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Are Apple’s And Google’s Latest Search Ad Features Meaningful?

Apple is pivoting from iAds to search ads as Google's Local Panels are adding a "Q&A box" for business listings.

As the role of Connected Intelligence influences the way consumers and businesses “discover” each other on a range of devices, Apple and Google have been rolling out a few new features that are designed to buttress the value of traditional search.

Last week, Toronto-based SEO specialist  Sergey Alakov noticed that Google is testing a Q&A search feature for local businesses (via 9to5 Google). That move appears directed to blunt Amazon’s growing strength in product search. As SearchEngineLand’s Greg Sterling reported last month, a survey of 1,000 consumers found that 38 percent of people start a product search with Amazon, while 35 begin with Google.

Meanwhile, Apple tends to be fairly low-key when it makes a change to a program — as was the case when it abandoned its iAd ad network after seven years back in January — but Apple VP of Advertising Platforms Todd Teresi, appearing in a Q&A session at the Postback conference in Seattle,  explained the company’s shift to its new Search Ads platform.

Google’s Business Listing Q&A

As Alakov writes, Google’s Q&A box within Local Panels gives consumers the chance to post questions about “a location, and potentially answer questions.” It appears open to all kinds of businesses, including hotels, bars/restaurants, consultants, car dealers, and more.

The feature fits right in with the current idea of getting direct, personalized responses to queries as opposed to the traditional method of showing infinite hypertext listings based on general popularity.

It follows a path that Google has already taken with its search functions, including the automatic addition of the term “near me” into the search box as well as providing searchable menu listings for restaurants and direct bookings to salons and spas.

“Initially, I thought that Google was testing a local bot similar to Bing’s bot that was launched 2 months ago,” Avakov writes. “But I’ve changed my mind from bot-powered answers to user-sourced answers, due to the name of the box “Questions & answers” which signals that users are able to answer other users’ questions. So, it seems like this feature could be similar to Amazon’s questions and answers.”

Apple VP of Advertising Platforms Todd Teresi in a keynote Q&A session at the Postback conference.

 

“Google is under increasing pressure to monetize Google Maps and GMB, and it seems every other part of its search engine,” Local SEO Guide Founder/CEO Andrew Shotland tells GeoMarketing. “Historically GMB (formerly Google Places, Google Plus Local, etc.) has had a hard time getting SMBs to actively engage with their products — which means less chances to get them to convert to paid advertisers.”

Shotland says he suspects that Google is looking at the kind of engagement some businesses have on Facebook and will keep trying to replicate this on its platform until it gets it right.

“Q&A and GMB Posts are two interesting ways to try to spur engagement,” Shotland adds. “I think they could be more successful than Google+ was as they feel more lightweight.

“That said, I still think these things are going to be low adoption for SMBs as they are yet another thing they have to do,” Shotland notes. “And it’s still unclear how multi-location brands take advantage of this — but I think they could have a big opportunity if you can use these tools across a lot of locations from a single interface. Ultimately this is a plus for search agencies and in-house teams as it provides yet another tool we will have to figure out how to leverage for our clients.”

Is Search A Priority For Apple?

In explaining the shuttering of iAds, which began last September, Teresi told Peter Hamilton, CEO of ad measurement platform TUNE, that it was largely a matter of managing relatively scarce resources.

But the premium-priced, walled-garden that Apple’s iAd’s attempted to provide seemed too limited in scope for major brands to consider too deeply. Instead, the the move to Search Ads plays to Apple’s strengths: the scale of its app distribution.

The primary goal is to promote the discovery of apps in Apple’s App Store, Teresi said in his keynote (which can viewed here via AppleInsider).

“We take great pride in making sure that if you are searching on a specific type of app that someone from an entirely different genre or category can’t come in, just because they have more money, and sit on that term,” Teresi said. “Relevancy is the core. You don’t even get into the auctions unless you first pass our relevancy bars.”

But Local SEO Guide’s Shotland questions whether Apple is truly committed to search.

“I don’t see Apple prioritizing this kind of thing or an ad product for local businesses any time soon,” Shotland says. It’s been three years since Maps Connect launched, and while I am sure they have done a fair amount of work to scale it out globally, the functionality does not appear to have changed in any meaningful way to get businesses using the platform more.

“Apple’s priority appears to be improving Apple Maps’ and Spotlight Search’s functionality, which should ultimately benefit more local businesses by making it easier to be found on Apple’s platforms,” Shotland says, “but I don’t see ads showing up in either of these platforms in the near term.

“I suppose if Apple came to the conclusion that local business ads would help users it might launch them, but that seems like a stretch,” Shotland adds. “And trying to get local businesses to market themselves on the App Store doesn’t make sense — unless, of course, they have an app.”

App engagement is a perennial problem that developers have been wanting Apple to address since the App Store opened. Apple’s previous attempts to solve the problems of relevancy and discoverability of apps it distributes took major leap about two years ago with the rollout of iOS 9 and the use of deep-linking.

Among a great many things, one important item for marketers that iOS 9 brought is the erasure of distinctions between searching for something — or someplace — using the iPhone’s mobile web and the contents of its entire App Store.

Specifically, consumers experience connections through Apple’s iOS web and app inventory crawler, AppleBot, which shows results through the iPhone’s personal digital assistant, Siri, and the on-device search tool, Spotlight.

In a sense, the battle between the mobile web and apps is a proxy war between Google and Apple. Google’s AdWords and related marketing products still benefit from mobile browser based searches, but Apple, in turn, has carefully cultivated the rise of apps as the preferred mobile experience.

With the introduction of Search Ads, Apple is also promising additional metrics on app installs and attribution.

“Trust is the important foundation of the industry,” Teresi said. “We will work with TUNE to expose this information to help developers understand this.”