When Google first began serving ads, they were for businesses that were advertising to the entire country or the world at once. Over the past few years, Google has done a lot to make the platform more useful for local and small business owners. Now, Google is trying to make it easier for searchers to communicate with local businesses with a new message button.
At the start of 2019, some Google users began to see slightly modified results when they searched for local businesses. Normally, when a local business is shown in search there are icons for things like calling, sending a message or getting directions. The new tests show a prominent, “Message this Business” button in the search results. This new message button could encourage people to communicate with businesses they find via search.
In some ways, this is a relatively minor change, since people already have the option to send messages to businesses through Google. However, this new button is worth noting for several reasons. For many years, Google has encouraged business owners to have a phone number on their site. Encouraging people to communicate with businesses through a message could change the way many customers try to talk to businesses. For example, if a customer wants to ask several businesses the same question, it will be easier to use this new message feature to send the same message to several companies, rather than call each company to speak with someone.
In an article on SearchEngineLand, Barry Schwartz explained, “If Google does roll out the new interface to promote the messaging feature in the local panel, and a lot of businesses begin using it, then customers might expect that your business use it as well.” He went on to add, “It can add a new opportunity for you to get more business, but at the same time, add more workload to your already busy work day.”
As was discussed in another article, businesses that want to communicate with customers via message can use the recently updated Google My Business app, the Google My Business web portal or SMS messaging. Business owners need to be sure they have a Google My Business profile set up so they can get these messages that customers may send.
By promoting messaging as a means to contact businesses they find in search, Google is challenging an area that used to be reserved for Facebook and Twitter. By its nature, Twitter is a place where people can air their grievances with a brand. And many businesses use Twitter to address customer service issues. People who want to communicate with a business privately can often send them a message on their Facebook business page or through Facebook Messenger. By promoting written online messages over phone calls, Google can be an alternative for messaging a business without doing it publicly on Twitter or relying on Facebook.
Ironically, while Google is making it easier for customers to communicate with small businesses, it’s making it harder for small businesses to talk to one another. Google announced that it’s shutting down its small business community message board on Jan. 16th.
A recent announcement on the board stated, “Thank you for being a member of the Small Business Community from Google. We’ve enjoyed being on this journey with you and appreciate all the tips, insights and enthusiasm shared along the way. The Community will be closing in a few weeks; your last chance to access it will be January 16th. We will keep you posted on any future Community efforts. We hope you’ve made many connections as a member, and will continue to benefit from those relationships in the future.”
Hopefully, Google will replace it with another resource to help small businesses work together online. For more recent news about changes and updates to Google, read this article on Google’s new plan to update YouTube in 2019.