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Pingup Blog

The Evolution of Search

January 5, 2015 | By | No Comments

Pingup on the evolution of search

Search engines have changed a lot since the earliest iterations surfaced close to 20 years ago. As the technology has improved, we’ve witnessed a progression from manual site submissions and an inability to use natural language queries, to complex algorithms that control the way sites are crawled and how search results are returned. However, search engines have evolved in ways beyond simply improving the search mechanism.

We are seeing search engines offer information and interactivity that has traditionally only been found on web apps and businesses’ own sites. For an example of web directories offering more in-depth content, one simply has to perform a Google search via a mobile device for a nearby restaurant. Due to recent integrations with Uber and OpenTable, hungry searchers can now book a table and see Uber wait times and price estimates directly on their Google app. The above-mentioned additions save consumers multiple steps in their restaurant discovery/reservation/transportation journey, as they no longer have to open a restaurant’s page in their browser or plug a restaurant’s address into their Uber app to reserve a table and weigh transportation options.

As consumers are expecting richer listings from their search directories, companies that provide unique content (such as ratings and deals sites) are discovering that they can offer this content to consumers in ways that make them seem more like search engines. For example, by redesigning their Places directory and introducing Postsearch, Facebook is providing users a method to easily discover reviews from their friends and fellow Facebook users. In making their ratings and review data available in this way, Facebook is creating a strong incentive for consumers to use their platform for local search, rather than more traditional search engines. Groupon seems to be taking a similar step toward developing a local search offering with the recent introduction of Pages, a product that allows consumers to search local merchants in the pursuit of finding deals.

As search result pages become more dynamic, and as companies with exclusive content move toward becoming more like search engines, the need for consumers to rely on local businesses’ sites for information lessens. This is a trend that Google seems to have identified, as their Pigeon algorithm update (released in July 2014) now gives more importance to local map and directory sites. In fact, it is now not unlikely to see a businesses’ Yelp and Facebook pages appear ahead of their own website in search results.

What does this mean for SMBs? Although it may mean that some local businesses lose the ability to have full control over their initial impression with consumers who may be searching for them, recent research seems to suggest that a surprising percentage (52%) of SMBs do not even have websites in the first place. Even more surprising, the same study found that a mere 6% of the 1,800 businesses sampled had sites that were optimized for mobile. It seems that the evolution of search pages may act as a sort of great equalizer for SMBs, but seeing as though many of these businesses are slightly behind the times technologically speaking, the above-mentioned changes are good for the segment as a whole.


The Pay Per Booking Ad Model

November 4, 2014 | By | No Comments

Mobile Booking Brings New Customers

The pay per click model (PPC) of advertising has been around since the 90s , and the concept is a fairly simple one: affiliate sites display ads containing links to merchant sites, and the merchants then compensate the affiliate sites based on how many people click on the given ads. There are many advantages to this model, as advertisers can set a wide range of budgets, and only have to pay when consumers actually perform a specific action (as opposed to paying simply to get their product or services noticed, which would be more akin to the CPM model).

In addition to the flexibility provided by the pay per click (or PPC) model, most businesses perceive PPC to be effective as a lead generation tactic. According to a survey from Marketing Sherpa, business rate PPC as the second-most effective tactic that their organization employs, ahead of email marketing, content marketing and social media, and behind only SEO.

Despite all of the virtues that the PPC model has to recommend it, many organizations have some concerns about the efficacy of converting clicks to sales. In fact, the same  Marketing Sherpa study that indicated an increase in PPC spending for 2014, also found that 85 percent of the largest PPC spenders will be looking to focus more on conversion rate optimization in 2014. The fear of not being able to convert pay per click leads into sales is not a new one by any means. In fact, one of the first participators in PPC advertising (Director of Marketing at Specialized Bicycle Chris Murphy) had this to say back in 1996: “Clicks to my site [and] spending time there are two different things…If I’m paying for clicks, I’m not really into that.”

It is not hard to see why companies might have some reservations about paying for ad-clickers that may or may not turn into paying customers. Although cost per conversion numbers can vary by organization, last year Hochman Consultants found the average CPC to be $10.44 amongst a sample of 50 advertisers. While this may not seem terrible depending on the price of the good or service being offered, consider that the same analysts uncovered a much more unsustainable average CPC of $24.40 in 2012.

Many businesses may feel that a click directed to their website simply isn’t a large enough indicator of an intent to purchase. In part as a response to these concerns, the click-to-call model has emerged as a popular alternative in the past couple of years. In linking mobile consumers to a phone call with the advertised business, advertisers are delivering SMBs both more desirable leads, and leads that are likely to convert at a higher rate when compared with PPC. Although click-to-call campaigns generally carry a higher cost relatively speaking, business owners are often willing to pay more for what they perceive to be higher-quality indications of intent. Indeed, click-to-call usage is expected to grow in the future.

Click-to-call campaigns are oftentimes customizable, in that business owners can set a threshold on how long a phone call has to last for in order for them to consider it a valuable lead and pay for it. Although the ability to filter in this way certainly increases the likelihood that SMBs are spending their advertising money wisely, there is still some room for concern – many times consumers call businesses with a less than robust intent to actually make a purchase.

It appears there is an opportunity here for innovation, as marketers would likely prefer to engage in an advertising model that offers more consistency (and value). For example,  in a “Pay Per Booking” model, advertisers will only pay an affiliate when a consumer has actually booked an appointment. This could be accomplished by adding a “Book Now” button onto digital advertisements, meaning that consumers would be immediately directed to a booking flow, rather than to the the advertiser’s website. Not only would this model increase the efficiency of each dollar spent on ads, as businesses only pay for consumers who have already committed to a purchase, but the user experience would be more seamless as well.

Although the pay per booking model is nothing more than a theory at this stage, it is only one example of how Pingup’s Booking API can be applied to bring about increases in conversion and and functionality in the world of local search and advertising.

Featured Businesses for Fall 2014, Available on Pingup’s Booking API

October 20, 2014 | By | No Comments

Summer quickly fades into fall, and our inventory of bookable businesses continues to grow. Once again, we present you with a monthly inside look at some of the locations that are currently active on our API. To see how the booking flow looks in real time when making an appointment with these businesses, feel free to download our showcase booking app.

Large Companies Getting Involved in Local, pt. 2

September 22, 2014 | By | No Comments

In Large Companies Getting Involved in Local pt. 1, we gave you a brief rundown of some of the forays large organizations were making into the world of local commerce and SMBs. Since we last left off a mere 3 months ago, there has been a lot to report in this space, as more and more companies are aiming to get their piece of the “local” pie. In this sequel, we will look at companies providing mobile payment options, upgrading their data on local businesses, and improving their tools for small business owners.

  • Pinterest, which raised a new round of funding this past spring, had already launched a paid advertising platform in May. Known as “Promoted Pins”, these campaigns initially featured large corporations such as Kraft, Target, and Nestle. After finding success with this pilot group, Pinterest recently decided to roll out a self-service form of their Promoted Pins product to small and medium-size businesses. This represents a major opportunity for the digital scrapbooking site, as it looks to generate revenue from the large number of smaller boutiques and brick and mortar locations that maintain Pinterest accounts. And in what could be seen as a bid to attract independent business owners to their newly minted advertising channel, Pinterest has apparently upgraded both their search and analytics tools.
  • As we move on from the search and discovery phase and get into payments, we see a number of big names competing for the dollars of local merchants. Amazon has just announced a mobile POS system called Local Register meant to compete with the likes of Square and Paypal Here. Similarly to the above-mentioned products, Local Register provides merchants with a free app that captures sales numbers and analytics and a card reader that attaches to their smartphone. In typical Amazon fashion, Local Register seeks to establish itself by undercutting the competition, offering a 1.75% charge on each swipe compared to a 2.75% charge for merchants using Square.
  • Not to be left out, Apple has released NFC technology with the iPhone 6 that will allow users to make payments with a single tap. Known as Apple Pay, this platform also represents a serious threat to Square and Paypal Here. And although the technology currently only works with a few big organizations such as Whole Foods, McDonalds, and CVS, these agreements give Apple a large base with which to test their product. Much like Pinterest did with Promoted Pins, look for Apple to open up Apple Pay to smaller brick and mortar operators once they have finished successful pilots with larger players.
  • Finally, in what may be a partnership forged out of self-preservation for both parties, Samsung is teaming up with PayPal to introduce a mobile payment option on Samsung’s next generation of smartwatches. Both companies are threatened by the forthcoming addition of ApplePay to the Apple Watch, and as a result have banded together to offer their own mobile payment technology for wearables.

Just as we detailed in our first blog post on this topic, the local discovery and commerce realm is heating up. Expect to see more companies developing technology for and dedicating resources to this space in the future.

Pingup Supports Net Neutrality

September 10, 2014 | By | No Comments

Internet Slowdown Sept 10

Slow lanes would change the Internet and free speech forever. Tell lawmakers: “Protect Internet freedom. Defend net neutrality.”

How APIs Foster Innovation

August 26, 2014 | By | No Comments

pingup-api-for-everything-illustrationWired thinks there should be an API for everything, and we agree. But what does this mean exactly? Keith Axline lays out how everything in our current world is programmable, in that

“just as you can build apps for your smartphones and new services for the internet, so can you shape and re-shape almost anything in this world, from landscapes and buildings to medicines and surgeries to, well, ideas — as long as you know the code.”

This makes sense from a logical standpoint, in that in order for a person to create any sort of meaningful change, he must first be well-versed in the specific syntax and structure of the problem at hand. For instance, NASA would never have been able to put a man on the moon without an extensive knowledge of physics. If we accept the concept that the universe is programmable, then the next conceptual leap we have to make is that there must be an API for everything in the universe that we wish to program. That is, there must be a readme file that explains which inputs will yield which outputs.

The article goes on to explain how, through open APIs, organizations and individuals can share and build upon the knowledge that they have collectively accumulated. The possibilities are endless for real-world applications of this framework. For example, by creating an API for a category such as teaching methods, teachers could theoretically crowd-source new techniques by building upon one anothers tried and tested approaches. The exciting thing about APIs is that through collaboration, disparate parties can come together to create something that provides more value than either could have created working alone. APIs are proof that the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

So how does this relate to what we are building at Pingup? By building an API for booking services, we are making it possible for a “book now” features to be integrated into any number of applications. The intriguing thing about this, is that there are possible utilizations of our API that we haven’t even conceived of yet. In leaving it up to developers who wish to access our API, we are allowing our product to be used in some potentially innovative and unique ways. In the spirit of encouraging this type of experimentation, we had an intern (Jack) work with us over the summer to see what sort of projects he could develop based on our platform. Jack’s time with us yielded a number of browser plugins to enable online booking directly on business directories, and an app a single business could deploy to its customer base.

In summary, we subscribe to the ethos that knowledge should be publicly available for others to ingest and build upon. We hope that by collaborating with individuals and organizations who have shared their value with us, we will be able to create innovation.

14 Aug


Featured Businesses for August, Available on Pingup’s Booking API

August 14, 2014 | By |

When it comes to our monthly featured businesses, we generally give a lot of attention to the health and beauty industry. Although we certainly have a large number of salons and spas in our database, any establishment that requires a pre-booked appointment is a candidate to be included in our API. Check out our featured businesses for August, and have a look at the diversity of our inventory.

Reducing Friction in the Path to Purchase

August 11, 2014 | By | No Comments

Mobile payments illustration

To merchants across all categories, it is no secret that decreasing the amount of friction experienced by consumers looking to make a purchase will have a positive effect on sales. This tenet has been evident since the introduction of the first credit card in 1950, as many business owners have since realized that the fees they pay in order to accept credit cards more than make up for themselves in increased revenue. As it follows, it should also come as no surprise that a large number of recent innovations in the commerce sector have focused on using mobile technology to decrease the amount of effort and time required for potential buyers to complete their purchase journey. It seems that many of these friction-decreasing innovations fall into one of two categories: They either simplify the payment step, or split up the payment step from the choosing of and the delivery of the good in order to streamline the buying process.

Splitting up the purchase process

The idea behind this innovation is relatively straightforward: A lot of time is wasted when the consumer has to complete the checkout process in the same place that they are both picking out and receiving the good they have paid for. By splitting up the choosing of the good, the receipt of the good, and the payment of the good, merchants are able to maximize their efficiency by serving as many paying customers as possible, without having to worry about declined credit cards and shoppers fumbling around in their purses slowing things down. Not only this, but consumers like the freedom of simply taking the item they are interested in acquiring and worrying about paying later.

A prime example of this payment system’s successful implementation is Uber, where riders simply walk out of the car when they have arrived at their destination and sort out the payment on their smartphones later on. If we carry the Uber example over to the foodservice industry, we see large companies such as OpenTable and Paypal beginning to offer apps that allow restaurant patrons to simply pay the check at their table, rather than having to wait for multiple trips back and forth from a server. On the takeout side of things, Starbucks and Chipotle have been getting involved in crafting both mobile ordering and order-ahead payment solutions. All of these features increase convenience for the customers and efficiency for the establishments, especially at peak hours when lines can become unmanageably large and wait staff can become overwhelmed.

In another interesting take on the efficiency-via-separation model, online clothing retailer Bonobos has launched a number of brick and mortar “guideshops” to help customers try on their clothes before buying them. Customers make a set appointment with a guideshop, and then are treated to one-on-one service while trying on a number of items before ultimately placing an order and having their purchase delivered to them at home. To find a good visual representation of some of the possibilities in the fragmented checkout model, take a look at the “commerce graph”, conceived of by Streetfight.


Simplifying the payment step

We’ve likely all dealt with clunky and overly complicated online payment flows. Poorly designed checkout systems can result in a drag on sales for online retailers, as digital shoppers who encounter hardships (such as technical difficulties, or having to fill out multiple forms) become more likely to abandon their shopping carts. Recently, a number of large companies have been working on solutions to remedy this problem.

In aiming for the simplest checkout experience possible, Amazon and Apple (along with payments giant Paypal) have begun introducing biometric payments that allow users to make purchases on their mobile device simply by scanning their fingerprint. Not to be outdone, Twitter and Facebook have begun taking the necessary steps towards implementing ‘click to buy’ buttons on their sites, theoretically allowing users to make purchases directly from tweets and Facebook posts. These types of simplified payment systems are a boon to all parties involved: Consumers benefit from having a quicker and simpler payment experience, merchants benefit from seeing a higher conversion rate on their offerings, and the E-commerce marketplaces benefit by keeping buyers on their sites rather than sending them off to an affiliate.

It is clear that reducing friction in the path to purchase is a topic at the forefront of many minds in the commerce industry. As mobile devices become ever more ubiquitous, it will be interesting to see other ways in which companies look to leverage them in solving this problem.

Why ‘Book Now’ is Better than ‘Request an Appointment’

August 4, 2014 | By | No Comments

book-now-ipad-blogA while back we started to point out the huge difference between “Book Now” and “Request an Appointment”. This initial article highlighted some fundamental differences, using a fairly specific scenario of being able to book an appointment when a business is closed. This article will elaborate on some other key differences and benefits that our aggregated Booking API helps to facilitate.

What Does “Request an Appointment” Really Mean?

When an online service tells you that it will help you request an appointment, it typically means one of the two following scenarios are taking place:

  • You are really just filling out a form that’s being emailed to a business owner that will have to be manually reviewed and approved in order to secure your appointment.
  • A concierge style service is being deployed on your behalf, whereby a ‘call center’ worker will attempt to secure your desired appointment by getting in touch with the business (by phone, email, etc.). Again, this requires a response from a business that must be open to receive inquires.

With the approaches above, there’s no guarantee you’ll get the appointment that you want, and it may take anywhere from minutes to days to get a response. There’s some convenience to you, in that a concierge may be spending time on the phone that you don’t have to. However, these methods frequently result in customers not getting the appointment they wanted and potentially losing valuable time waiting for responses. Additionally, the communication schema very quickly drops to email – a highly sub-optimal user experience for most.

There are some businesses that are required to use what we call the “request-respond” method for good reason, the most salient example being those in the medical services vertical. We’ll talk more about this in a separate post, and as we move further down the road with integration partners that cover that field.

So How is “Book Now” Better?

Another term we use when talking about “Book Now” is “Live Booking”. When you tap or click a Book Now button, you are getting real-time access to the appointment scheduling software that the business uses. It’s as if you are looking at the same calendar the front-desk staff uses, in that any open appointment times that you see will be available for booking. Within just a few moments, you can book an appointment and know that it is confirmed – no humans required. Therefore, you can book with a business at any time of day or night, regardless if they are open or closed.

Why is this important? Well, you could be looking to book an appointment at the same time slot as someone else – so its critical that the booking software partner is able to control the booking schedule in real time. Any type of proxied approach – intermittent inventory ingestion for instance – runs the risk of creating duplicate booking problems that affect all of us within the value chain. Our publisher partners are seeking ONLY real-time booking access, and we agree this both provides for a better user experience and protects against breakage due to duplication.

How Syndication of Live Booking Takes Things to the Next Level

Online booking isn’t necessarily new; there are many businesses that provide online booking from their website. However, this process doesn’t always work so well in the context of mobile users and apps.

While some businesses already offer appointment booking via their own website, this often is not as easy to do on a mobile device. Pingup’s Booking API is being used to syndicate “Book Now” scheduling features out to a variety of services that present business profiles to mobile and web users. Syndicated live booking takes customer engagement to the next level, by allowing users to schedule appointments without leaving the app they are currently using.

The Pingup Booking API aggregates business inventory from many different software providers, allowing app publishers to add live-booking capabilities to the myriad of destinations where customers are trying to find businesses. For example, a customer browsing the profile of a business on their favorite “yellow pages” iPhone app, is now be able to book an appointment without ever leaving that app, making for a faster, smoother and more convenient user experience. No human intervention is required on the business side, so bookings can be secured by customers 24-7.


Featured Businesses for July, Available on Pingup’s Booking API

July 23, 2014 | By | No Comments

As the heat and humidity ramps up this summer, you may find yourself in need of an extra visit to the salon in order to keep your hair from getting out of control. Likewise, you may be looking for some nutrition advice in order to get yourself in beach-ready shape. Both of the above issues can be resolved through businesses on the Pingup API: Browse through our featured businesses for July, and have a look at a sampling of the many health and beauty businesses in our inventory.