Death of the Google Tag

Google Tags have been great for local advertisers or advertisers whose Place pages end up high in results that have local intent (either expressed or imputed local intent, in which case Google serves up a local result based on IP address or profile information). But Google is killing (or “retiring,” if you prefer to use Google’s language) the Google Tag.

It was actually a two-stage retirement. Up until this month, one option you had as a Google Tags advertiser was the ability to hotlink to your website. The combination of the regular link and the tag was great if you were lucky enough to rank well in the local results already. First, Google removed the ability to link to your site from the tag, in an announcement that went out on March 17:

“Hello Google Places user,

Thanks for creating a tag for your Google Places listing. We would like to notify you of a few upcoming changes to the Tags feature.

You currently have a website tag in your Google Places listing. The website tag option will be discontinued on March 29. At that time, we’ll automatically switch your tag type to a photo tag. Your tag will continue running normally, and you will not need to make any additional changes.

If you would prefer a different tag type than the photo tag, sign into your account to edit your tag:…”

Less than one month later I was surprised to learn that the tags were being totally eliminated. On April 15, the following announcement showed up in my inbox.

“Dear Google Places user,

At Google, we’re always working to innovate and improve ways for small businesses to get online and reach more customers. At times, though, we have to decide where to focus our efforts and which technologies we expect will yield the most benefit to users and businesses like you in the long run.

In that spirit, we are retiring Google Tags for all users on April 29, 2011. No action is required on your part, and your Places account and listing will continue to work as usual. Effective today, no new tags can be created, but all active tags will keep running to the end of April for free…”

Google provides little insight as to the strategic reasons for killing Tags, but we can certainly evaluate the pros and cons of the product. While Tags were great in many ways, I can see where they might have been exasperating for many small business owners:

  1. Because tags only show up if you already show up in a local result, tags reward those with good SEO rank (either those lucky enough to have good rank or those who worked for it).
  2. Small business owners get confused easily, especially if a business owner is simultaneously paying for AdWords (either via “Boost” or a standard AdWords account).

The $25 flat fee price for a Google Places local “tag” that links to the advertiser site may have served as an alternate to Google AdSense for too many advertisers and may have resulted in lowered spending by advertisers who got good organic local rankings. Perhaps it siphoned off too many clicks from paid search links. Regardless, Google is eliminating Tags from the Places account, which is a shame for those advertisers that found them useful and worth paying for.

For example, my wife, a New York psychologist, is lucky enough to have her site rank well for certain local searches (after all, she is extremely relevant) and the Google Tags were a nice way to say something extra and differentiate her personal therapy services and therapy referral service from the other psychologists listed (many of whom aren’t actually psychologists at all, but social workers, highlighting the challenge Google and others continue to face in keeping local listings relevant).

If you or your clients were using Tags in the Google Places system, perhaps they should consider one or more of the following:

  1. Location Extensions
  2. Google Boost (which offers far less control than AdWords manual, but for some businesses, that is OK)
  3. A fully “tricked out” Place Page
  4. SEO to Place Page referenced URL (which may improve place page ranking)
  5. Getting reviews to the business
  6. Phone Extensions (the Google variety)
  7. Product Extensions
  8. Ad Sitelinks

Many extensions don’t provide as much targeting control as you may be used to, but there is often a tradeoff in visibility (you get more). Local marketers will have an increasingly challenging time with both paid search and SEO, given the highly competitive nature of local results. I’m testing Google Boost on an account now, but based on the non-changeable keyword list I see, I’m not impressed…we shall see.

Related reading

Screenshot shows a Google search for outdoor grills, the shopping ads shows images with “in store” showing the product is available nearby.