The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
Just as you were absorbing all the Q1 local search excitement, Q2 came marching along with a bundle of new happenings and surprises. Don’t worry if you missed out on any of the key announcements and observations — I’ve got a little list for you here:
1. Novel stats on persistent reviewers
Curtis Boyd included some statistics that I’ve never seen compiled before in his presentation at a LocalU conference. As captured in the above tweet from Joy Hawkins, 8% of unhappy customers or spammers whose first review is removed will come back and write another one. 60% of them will simply republish their initial review or one that’s quite similar, but 40% will make their second go even worse.
The takeaway here is that you’ve got to monitor reviews constantly, and the relief of removal can be short-lived unless you’re watchdogging your profiles and working to get anything removed that violates Google’s content guidelines.
2. Both Google and Yelp promote eco features
Yelp reports that searches for “plant-based” have seen a 56% average increase each year for three years running, and that searches for “EV charging” are seeing a 41% average annual increase. In response to growing global demand for more planet-friendly services, Yelp has debuted a set of new searchable attributes, including “EV charging station available,” “plastic-free packaging,” “provides reusable tableware,” “bring your own container allowed,” and “compostable containers available.” These are in addition to existing filters, like “vegan” and “bike parking”.
Meanwhile, Google is encouraging its local guides to focus in on local eco-friendly businesses and services. For example, Google suggests including sustainability details in reviews, mapping recycling centers, and adding recycling attributes to listings. Google reports that the top five most searched-for recycling needs are metal, electronic, cardboard, battery, and cans.
Take these signals from Yelp and Google as signs that the time has come for all local businesses to discover, develop, and promote the greenest possible practices they can implement. Sustainability is essential.
3. Major review takedowns follow on the heels of FTC warnings
We began 2022 with a new warning from the FTC that review platforms will be held accountable for the fake reviews they publish. Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but Google seems to have kicked into high gear with review takedowns. As reported by Near Media, the local SEO industry has seen a dramatic rise in complaints of review loss which began in Q1 and has continued through Q2.
Unfortunately, Google’s takedowns have been too broad and legitimate reviews are being tossed out with the spam. If local businesses you market have been caught up in Google’s new-found zeal for spam fighting, and are aware that legitimate reviews are missing, you can contact Google, but there are no guarantees that the reviews will be restored, and you may be better off simply keeping going with your strategy for continuous review acquisition.
4. Google declares products a local search visibility factor
Damian Rollison spotted a major update to Google’s document on how to improve local search rankings, in that they have newly-listed adding products to your GBP as a visibility factor. To regular readers of my column here at Moz, it will come as no surprise that Google is doing all it can to promote its shopping capabilities in its quest to compete with Amazon. As we’ve covered in the past, localness is Google’s one big advantage over Amazon, and given the massive carbon reduction in local vs. remote delivery, it will be better for all of us if more shopping is facilitated via Google’s localized product features than by any service based on long-distance shipping. Now is a great time to seize a visibility boost by filling out profiles with as many core products as are offered by the local businesses you market.
5. Google’s trusted store badge goes live
Speaking of shopping, and as reported by Search Engine Roundtable, Google is now rewarding certain merchants with the highly visible trusted store badge, as seen in the above screenshot of the Google Shopping interface. Remember that Google Shopping has filters so that customers can find local businesses. For a local business to earn this badge, Barry Schwartz suggests:
“…the badge is available to merchants who provide excellent shipping and returns services. Merchants receive a Trusted Store badge based on their performance across metrics relative to other merchants, including but not limited to shipping speeds, shipping and return costs, and return windows.”
Google has stated that such badges are appearing to deliver “stronger traffic to lesser known merchants”, and I would read this to mean that even a smaller local brand could find that the trust imbued by the badge could boost sales resulting from increased traffic.
6. Google testing “At This Place” feature
Saad AK spotted a test that will be of interest to local businesses located inside larger venues. Here, we see a listing for a roller coaster nested within a listing for a larger attraction. I have not been able to replicate this test, but it is a notable example of the increasing granularity with which Google continues to map local communities.
7. Business redressal complaint form finally gets much-needed new label
At long last, you can finally tell Google that “this business doesn’t exist” via the Business Redressal Complaint Form. As reported at Search Engine Land, this new option matters because it clarifies that what you’re trying to report to Google is, in fact, a non-existent business rather than simply complaining that a legitimate business has incorrect information.
When Google acts on reports of fake listings, it can clear away the debris that is standing between your client and higher visibility. When successful, spam fighting can produce some of the easiest local search rankings you’ll ever earn.
8. Adios Google My Business mobile app
I extend my condolences to all local SEOs who, like Claire Carlile, are bidding a teary adieu to the Google My Business mobile app and are being prompted to switch to updating listings via search and Maps, instead.
A lesson new local SEOs will quickly learn is one of self-protective detachment from any particular Google product or feature. They go away, they get rebranded, they dry up and blow away like autumn leaves. It’s always good to try new Google features when they roll out, but never tie your entire local search marketing strategy to them, because they are, by nature, experimental and can disappear at any time.
9. Place topic thumbs expand at-a-glance sentiment communications
Mike Blumenthal noticed this praiseworthy effort on Google’s part to further qualify the topics that people often mention in reviews. When you think about it, it’s not actually very helpful to know that people often mention something like “accessibility” relating to a hotel without any further context. Are reviewers saying that the accessibility is good or bad?
Thanks to that little thumb icon, this test lets us see at-a-glance that people are dissatisfied with the accessibility of this business. It’s amazing to think of how shortcuts like icons can convey so much within a few pixels of screen space. This is one experiment I hope we’ll see roll out more widely!
Onward to Q3
With the sunny days of summer stretching out before us, local businesses and their marketers should be keeping an eye on one major developing story: the outcomes of S.2992, the American Choice and Innovation Online Act. You may already have received frantic emails or other messaging from Google or Amazon urging you to believe that regulation of monopolies like theirs will hurt small businesses like yours.
Like many of my peers, I’ve been offended on behalf of local business owners. Their intelligence is insulted when told to be scared of powerful businesses not having the ability to preference their own products — to the detriment of diversity and innovation. In fact, I think most local business owners would be delighted if this bill became law and it resulted in more direct traffic to their own websites instead of to Google’s widgets, or a more diversified review landscape, perhaps even highlighting review platforms that might do a better job of handling review spam or communicating with SMBs.
Big tech is shelling out millions of the dollars society has helped them accrue in hopes of lobbying this bill into the trash can, but if their efforts fail, local businesses could be witnessing the start of a handoff that could actually place the ball back in our court — the court of local community, creativity, and choice. Sunny days, indeed.