Google rolling out video appointments, online classes to local business profiles
The booking can occur through GMB but the class or consultation won't happen on the business profile.
A prompt to set up video appeared in the Google My Business (GMB) dashboard at the end of last month, first noticed by SterlingSky’s Colan Nielsen. It didn’t carry any context or explanation and set off speculation about its purpose and functionality.
Though not appearing for everyone, some local SEOs speculated that the “launch” may have been premature. I asked Google about it and a company spokesperson clarified the video prompt is actually related to an announcement made in late May.
Prompt to set up video streaming on GMB profile
Part of earlier COVID-related product announcements. A Google spokesperson told me, “This functionality is a further extension of our online services announcement earlier this year. Merchants can already note on their Business Profiles that they offer virtual services and add links for booking online appointments. We’re testing some new functionality to help merchants easily get started with video conferencing providers so they can begin offering virtual services. There’s no change to what’s displayed on the Business Profile.”
Video options presented in GMB dashboard
Reserve with Google relationship seemingly required. That earlier announcement contained a number of initiatives designed to support small businesses during COVID-19 and help them pivot to online services. Specifically, the video button is for virtual appointments and online classes. New business attributes such as “online classes,” “online appointments,” or “online estimates” have also been added.
Google also explained its Reserve with Google program was being expanded beyond in-person appointments to online services and classes. Working with a Reserve with Google partner is necessary to enable the scheduling functionality for online classes. But the business-owner has discretion over the video platform used (e.g., Google Meet vs. Zoom vs. Webex).
It’s also not clear to me whether a business would be able offer virtual consultations (e.g., for sales) outside of a Reserve with Google partner relationship. Right now it appears the booking relationship is required and it may be that any sales consultation would need to be booked through the same scheduling functionality offered for conventional appointments and online classes. (Updated: see comment below.)
Virtual class online booking flow
In its blog post at the time Google said, “Merchants working with one of these partners can offer online bookings directly on Google and share details with customers about how to pay and join the meeting using their preferred video platform.” The initial Reserve with Google partners mentioned were Booksy, WellnessLiving, Zooty and Regis.
One other thing that I was unable to clarify was whether the virtual classes would be streamed directly on the GMB profile (assume yes) or whether the video module could and would also live on local business websites. However, in its statement above Google says somewhat confusingly, “There’s no change to what’s displayed on the Business Profile.”
Why we care. Six months in, many consumers are still wary of gathering in indoor public places and resuming regular routines. Accordingly, virtual classes and services remain a lifeline for many local businesses during this period of crisis, which could extend well into next year. But online classes and consultations represent a shift in how small businesses will deliver services going forward.
Yelp introduced attributes such as online classes in May, though it’s not facilitating video platform adoption in the way that Google directly is. Small businesses have also been using Facebook live for online classes as well.
I suspect some of the unanswered questions above will become clear shortly as video rolls out more widely and we get a direct look at the functionality in action. Regardless, the move is also noteworthy because it takes Google My Business even further into the realm of digital commerce.
Update from Google: After the publication of this article Google reached out to clarify some of the questions I had about the functionality of the program. According to Google, “Businesses don’t need to have a relationship with a Reserve with Google partner to offer virtual appointments on their Business Profiles — they can add links to their website page offering virtual appointments / classes. If they have a relationship with a Reserve with Google partner that has enabled online offerings, it’s easier for customers to book directly on Google. In both cases, the virtual appointment will take place via the third party video provider, not on Google.”