In December 2016 the Reserve with Google program was rolled out in the US in a trial that makes it possible to book appointments for health, beauty and fitness appointments right from the Google platform with webmasters, SEO consultants and web owners very excited at the potential this could present to the small and micro ‘fitness’ business sector.
Whilst there is no firm date on when this feature will come to the UK and Europe, consumers across the US are now able to book appointments with salons, spas and personal trainers through Google Maps and Google Search, which on face value may seem like a win/win for consumers and small businesses alike.
Beauty is the second most popular category of appointment bookings available through Google in the US and whilst the potential may seem great it is worth noting that a similar booking platform for hotels was launched in 2015 but has failed to gain traction which has been attributed as a direct attack to the likes of hotel booking platforms Expedia Inc and Priceline Group whom alone are thought to contribute some 5% of Google advertising income, by some estimates.
‘Don’t bite the hand that feeds you’ may well be on the minds of Expedia Inc and Priceline Group executives who in turn are thought to be exerting pressure on the hotel chains to stay loyal and not let Google in. However, whilst the large chains are notably absent from Google Hotels the independents fair much better, which may bode well for the small and micro businesses that largely make up the health, fitness and beauty industry.
Ad Revenue over Search Relevance?
With Google’s dominance in search (i.e. linking businesses to consumers) and its recent €2.4bn EU fine over search engine results in which Brussels claimed the tech giant abused market dominance by manipulating its search engine results to favour its own comparison shopping service, it may face stiff scrutiny, skepticism and reluctance to further muddy the divide between an ‘independent’ search engine to one which could again favour its own advertisers to ones not paying to use the Google platform.
Although Google first started testing the booking of appointments right from a business listing in Search in 2015 it took until December 2016 to roll out the trial across some select cities but consumers can now book fitness classes through the Reserve with Google site, as well as Google Search and Maps across the entire US, which was fully implemented in March.
Users can select their appointment time, see pricing and submit their information to reserve a time. Those with Google Wallet enabled can also pay for services if supported.
Merchants must have a Google My Business account and be working with one of the booking partners to be eligible for Reserve with Google. Google already partners with MINDBODY, Full Slate, Front Desk, Appointy, zingFit, Genbook, SalonRunner, Rosy, Yocale and Wellness Living and will be adding many more partners, including Booksy, Envision, MyTime, Schedulicity, Setmore, Shore, SimpleSpa, SuperSalon and TimeTrade.
Fitness and beauty are just the beginning, says Google and more service categories will be coming to the Reserve with Google bookings program in due course.
Devil in the Detail
The addition seems pretty convenient for users and keeps them on the Google platform which is what Google wants but this also helps the search giant collect a bunch of data about where we are going and what we are doing with our time which has some privacy groups worried.
There are also concerns amongst the tech community that the lauded ‘don’t be evil’ motto of Google’s corporate code of conduct might be slipping, that the fine in Europe is just the beginning and that the Reserve with Google program may be delayed in coming to the EU for fears it may fall fowl of the investigation. That the EU regulator is now investigating how else the company may have abused its position, specifically in its provision of maps, images and information on local services, which are central to the Reserve with Google platform could add fuel to the fire.
Whilst no one can deny the importance of Google and that it has changed the internet as the saying goes with great power should also come great responsibility and the worry is that having natural, relevant and organically obtained search results today may give way to a future where you don’t exist on Google unless you pay, irrespective of your relevance to search?
The idea that Google would abandon organic (relevant) results and go to a fully paid for model may seem far fetched but only time will tell as I would like to think that whilst Google is the biggest search engine it is not the entire internet and the abandonment of quality and relevance to one of pay to be seen runs counter to Google’s motto and with the current backlash against unruly advertisers, the rise of ad blockers and a general consumer feeling of ‘enough is enough’ perhaps Google will also recognise that it shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds it seeing as every advertiser on their network also uses Google Search as a consumer.
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