Google Paves the Way for More In-SERP Conversions

Over the last several months, we’ve had a handful of clients ask about enabling “make an appointment” and other types of reservations within Google’s search results.  More specifically, we were asked how easy or difficult it was to create a reservation option within a Google local listing – for instance, a “reserve a dress fitting” or “place an order online” option for users interacting directly with the search listing. This, of course, involves a backend modification, and there is in fact schema markup available for “ReserveAction” that allows you to code pages to support various types of reserve actions.  However, when we dug a bit deeper into the question, we learned that it’s not quite as simple as just coding the schema markup… and may involve a significant new revenue source for Google.

Third Party Platforms

What we first learned is that reserve actions are not simply picked up from a page’s schema coding at this time. Instead, these reserve actions are available only if you use a third party booking platform like DemandForce, Genbook, Zocdoc or MyTime. Beyond “make an appointment”, there are also some local restaurant businesses that have “order online” actions enabled through services like seamless.com and grubhub.com.  In some cases, the options are available on both mobile and desktop, and some just on the mobile device; we haven’t quite gotten to the bottom of that distinction.

Google explains:

When this (reserve action) feature is enabled on a business’s Google My Business dashboard, users will see a link to a third-party booking and ordering service, like seamless.com, where they can complete their order or reserve their table.

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Sounds simple enough, right? To get Place an Order or Make a Reservation actions appear in your local listing,

  1. buy in to the program by using one of the third party providers participating in the pilot;
  2. the provider, in turn, marks up your listing to support the reserve action;
  3. enable the feature within Google MyBusiness

But there’s one other piece – right now, the feature is only available to “eligible businesses”, and Google is rather vague on just what qualifications you’d need to be eligible.  Fill out a form and they’ll get back to you.  It’s all a little opaque for our tastes but nothing “big picture” going on, right?

Expansion into Fitness

A few weeks ago, Google expanded its reserve action features specifically to the fitness world, where through a separate Reserve with Google Page, in search or within Google Maps, a fitness fan is able find a studio, make and pay for a class in as little as three simple steps. In its March 30th announcement, Google Program Manager, Bryan Solar, wrote:

“In Reserve with Google, you can search for fitness studios near you, use filters to pinpoint exactly what you’re looking for, get recommendations for new classes, or book a spot in the session you already know and love. At checkout, you’ll even be able to take advantage of intro offers when available and buy class packages or memberships.”

Similarly, Google mentions this feature is enabled through partnerships with third party platforms, MINDBODY, MyTime, Genbook, Full Slate and Front Desk; though it seems by building out a separate interface just for reservations, it does show that Google may have bigger plans for this feature in the future.

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Larger Business Plan?

Entertain me for a moment with what I believe is a vision of Google’s plans for the future: to monetize SERPs and potentially voice-prompted answers via a pay-per-lead service.

  1. Paid and Local Pack results dominate mobile search results as mobile continues to surpass desktop-based search. Local Pack results are not monetized at this time.
  2. Google has shown interest in serving service provider ratings ala Angie’s List in SERP tests in the past.
  3. Google is not supporting ReserveAction at this time but, instead, supports it through third party providers perhaps to find the best in class before a potential acquisition(?)
  4. Lead gen and/or cost per action is often more profitable for the platform than simple CPC advertising
  5. As we move to voice-based search dominance, Google can’t serve multiple answers… and paid ads will be difficult to “sell” to consumers. A voice-based system that provides the best “non-paid” single answer to a question and then a way to fulfill that question through a purchase or action may be the model for the future

On Track with Google’s Vision

As the SERP continues to evolve, Google simultaneously continues to take more control over the end user’s journey from question or search… to answer. It’s certainly not the first time we’ve seen Google take a more aggressive approach to the app-centric world that consumers now live in.

If various other formats in the results page are any indication of how Google may further explore in-SERP conversions, they will likely take a look at how it performs organically first before considering how there may in fact be ad dollars to gain from it. From what we can see, aside from the recent flurry of activity around fitness class reservations, the reserve action isn’t a particularly frequent occurrence.

From a longer term play perspective, this could ultimately become an important lead generation tool, particularly for local businesses looking to build awareness, and create a seamless conversion experience. While monetizing the local ad inventory benefits Google, it does not come without the simultaneous benefit for the end user. Google’s vision for the future is for consumers to gain more and more value directly out of the SERP – we see elements like star ratings, and Google answer boxes becoming more developed, in efforts to give consumers all of the details needed to make an educated decision right within the mobile SERP. In a world of “I want it now”, in-SERP conversions may be the extra boost that local companies, in particular, need to capture that high-intent mobile user. We’ll be on the lookout for any changes in the current policy.

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