit worth over $300 of special hook-ups if you send a tweet or refer two friends.   Some of the expert lessons:

Lesson 1: Optimizing your homepage

Lesson 2: Reverse Engineering Great Content

Lesson 3: Syndication/Large Site Guest Posts

Lesson 4: Content Upgrades

Lesson 5: Conversion Optimization

Lesson 6: Giveaways

 

Quick Sprout Marketing University

By QuickSrpout.com

Quick Sprout Marketing University Best Free Online CourseIs it me or is it hard to learn online marketing? You read a few blog posts that teach you a cool new marketing tactic, but because these blog posts aren’t visual, it’s hard to take that knowledge and apply it to your site.

So, in the end, you’re left with understanding marketing strategies from a high level, but you become lost on a tactical level.

Neil Patel wanted to do something about that, so he developed a free online educational course called Quick Sprout University. With the help of Brian Dean, 107 online marketing videos were produced that will show you step by step what you need to do.

Here are some of the things you’ll learn from Quick Sprout University:

  • Search engine optimization – from optimizing your on-page code to speeding up your site and even dealing with Panda penalties, 32 videos will show you how to make your site search engine friendly.
  • Link building – 22 link building videos that will show you how to build links to your site and even recover from a Penguin penalty.
  • Content marketing – from creating infographics to writing blog posts that go viral, learn everything you need to know about content marketing through 28 videos.
  • Social media marketing – if you want more social shares and traffic, these 9 videos will show you how to become the center of attention on the social web.
  • Paid advertising – although we would all prefer free organic traffic, paid traffic is a quick way to scale. Plus, it can be profitable too. See how to set up paid advertising campaigns on AdWords and YouTube as well as how to use a few other channels for paid advertising such as remarketing inside 11 videos on paid marketing.
  • Email marketing – if you want to collect emails from your site or even set up an autoresponder sequence, you’ll be able to learn how to do so through two simple videos.
  • Reputation management – are you worried about what people are saying about you? Do you want to control the SERPs for your branded terms? Just by watching two videos, you’ll be able to learn how to control your reputation.
  • Conversion optimization – getting traffic to your site is only half the battle. The other half is converting your visitors into customers.

 

The New Business Toolbox: Help Your New Business Do It Right The First Time

By Seth Godin

New Business Toolbox Best Free Online CourseTransform your new business by understanding the opportunities (and pitfalls) that are right around the corner. Seth Godin has learned these lessons the hard way, and in this entertaining (and useful) class, he’ll share what he knows. Save time and avoid dead ends as you organize and grow your small business.

This fast-moving class features hands-on, strategic and practical tactics every small businessperson ought to consider as she sets out to grow her business.

If you’re going to put in the time and the money and the energy to turn your project into a business that matters, it pays to get these seven things right.

Author Seth Godin doesn’t often get the chance to share this sort of nuts and bolts practical advice, and you’re invited to join in…

  • The Business Model. This isn’t a tool; it’s the entire backbone of the project. What is the process that turns your resources and your effort into value and profit?
  • Freelancing vs. Entrepreneurship. Are you trying to build something bigger than yourself?  The problem with hiring the cheapest, smartest person to work for you is that you end up with two jobs, and you won’t be good at either.
  • Funding. Is there a way to raise money for your kind of project? Explore the obvious options but emphasize effective (but rarely talked about) alternatives. Learn about equity, debt, royalties, and perhaps best of all, bootstrapping.
  • Hiring. Who to look for and how to find and retain them. For many entrepreneurs, outsourcing isn’t a way just to save money; it’s a new way to grow and thrive.
  • Naming. A simple and powerful approach to picking a name that works. Learn about domains, scalability, and trademarks.
  • Partnerships.  We’ll go into detail about how to split the pie while thinking hard about the long run.
  • Cash Flow. This is the essence of small-business security. More than just about anything else, the idea of funding your business with your customers’ support is completely transformative.
  • Positioning and Storytelling. The power of stories that stick. How your story changes your strategy, your marketing, your pricing, as well as understanding the X/Y analysis.

The theme of this class is simple but surprising: You should build your business around ideas that work, as opposed to building a business and then insisting that the universe cooperates in helping you succeed. Seven simple concepts well understood can change everything.

What You’ll Do

By the time you’re done with this class, you’ll have created a seven-part leverage plan. Not a boring business plan, this is your focused, detailed plan on how things that already work in the world will be put to work by you on your business.

This isn’t a complete MBA, and it’s not focused on art or the resistance. What it is: a ready-to-roll 7-part top-level course for smart entrepreneurs and those that aspire to be.


 READ PART 1 – Best Free Online Courses for Small Business Owners

Learning to be More Effective and Make Informed Decisions is the Greatest Investment in Your Business

I picked these courses because they allow you to learn how to do something that will make you a better business owner without spending a lot of money or dragging through business basics you’ve already mastered.  Learn how to better manage and grow your business without cutting corners because you are learning from some of the most famous experts and top instructors in the realm of small business success.

 

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USE THESE FREE GUIDES FROM REPUTATIONLOOP.COM TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS

How to Optimize Your Google My Business Listing  |  8 Low-Cost Digital Marketing Tactics  |  Local SEO Checklist: 9 Tips to Get Found Online  |  2017 Reputation Management Checklist  |  Using & Understanding Google My Business INSIGHTS  | Local SEO for Brick & Mortar Businesses Guide

 

Zach_Color_Trans_small_CroppedAbout The Author

Zach Anderson is the co-founder of Reputation Loop (helping small businesses grow by generating customer feedback and online reviews) who loves online marketing and golf.

The post Best Free Online Courses for Small Business Owners – Part 2 appeared first on Reputation Loop.

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What Are Google Posts? How to Use This New GMB Feature

Last week we published the Latest Updates to Google My Business, which was packed full of all the new features Google My Business released in 2017.  There are descriptions of new features with instructions and links to learn more.  And still, the question I got over and over was “What are Google Posts?”

You could Google search, “What are Google Posts” and dig through a million links. Or hang out here and I’ll explain what a Google Post is and how you can use this new Google My Business Feature to promote your business.

What is a Google Post?

Google Posts were introduced as a way share fresh content with people who found your business through Google Search.  This new Google My Business feature lets you create posts with content you want displayed to customers when they find your business on Google. Publish your events, products, and services directly to Google Search in the Knowledge Panel and Maps.

They are meant to be used to show search user what is going on with your business right now.  Each post you create is removed from search results after seven days, or after the event date, you specify if you are posting an event.

Google Posts give you the opportunity to promote your latest and greatest content, deals, events, product updates, and service specials appear with your listing in search.  Enhance the search and comparison parts of the buyer’s journey with these quick and simple updates.

How a Google Post Shows on Search and Maps

Google Posts are part of your Google My Business account and only show as part of your business listing as it appears in search results.  If a Google Search user is looking for “best carpet cleaners in Boston” they are not going to see your posts in search results. For a service or product local search your local SEO and Google My Business optimization will need to have your business ranking high in the local pack and maps where your business can be clicked, and then they will see your Google Post.

google posts in MAPSIf they search for AAA Carpets and Floors, and that’s your Google My Business verified and optimized business account, then the Knowledge Panel for your business will display to the right of search results where customers will see your Google Posts.

google posts in KNOWLEDGE PANELTips on Using Google Post to Promote Your Business

Character Limits: Only the first 80-100 characters will show in the Post so make those characters count and preview the Post to make sure your sentence isn’t cut off.

Headlines: Write headlines that make the reader want to click through.  Think of it as an ad to inspire action.

Call to Action: Tell the viewer what to do next.  “Free Download” or “Learn How to” or “Order Now” are clear CAT’s that minimize the decisions the audience needs to make.

Image Size: The best image size is 750 x 750.  Anything smaller than 250 x 250 won’t be accepted.  Preview the post to make sure the image appears as intended.

Post Often: Share daily specials and current promotions to keep customers up-to-date on your offers.

Multiple Post: If you have more than one post, the newest one will display first and older post show in a carousel format.  Users can scroll through up to 10 posts, but only the first two can be fully seen without scrolling.

Do’s and Don’ts for Writing a Google Post directly from Google

There is a right and wrong way to leverage Google Post.  To get the do’s and don’ts we went directly to the source.  This is what Google tells us about Google Post:

google posts EXAMPLE good postGoogle’s Suggestions for Writing the Perfect Google Post

  1. Be precise: What are the 3 things your customer needs to know? What do you want them to remember, for how much, and when?
    “Happy Hour! Half-price milkshakes from 5-6 PM every Friday.” 
  2. Be personal: Show what your business values:
    “We love families at Mike’s and to show our appreciation, kids eat free this weekend!” 
  3. Tell your customers what they can do. Are you selling a product? Tell them how they can buy.
    “Tickets range from $60-$160, and are available for purchase at the front desk starting at 12 PM EST today.”
  4. Highlight what makes your business, product, or offer unique. Large selection? Free shipping? Tell people:
    “Free shipping on orders over $50.” 
  5. Be timely  use a key selling point or popular item as the hook for your post:
    “Spring is here. All flip flops now 30% off.”
  6. Be sure to include any redemption instructions, unique codes, or restrictions on offers or sales:
    “$10 off purchase of $50 or more. 50% off select women’s clothing.”
  7. Use abbreviations for days and months, and don’t use periods, to allow more space for your post, and abbreviate hours:
    Jan, Feb, Mar… Mon, Tue, Wed… 9 AM, 5 PM, 12 PM
  8. Avoid the commercial slang and excessive exclamation marks or all caps that make your post look like an advertisement:
    “BOGO: 50% off men’s sneakers.”   “Crazy SALE today!!!”
  9. Don’t include more than one offer or too many exclusions in one communication:
     “Half price coffee and tea from 3-6 PM on Fridays, and buy 6, get one free donut on weekdays.”   “10% off new seasonal sandwiches. Not valid on lunch specials.”

Creating a Google Post in Google My Business

Make sure you are signed into your Google My Business account.  From your dashboard, it is a simple process to get your posts live.

Once you create a Google Post, it will appear in search results within moments.  REMEMBER the post are removed after seven days or once the event date you have set has passed.  But old posts will be visible on mobile under the “Posts” tab.

How to CREATE a Post on Desktop

google post create on desktop

How to CREATE a Post on Mobile

google posts create on mobile

How to EDIT a Post on Desktop

google post EDIT on desktopgoogle post EDIT on desktop

How to EDIT a Post on Mobile

google post EDIT on mobile

How to DELETE a Post on Desktop

google post DELETE on desktop

How to DELETE a Post on Mobile

google post DELETE on mobile

How to Get Insights (Analytics) on Your Google Posts

Google Posts don’t integrate with Google analytics without creating a custom campaign URL.  Google My Business gives you analytics on your Google Post with Insights where you can see how many views your post received and the number of button clicks.  It can take 2 to 3 days for Insights data to be updated but this is information you need to make improvements and create better posts.

On your desktop, select a post in the Posts Menu and it will show you the number of views and clicks.  On the Google My Business mobile app find the post you want in the post menu and tap the down arrow icon at the top next to “Published” to expand the screen and see the number of views and clicks.

Try Google Posts for Your Business – IT’S FREE

Use Google Posts to get more information about your business in the search engine results sidebar beyond just hours and location. Promote the latest sales and offers, and add location-specific promotions that help build online awareness about your business. Your post content will appear that the top of search results on mobile and be one of the first things a mobile Google Search user sees.

 

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USE THESE FREE GUIDES FROM REPUTATIONLOOP.COM TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS

How to Optimize Your Google My Business Listing  |  8 Low-Cost Digital Marketing Tactics  |  Local SEO Checklist: 9 Tips to Get Found Online  |  2017 Reputation Management Checklist  |  Using & Understanding Google My Business INSIGHTS  | Local SEO for Brick & Mortar Businesses Guide

 

Zach_Color_Trans_small_CroppedAbout The Author

Zach Anderson is the co-founder of Reputation Loop (helping small businesses grow by generating customer feedback and online reviews) who loves online marketing and golf.

The post What Are Google Posts? How to Use This New GMB Feature appeared first on Reputation Loop.

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Latest Google My Business Updates – Summer 2017

Google has been very busy in 2017 with the latest Google My Business updates! While some updates are well widely advertised, many go unannounced even though they feature major changes and added features Google My Business users should know.

If you feel you are not up to speed on the Google My Business Updates, you can check the Google My Business Updates leading up to 2017 in case you missed any.

Latest Google My Business Updates for Summer 2017

1. Create A Free Mobile Website with Google My Business

June 2017 – You can create a free mobile-optimized website to represent your business from your Google My Business listing.  You can customize themes, photos, and text of the site Google creates from the information and photos on your Google My Business Listing.

The free website you create updates automatically whenever you change your business information or add photos. It is also optimized for display on desktop, laptop, and mobile devices.  You can find this option by signing into your Google My Business Listing and clicking on the “Website” menu option.

This free website is meant to be a super simple free website for small businesses that don’t have a website, so absolutely nothing fancy or complicated is going on here.

Latest Google My Business Menu - Website Button

2. Google Posts Now Live for GMB Users

June 2017 – Publish events, products and services directly to Google Search and Maps with Google Posts from your Google My Business listing.  These posts appear to customers in search results and on maps in a few moments.  REMEMBER these posts are supposed to be timely, so they are automatically removed after 7 days or after the event has passed.

Latest Google My Business Post ExampleCreate a Google Post on Your Desktop

Latest Google My Business Updates Post - Desktop

Create a Google Post on Your Mobile Device

Latest Google My Business Updates Post - Mobile

Here you’ll find Google’s instructions to Edit or Delete a post.

3. Google Rolling Out Messaging Feature within GMB

July 2017 – With the new Messaging feature in Google My Business you can message customers from your Google Local Panel in mobile search.  This chat feature is currently available on desktop and mobile browsers, as well as the search app on Android.

The biggest of the latest Google My Business updates, chatting with potential customers can be a game changer for small businesses able to offer the personal touch researching customers crave. There is an in-depth question and answer post on Bluementhals.com that will answer a lot of your questions on what you can and cannot do with this new feature: Google My Business Messaging FAQ

On your Google My Business home page you should see a new section for “Messaging” in the menu and a big box option for “Message with Customers” to get set up by verifying your phone number to receive messages and setting an autoreply to customers who use the chat feature.  Once set up, when your business shows up in the local panel in mobile search people will see a message icon next to the call icon where they can send a text message to the number you selected.

Latest Google My Business Update - Message Icon

4. GMB Updates Insights Email Sent to Businesses

July 2017 – Google My Business Insights gives you an inside look at how people find your business listing on the web. Insights focus on how customers use Search and Maps to find your listing, and what they do once they find it.

Each column in the bulk download serves to provide insights in the following sections:
• How customers find your listing
• Where customers find you on Google
• Customer actions
• Driving directions requests
• Phone calls
• Photos

CLICK & LEARN: Using and Understanding Google My Business Insights – Free Download

With concrete performance data, it is now much easier to justify investing in local SEO as it is a huge advantage to be able to tie this type of activity to direct changes in search performance. If you can pair this up with an effective local keyword tracking tool and URL tracking parameters, then you’ll be able to clearly demonstrate the value Local SEO activity has had to a business.

The new bulk download option provides data broken down into the following columns:

  • Total searches
  • Direct searches
  • Discovery searches
  • Total views
  • Search views
  • Maps views
  • Total actions
  • Website actions
  • Directions actions
  • Phone call actions

Visit Google’s guidelines for descriptions of what each of these columns means.

There’s still only one line per location, so you don’t get a daily breakdown. This means if you want to make any comparisons then you’ll need to download the data in 7 days, 30 days,90 day or custom bursts. Which isn’t ideal but this is still a major improvement.

5. Add Customer Action Links to GMB Listings

Aug 2017 – Include specific action links people viewing your profile can click to do things like make online orders or reservations directly from Google Search or Maps.  I consider this the most impactful of the latest Google My Business updates when looking at increasing sales.  Getting customers exactly what they want with just a click moves them through the sales funnel faster.

These actions include:

  • Booking an appointment
  • Placing an order
  • Reserving a table
  • Searching for items
  • Viewing the menu

If your business already uses a third-party appointment booking service, links to those may appear automatically and cannot be edited in Google My Business.

Add Customer Action URL to Your GMB Listing:

Latest Google My Business Updates - Add Links

6. GMB Lets Businesses Edit their Listings Directly in Search Results

September 2017 – Businesses can quickly edit their Google My Business local listing directly in Google Search results.  Google has created a business dashboard visible to you right in Google Search.  To see your editing options, first make sure you logged into your GMB account, find your business on Google Search, and click on the “EDIT” button that appears above your listing.

Latest Google My Business Update - Edit in Search

On this search dashboard you can:

  • Add or correct business information, post updated hours, and more.
  • Post on Google and stay engaged with your customers.
  • Share photos that make your business stand out.
  • See how many views your listing gets, and easily access detailed information about your listing’s performance.
  • Know when users upload photos of your business.
  • Quickly take the most important actions to complete and enhance your business listing.

Latest Google My Business Updates You May Have Missed from Early 2017

  • Google Removed “Permanently Closed” Listings from the Local Finder
  • Google Removed Access to Classic Version of Google Plus
  • Google Launched Desktop Platform for Reviewing Edits to Business Listings on Google Maps
  • Google Rolled Out Snack Pack to More US Industries
  • Business Can Now Access 18 Months of Data from Insights on Google My Business Dashboard
  • Google Started Actively Showing Local Pack Ads on Mobile

Learn How to Optimize Your Google My Business Listing for Local Search

Knowing that Google is Master of the Universe when it comes to search engine use and new customers finding your business, it is VITAL you understand the importance of optimizing your Google My Business listing. Give Google the information they want so you can rank higher search and make your business more visible to new customers using local search.

CLICK & LEARN: How to Optimize Your Google My Business Listing

Complete listings also influence search engine user behavior as one study shows that users who view more complete listings are about 30% more likely to report an intention to visit a store or purchase from it (Gybo 2014).  Don’t miss out on new business when these seven easy Google My Business optimization tips.

 

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Zach_Color_Trans_small_CroppedAbout The Author

Zach Anderson is the co-founder of Reputation Loop (helping small businesses grow by generating customer feedback and online reviews) who loves online marketing and golf.

The post Latest Google My Business Updates – Summer 2017 appeared first on Reputation Loop.

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8 Low-Cost Small Business Digital Marketing Tactics – FREE DOWNLOAD

Do you feel like you are spending a lot of time and money on your marketing and not getting results? Maybe you could use some low-cost small business digital marketing tactics?  Could be you just don’t know where to start, much less how to level up.

Digital marketing can seem complicated when technology changes so quickly and every trend promises to change the way we do everything. Knowing what works and committing to simple small business digital marketing tactics you can master quickly keeps your business growing above the influx of trends and quick fixes.

Low-Cost Small Business Digital Marketing Gives You the Competitive Edge

Everyone uses the internet to research, compare, and buy their next purchases, so you need to be strategically positioned online to get found by new customers. For your business to succeed, you are going to have to jump on board and grow your online presence.

 

low cost small business marketing tree

Just reading that sounds expensive, right?  A list of all the digital marketing activities you could pay to have someone do for you is long.  You’ll find strategies such as Paid Search (pay-per-click and online ads), Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Conversion Optimization, Content Marketing and Email & SMS (text message) Marketing.

That’s not even a full list and it’s daunting!

Sure, you could find experts and marketing agencies to market your business.  But there are low-cost small business digital marketing tactics you can execute in-house that will save you money while growing your business.

Learn What Digital Marketing Tactics Grow Your Business in “8 Low-Cost Small Business Digital Marketing Tactics”

Digital marketing can work for even the smallest business by keeping it simple and concentrating on the tactics you as a business owner can do yourself or at least manage with a low-cost professional service.

These 8 Low-Cost and No-Cost Digital Marketing Tactics will get you in the game, growing your online visibility and attracting new customers. A bonus list of free resources at the end will help you jump ahead in growing your business.

Time to Get Started Growing Your Online Presence and Reputation

Sometimes the problem isn’t exactly knowing what needs to be done – it’s figuring out how to start, right?

When you begin working on your digital marketing, it seems like there always a new way to market your business online. Wasting time and money on one new marketing strategy after another seems to be the norm for small businesses committed to growing their online presence.  Seasoned business owners and online marketers have been through this, and they’ve tried everything and learned the handful of methods that truly work for small businesses.

No Defined Digital Marketing

Why Digital Marketing Makes More Sense Than Ever

No matter what industry you are in, there is a good chance that your top competition has a better internet presence and reputation than your business.

New customers are searching online before they make their next purchase.  You need to show up in the first positions in search engine results to remain competitive in any market.

The most successful businesses have also created a strong awareness of their company with an audience of potential customers.  Digital marketing positions your website as a high-ranking online presence that works 24/7 advertising your business.

4 Ways Digital Marketing Grows Your Business

  1. Attract new customers
  2. Building a positive online reputation
  3. Find out what customers want
  4. Stand out in a crowded marketplace

All marketing activities should be geared towards two things: growth and profitability. Digital marketing provides a wide array of cost-effective tools and platforms that give even the smallest business direct access to a huge audience of potential customers.  These customers are dependent on their computers, phones, and mobile devices to decide where to buy. That’s good news for digital marketers!

That’s you by the way.  You’re the digital marketer in this success story. 

At least you will be after you download your free copy of 8 Low-Cost Small Business Digital Marketing Tactics above.

Here are some of the 20+ free resources you’ll get with your download:

 

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Zach_Color_Trans_small_CroppedAbout The Author

Zach Anderson is the co-founder of Reputation Loop (helping small businesses grow by generating customer feedback and online reviews) who loves online marketing and golf.

The post 8 Low-Cost Small Business Digital Marketing Tactics – FREE DOWNLOAD appeared first on Reputation Loop.

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Age Of Connected Intelligence: Will People Pay For Fin’s Voice-Activated Assistant?

While artificial intelligence-based, voice-activated digital assistants are rapidly becoming mainstream, it’s safe to say that the respective comprehension of Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Samsung’s Bixby are still in the learning stages.

For the past two years, tech startup Fin has been working on an operating system that will power an interactive, machine learning-based assistant of the same name that promises to “dramatically outperform” the current leading Connected Intelligence-based virtual assistants as well as “full-time help.”

Putting A Price On Virtual Assistance

Last month, Fin, which was started by Sam Lessin, formerly of Facebook file-sharing acquisition Drop.io, and Venmo co-founder Andrew Kortina, began sending out emails touting its combination of human intelligence and AI, noting that it “remembers all of your personal context and interacts over app, email, web, sms, and phone 24×7.”

One big difference: to access Fin, you have to be a paid subscriber.

The current offer being presented to Fin users starts with the first 2 hours of service each month for $120 per month, with any additional time for $1.00 per minute. (Fuller pricing details can viewed here.)

Is Fin Viable?

While Fin’s Lessin declined to comment for this article, saying he and the company are “pretty heads down at the moment,” we reached out to two thought leaders to get their initial impressions about what sort of impact — if any — the proposition of a subscription-based, highly personalized virtual assistant might have.

“Color me skeptical for the moment,” says Local SEO Guide’s Andrew Shotland. “If it’s 10x better than GoogleNow, Siri, Alexa, there’s something there, but this seems like a very high hurdle. It’s tough enough to get the experience to work for free services. In order to get someone to pay for a digital assistant service is accuracy and utility would likely need to be very high.

“I could see some B2B use cases where there are very specific common queries,” Shotland adds, “but that starts to sound like an Alexa recipe so why not do it through that system? “Then again, perhaps Fin has figured out how to overcome some very specific challenges with these systems. And if that’s the case, it will probably get scooped up by a bigger player much like how Samsung scooped up Viv and turned it into Bixby.”

Duane Forrester, VP of Industry Insights at Yext (full disclosure: Yext is GeoMarketing’s parent company. More details on that relationship here) is a bit less skeptical than Shotland, but also senses some significant limitations to Fin’s practicality as a business.

“I love the idea,” Forrester says. “Though the execution had better knock my socks off for that kind of monthly fee. I mean, that’s close to what house cleaners cost, and that’s a value I see — and believe in. For this service to warrant those kinds of costs, it needs to stand not just head and shoulder above our current free offerings, but a whole body above.”

A Superior Assistant

In terms of the specific implications for local businesses, the rise of voice-activated assistants have coincided with the increased importance of location management in SEO strategy — namely, that making sure that business location information is correct across platforms is key to ranking in Google’s “three-pack” of top mapped results, as is using optimal keywords.

Addressing the particulars of voice search is important in the same vein, especially considering that 76 percent of “near me” searches result in a business visit within a day. In fact, last week, we reported that search volume for local places continues to grow — but explicitly stated “near me” requests are on the decline, since consumers now simply expect results that reflect their proximity.

For example, one of the features uses of Fin showcased on its site includes queries like “Please remember Cotogna as a place I can get dinner after 10pm,” or “”Hey Fin, can you identify the plant in this photo, find me a local nursery that sells them. If it is less than $300 buy it for me and have it sent to my house.”

In other words, Fin is betting that people will naturally expect their devices to help them make plans based on where they are and what’s on their calendar.

“It does make me wonder what research they have on consumer behavior that leads them to think current consumers (and more importantly, those coming up behind them) are willing to pay that much for a service we all essentially get for free today,” Forrester adds.

Within the wider context of the Connected Intelligence space of Internet of Things devices and AI, voice-activated connected device usage is skyrocketing. So the timing for an even more aspirational, luxury product like Fin appears right. But as GeoMarketing‘s Lauryn Chamberlain recently noted, voice is just one modality in the world of Connected Intelligence, with image recognition and search beginning to play a vital role as well with the introduction of Amazon’s Echo Show.

“Everything about how voice-activated assistants [talk to users or to each other] is going to be centered around: It’s got to be user-friendly, and it’s got to be an experience that can truly benefit the user,” Ben Brown, Google Home & Wifi product lead, said at the June 2017 Connections conference. “It can’t just be because an internet service provider feels the opportunity to aggregate. That doesn’t necessarily offer value unless it actually is something that someone really wants to have.”

The way Brown sees the evolution of virtual assistants is that it will follow the path we’ve seen with mobile phones and with mobile operating systems before: People may want to interact with multiple different devices [from different providers] in their lives. At the same time, people tend to build an affinity towards certain devices over time.

In that case, a platform like Fin could benefit from the growth of a Google Home, Amazon Echo, Apple Homepod, Microsoft Cortana, or Samsung Bixby, as they seek to augment one AI assistant with others.

“If I had to make a call on this, I’d say it’s a cool idea, the superior assistant, but this doesn’t feel like the path forward,” Forrester concludes. “Even a company like Samsung, with huge resources applied to the problem of building a good digital assistant has struggled with their launch of Bixby in English-language markets. Unless I’m missing something obvious and untapped, I’m not seeing what problem is being solved to such a degree as to merit the cost. And I’m hung up on the cost! In a world where people won’t pay $20 for an app — once! — how does a recurring $120/month, random-use item survive?”

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Think With Google: In Searches, “Near Me” Is Now Implied

The growth in searches for local places without a location qualifier (“near me,” zip code) has outpaced searches that do include “near me,” according to new research from Think With Google — a trend that indicates that location relevance is now all but assumed by consumers making voice and text searches.

“Near me” searches first spiked in 2015, and this (rightly) turned marketers’ attention to the growing importance of location in search; after all, 76 percent of location searches result in a visit to a physical location within a day. But if people are still turning to their smartphones to discover goods and services in the world around them, why drop the “near me?”

“People [now] know that the results will automatically be relevant to their location — thanks to their phone,” writes Google’s Lisa Gevelber. “It’s kind of magical.”

Here’s why: As search results have evolved pursuant to customers’ real-time, “near me” desires, they’ve become increasingly mapped to the physical world: For example, Google’s mapped “three-pack” of results appears at the top of search results. Additionally, if a consumer searches for “new car,” they don’t simply see links — they see the knowledge card, with prices, configurations, features of cars for sale, and more, all seamlessly. As we wrote earlier this year, Google now assumes people are looking for something in the physical world, which wasn’t the case several years ago.

All of this appears to have rendered the “near me” search irrelevant — even as people expect more location-specific, targeted content than ever. So, what’s a local business to do?

Data Matters More

First, this shift in search behavior underscores the importance of businesses preparing their underlying data layer: Online listings that are correct, consistent, and have all location information comprehensively integrated will rank higher in search results — and appearing at the top of results based on relevant content will be more important as zip codes and/or city names are omitted from searches.

Secondly, businesses need to continue to focus on the shift to voice: In fact, over 20 percent of searches in the Google app are now made by voice — making up a significant portion of the “implied” local searches that Google is talking about. Local brick-and-mortars need able to provide the answers that people want when they make on-the-go searches via voice.

Google Maps’ new Q&A feature may have significant influence here — and once again, this also means that the data people most often search for (hours, address, et cetera) needs to be listed accurately and be ready for consumption by “traditional” search engines and intelligent assistants alike.

And given that for every online purchase resulting from a search Google sees multi-channel retailers receive an additional 400 in-store visits, expect to see this “new frontier” for SEO matter immensely for brick-and-mortars in particular.

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