How to Optimize Google Posts & the Q&A Feature | JP


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Summary of Episode 33: The In Search SEO Podcast 

In Search SEO Banner 33

This week we are going local again with the most electric personality within the world of local SEO the great, the grand, the gifted Greg Gifford who comes to discuss:

  • From copy to images; how to optimize your Google Posts
  • How to use Google Posts to promote your business
  • What mistakes you should avoid when working with the Local Panel’s Q&A feature

Plus, we talk about the need for uniformity within the SEO industry.

Standards of Reference for the SEO Industry? A Crazy Notion! [04:04 – 22:12]

Something happened last week that really bothered Mordy. As you may know, we here at JP are nuts about SERP features. We love them. We love looking at them, we love seeing what’s new with them, and we love tracking their display levels on the SERP!

Tracking these SERP features and reporting on how often they show up on the SERP is not easy. For one thing, it’s not as if Google has a giant neon sign that says, “THIS IS A FEATURED SNIPPET” or “THIS IS AN EXPLORE PANEL.”

Separating out which feature is which when they are so close to each other is not easy. Think about it for a second. Think of mobile. On mobile, you have Direct Answers that are attached to Knowledge Panels. So how do you classify the feature… is it a Direct Answer? Is it a Knowledge Panel? Is it both? And if it’s both do you really want to count it twice? Once as a Direct Answer and once as a Knowledge Panel? Probably not.

It’s complicated, it’s not easy, and there is NO STANDARDIZATION.

Here’s the perfect case to illustrate the problem. Last week, Dr. Pete over at Moz caught a spike in Knowledge Panels with attribution. In other words, there is a feature that looks like a Knowledge Panel but has a link that looks like a Featured Snippet. And there’s our classification problem right there. At JP, we call this an Explore Panel based on the HTML Google presents to us.

So Dr. Pete said he was seeing more of them. Meaning, he saw more SERPs with Explore Panels and said that the feature appears on about 2 – 3 % of all SERPs. Which, in terms of the display level per se, is exactly how many we see!

So what’s the problem?

Why is this so bothersome?

The problem occurred when Search Engine Land did an article about the sudden increase in the Explore Panel’s appearance on the SERP and asked Mordy to comment, but of course, we didn’t see a spike, so Mordy said, “There is no spike.”

The problem was that Mordy’s comment came off like we were contradicting Dr. Pete and questioning his data and assessment which was the total opposite of Mordy’s intention. There are a ton of reasons why there would be a discrepancy between the datasets!

And this is Mordy’s pet peeve. It’s not that we track this SERP feature and Moz tracks this SERP feature and that’s that. The issue is we don’t all have the same data. There is a divergence in our data sometimes. They might have a display level of this at one time and we might have it at a different display level. There are features where the two of us generally align and features where we diverge a bit as to their level of display on the SERP.

How is that possible?

Because we track different data sets. Moz, if Mordy’s not mistaken, tracks a data set focused on high volume keywords (queries that are searched for more often) and we track a more normalized set of keywords (a mix of high volume and low volume). There are advantages and disadvantages to both. There’s no one right way!

On top of that, as we mentioned, it’s not easy to classify some of these newer hybrid features because they are hybrids. What we may classify as an Explore Panel could conceivably be classified as a Featured Snippet or a Knowledge Panel, etc.

And that’s Mordy second pet peeve. There’s no uniformity! Here’s another story. A while back Mordy sent a spike in the PAA feature to Barry Schwartz and Barry asked, “Why do you guys call them Related Questions? Why not People Also Ask!” It’s because in the HTML that’s what Google calls the feature, Related Questions. So it says ‘People Also Ask’ on the SERP and Related Questions in the HTML and people use both. That’s pretty annoying!

It gets even better. In that Search Engine Land article on what we call Explore Panels, Dr. Pete called them Knowledge Panels with attribution while Search Engine Land called them explore cards! So now you have three different authorities on the matter calling it three different things – that’s a problem!

The problem is there is no consensus. We’ll go so far as to say there is no REAL communication within the SEO industry.

And we’re not talking about Twitter counting as a conversation. What we’re talking about is having the leaders in the industry who work on classifying Google behavior, such as SERP feature classification and beyond meeting to hash out a standardized consensus.

We need this so that we can offer the industry information that’s a bit more uniform. Now, for some of the reasons we mentioned earlier, such as the difference in the datasets, this will never be 100% uniform and people need to understand that, but let’s at least get the foundation right.

There is a need to create some standards here. By the way. We are not talking about standards of practice. That’s something totally different that we don’t want to touch with a 100-foot pole let alone a 10-foot pole. We have no interest in solving the world’s problems here like subfolders vs subdomains!

As Bill Murray said in What About Bob… baby steps!

Getting Google Posts & the Q&A Feature Right: A Conversation with Greg Gifford [22:12 – 01:03:44]

[This is a general summary of the interview and not a word for word transcript. You can listen to the podcast for the full interview.]

Mordy: Welcome to a very special In Search SEO podcast interview. I want you to put your hands together for the only person I know who can make Encino Man his lead slide in a presentation at one of the industry’s biggest SEO conferences. You already know who I’m talking about… he is now the VP of Search at WikiMotive, he is Greg Gifford.

Congrats on the new gig and welcome to the show!

Greg: Thanks! You know what’s great is that I usually use the movie theme song in my slides but that was the first time I used Encino Man as the title slide. Usually, it’s my sub-title slide when I’m talking about links. And it’s always funny when it pops up as there will be several hundred people in the room and only 10 people laugh.

M: It’s pretty clear that you’re a pop culture freak… I don’t mean that you’re a freak, I mean that you freaking love it.

So I have a few questions if you’ll indulge me…

Favorite 80s movies.

G: They Live.

M: Favorite 80s band.

G: Wham.

M: Favorite 80s song.

G: Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go by Wham. It’s the perfect cross-section of 80s pop. Five minutes from now I might change my mind but for now, I’m going to go with that.

M: Great. Let’s go deep into Google Posts and the Q&A Feature. How you write for any sort of content is going to vary depending on what you’re writing. How should you write for Google Posts?

G: So a lot of people only pay attention to what shows up in the full post and not what shows up in the thumbnail. What you need is to approach the thumbnail view almost like a search or display ad where you have to write something compelling that will grab everyone’s attention so they’ll click to see the full post. Who cares if you wrote a 1500 character post if they’re not compelled to read the first 100 characters? You have to be really careful with what comes up in your first sentence or two because that’s what will be in your thumbnail and that’s what will get people to click on it.

M: There’s been a lot of talk about what images and image sizes work best for Google Posts. I myself have heard at least 3 different recommendations on it. Can you settle this once and for all? What sized images should you use in Google Posts?

G: See, the problem is when Posts first came out they had a different dimension size. So a lot of people immediately made videos and blog posts saying “this” is the size and no one really updated it since. We did a lot of testing after it was changed and the ideal size now is 1200×900 pixels. That’s the best size that will fill the window and is the closest to what will appear so you can have a little more control over what’s visible after it’s cropped.

M: There was a survey that came out a few months ago asking SEOs if they believe that Google Posts affect ranking? There was a major split in the community whether they do or not. What are your thoughts?

G: I don’t personally think it does. There are several local SEO experts that say it does influence ranking. I even used to say it did but after doing tests I don’t think it does anymore.

M: Let’s talk conversions. There are so many CTAs that are available for you to add to your Google Posts. Are there some that are more effective than others? When should you use one over the other? What’s your general advice for CTAs?

G: There are four different post templates and the template you use depends on the messaging in the actual post. There are positives and negatives to each. We tend to like the What’s New post the best because that gives you the most text and thumbnail view. For all of the other post types, you’re going to lose an additional line.

To explain, you get four lines of text without the CTA and whenever you use a CTA you’re going to lose a line of text. But of course, you want a CTA because it will be silly not to. So with the What’s New post you get three lines of text and with the others, you get a Title and a date range/price range which results in only one single line of text left. It’s tough to write something compelling with such few words. Sometimes there are reasons to have the offer or the date range but most of the time you want to use the one post type that will give you the most visible text with three lines.

When choosing your CTA buttons you can choose from Order Online, Buy, Book, Call, and Learn More. Choosing a button is based on what you’re looking for. Typically we use the Learn More button because when I was working in the automotive industry the other buttons didn’t really fit for a car dealership. I like teasing users with the Google Post and the little thumbnail view. They click into it and maybe they’ll read it, maybe they won’t. I don’t like using 1500 characters. I like a more quick and condensed version of why we kick ass with the CTA to click here to learn more. It then will take them to a landing page of your site where you have full analytics of what they do.

There might be situations where Call Now or Sign Up might work and that Sign Up button leads to a lead form. It depends on your messaging in the post.

M: I have two questions for you on that. Do you have any data if people are clicking on the post or do they just scroll through?

G: Again, it really depends on what you’ve got in that thumbnail view. In my previous job, we had dealers that were getting 50-60 clicks a week on posts and that’s to the website. It really depends on your messaging. Sharing a blog post or anything generic and fluffy doesn’t work and people won’t care. But if it’s an oil change special or a tire rotation special or whatever special is running at the service department is great. Saying there’s a limited time offer on something you need is what gets people to click on the full details and then click through to the site.

So there’s no way to really tell how many people actually clicked on the thumbnail to view the full version but if you’ve got 50 or 60 people who clicked to your website there had to be more who saw the offer. And if you’re getting conversions of two or three a week then that’s killer as that’s free advertising.

There are definitely people we did posts for that didn’t get any clicks and didn’t see any improvement in ranking visibility. I don’t think anyone definitively proved that they’re doing posts which lead to better rankings. We all know that people don’t sit down and buy from the first business they find. They’re going to do research, see various competitors, read reviews, and all that. And if you’re the only one amongst your competitors doing Google Posts then it’s a no-brainer.

M: Yeah, and it’s not like there’s much output needed. You write a post, add an image, add a CTA, and you’re done.

G: Yeah, if you streamline the process it should only take less than 10 minutes a week to put up a post.

M: The second question I wanted to ask you is you were talking about using the Learn More button. Is this more of a top funnel element? Are you going to get people to buy from your Google Posts or are they going to research more?

G: Of course. As I said, we had people click through for the service specials. We found promotional offers work best. You have to think of the fact that your Google My Business listing is your new home page. All of the people who used to go to your website to get your phone number, to get your address, to read testimonials, and to look at pictures can do all of that within your Google My Business profile. It’s the perfect example of zero-click search. Most of these people are early funnel traffic, it’s people who haven’t been to your site yet so it’s a great place push out those promotions.

For things like cars, people will definitely visit the website but for smaller dollar things people don’t have to. You can book a table now straight with Google. So posts are another way of grabbing a little of that traffic from Google and bringing it to your site.

M: Yeah. It’s surprising to see how so many businesses aren’t utilizing Google Posts. The very fact that with Google Posts and the Q&A feature that you can put your own content on the SERP is amazing.

G: Exactly. It’s a direct interface to the backend of Google to give them significant information about your entity. Knowing that Google moved to entity-based search and seeing people not use Google Posts and Q&A to feed entity information directly to Google just blows my mind.

M: One thing I don’t see a lot of are videos in Google Posts. Why is that?

G: Yeah, this was a recent change last year to add videos to Google Posts. It’s kind of cool. It’s a little bit tougher because when you’re dropping in a still image you can really control what you show but for video, you get the still image with a Play button on it. I don’t think visually it stands out as much. So they are cool but I haven’t yet seen a very great implementation of using a video instead of really compelling text and a good image.

M: Let’s talk about Event posts. If I’m not mistaken, other posts only stay for 7 days while Event posts stay until the event is over. But you don’t recommend going for the longer stay on the carousel, correct?

G: It depends on what your event is and what you can write about. Again, it comes down to getting three lines of text above your call to action link. If you use the Event post, you get the title for the event in the top line, a date range on the second line, and a single descriptive line on the third line.

Let’s say you’re doing Truck Month at your dealership. The title can be, “This Month is Truck Month.” it lasts from the 1st to the 31st, then one line of description, and then a Learn More so people can learn the specials. The difference is you can separate those three lines because character breaks don’t show up in the thumbnail view. If you use line breaks they work in the full post view but it will mash everything together in the thumbnail view. So they are cool with your three separate lines of an event title, a date range, and a descriptive line. But it’s better to have an image that has the title then you can say, “Limited time only! Just runs in the month of July.” Have a little bit more compelling text if you’re going to use all three lines. And if seven days pass just remember to go back and put the post up again.

You really have to approach it like AdWords. Maximize your best possibility of clicks by putting the best test possible in that thumbnail view. If you can do that with an Event post then great but most of the time you can do better with two or three lines and are creative with what image you use.

M: So what else would you recommend, consider, or think about when creating Google Posts?

G: It’s really important to understand where the image is going to be cropped. The biggest mistake we see is images of objects or text where half of it is cut off. You have to be really careful as it doesn’t crop consistently. It’s not a center crop, as most people think, it’s slightly above vertical center. And the crop is different between desktop and mobile because the image size is different. You can even put up a single post and come back a day or two later and the crop would have changed. You have to be really careful with what’s in your image and everything that’s important that you want to be seen is visible once when you upload it.

M: I know we talked about language within Google Posts, but let’s move to the Q&A feature seen in the Local Panel. What are some things to think about linguistically when working with the Q&A feature in the Knowledge Panel?

G: You want it to be as easy-to-read as possible. You don’t want to be incredibly verbose. And the biggest bonus is that you can put in your own questions and make a pre-site FAQ page. There’s this new feature on mobile that as you start to ask a new question it will auto-suggest answers based on similar questions or something similar to a past review. You’re feeding information into Google’s database about your entity and in the future when people ask the question instead of them asking the same question a million times and waiting for an answer Google will give them that answer immediately because you already put in that answer. It’s very powerful.

We did a research project last year where we went through around 640 questions asked in the span of eight months to a bunch of dealerships. One of the interesting things we found was that 40% of these questions were leads. Meaning, they would have resulted in a sale had they been answered. And out of the 640 questions asked only two or three of them were actually answered by the business. That’s because most people don’t know these questions are out there.

M: But don’t businesses like these have SEOs so why wouldn’t they notice?

G: So with businesses without SEOs it makes perfect sense why they don’t notice. It’s crazy though how many SEO agencies are out there that do good SEO but don’t do local SEO. They’re not paying attention to Google My Business as much as they should. Any business that has a physical storefront where any of their keyword searches will be pulling up that map pack should be doing local SEO. If you’re not following the right people on Twitter, reading the right blogs, hearing the right podcasts, then you’re not going to know about the Q&A updates or that it’s there at all. Most people aren’t looking at the Google My Business panel, they’re just looking at the dashboard on the back end.

M: That’s why it pays to do vanity searches.

I want to harp on something you said about the auto-suggest for Q&A. I heard a rumor that Google is slowly moving to only show reviews in the auto-suggest. Does that make sense?

G: I have not heard that rumor and I don’t think it makes sense. Obviously, it’s crowdsourced where you expect anyone to answer but it’s better when the business owner answers. It will make sense if it changes priority to show information from reviews but if none of the reviews are relevant to the question then it will obviously have to feed the answer from a similar question.

M: With that, other than not knowing about Q&A all together. What are mistakes you’ve seen made when people try to engage with the feature?

G: Mistake number one is not loading in your own questions. The second mistake is not knowing about the way that answers are populated in the results. The upvote system is going to determine what shows as the primary answer. So just because you answered a question as a business owner it doesn’t mean it will be shown as the primary answer. You got to make sure to pay attention to ensure your answer is the definitive answer by giving it the most thumbs up.

M: How long will it take Google to figure out that people are just upvoting their answer to the top?

G: Well it is there for a reason. It’s a crowdsourced feature. It’s a community discussion of people asking questions and anyone else can give the answer. So it makes sense for people to upvote their answers. You don’t want people to have to go through hundreds of answers to find the right one. You want the community to upvote the best answer because it’s a community feature.

Another thing people don’t realize is that questions can be upvoted as well. If a question gets three upvotes it will show up natively in the Google My Business panel.

M: Before we move on I have to ask about Google My Business monetization. There was a survey out there that seems to imply Google is going to turn GMB into a pay to play arena, at least to an extent. To me, a lot of the changes Google has made to its local features create a much stronger dependence on those features. For example, having a greater ability to showcase your products in the Local Panel could make a business more dependent on the feature and more willing to pay for it in the future.

Has Google been gearing up towards GMB monetization for some time now or are we blowing the whole thing out of proportion?

G: It’s safe to say it’s going to happen at some point. I’ve been saying for five or six years that at some point they’re going to start charging for features. I don’t think it’s ever going to be pay to play. I think it will always be a free feature but I think there will be a paid route where there will be things which you can pay for to enhance your profile.

There were about 20 features they mentioned with five or six that already exist in the wild so it makes sense for them to roll them out for Google My Business. Some of the 20 features though are outrageous like getting leads from competitor profiles or pay to remove ads from your profile. They didn’t explain what this means. If they’re talking about competitor ads I don’t think Google will go down that route. What I think makes sense is if you have a Groupon ad that offers a discount to your restaurant, for example, you wouldn’t want people searching for your brand to receive that discount as they’re coming to your business anyway. So maybe Google will remove those Groupon ads if you pay them. There was also the feature where you can pay Google a fee and get support from Google. It’s going to be very basic support and very likely to be outsourced overseas. It’s just not feasible for Google to staff something like that.

Optimize It or Disavow It

M: Assuming you have to do one or the other, which is the lesser of the two evils… a horrible image within Google Posts (unattractive, off-center, you name it) or a totally out of left field CTA that makes no sense for the post?

G: If I had to do one I would have to do the out of left field CTA.

M: Because the image has more visibility?

G: Yeah, because if you have an awful image it’s going to hinder you from getting clicks whereas a bad CTA isn’t going to hurt as much. If you have a gorgeous image with a really compelling description the user will still click.

M: Well thank you for coming on. I really appreciate it.

G: Yeah, thanks for having me.

SEO News [01:06:47 – 01:10:15]

Google Knowledge Panel Was Found Without Attribution: Uh-oh, Google showed a Knowledge Panel without a link! Test or Bug? Google said it was a bug! Phew!

Google My Business Questions Experiencing Backlog: Have a Google My Business question or problem? Get in line, a long line. Google has indicated that it has a backlog of 2-3 weeks!

Coverage Report in Search Console Was Showing Delay: Yep, another Google Bug to Search Console. The Coverage report was showing a 10-day delay. On June 25th, Google said the bug was fixed and would investigate the matter.

Mobile SERP Favicons Don’t Appear on Every Browser: Google says that mobile SERP Favicons do not appear on every browser. For example, they do not appear on Firefox Mobile on Android.

Google Deprecates Social Profile Markup Support: Google will no longer use social profile markup to decide on the social profiles that should go into a Knowledge Panel.

Search Console Adds Exact Date of Switch to Mobile-First Indexing: Search Console will now tell you if either the mobile or desktop Googlebot is crawling your site. With that, Google will tell you the exact date it switched from using the desktop bot to the mobile bot!

SEO Send Off Question [01:10:15 – 01:14:08]

If Google had an Instagram account… what would be the first image it would share? 

For Sapir, Google will probably upload a story tagging Bing and Baidu and caption it with, “Me and my girls,” but it’ll be shady like those girls that tag their friends in photos even though they’re the only ones who actually look good.

Mordy’s response was in honor of OJ now having Twitter and with Google being accused of showing a Knowledge Panel without attribution. Mordy said it will put out an image of OJ wearing the gloves in court with the caption, “If the gloves don’t fit you must acquit.”

Tune in next Tuesday for a new episode of The In Search SEO Podcast.

About The Author

The In Search SEO Podcast

In Search is a weekly SEO podcast featuring some of the biggest names in the search marketing industry.

Tune in to hear pure SEO insights with a ton of personality!

New episodes are released each Tuesday!

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