Did Q1 and Q2 whip past you? They did for me, but the pace of life often seems to slow down a little in autumn, and I hope you’ll join me for a relaxed and studious look at interesting local search marketing developments from the third quarter of 2022.
1) A small harvest of review-related changes
I’m grouping four different review-related developments under this heading. First, Joy Hawkins spotted a change to Google’s guidelines on prohibited and restricted content. As I’ve covered here exhaustively in my Moz column, there are lots of things a business can do to rectify a complaint in hopes of seeing an unhappy customer update their negative review to reflect an improved experience, but outright incentivization of negative review removal has now been declared out-of-bounds by Google.
Second and rather related, Greg Gifford captured a good stat from Aaron Weiche’s LocalU presentation that I’d not heard before: over ⅓ of negative experiences referenced in reviews mention communication problems. This means that you not only need to have your local business listings up-to-snuff with ongoing management of the accuracy of your contact info, but that all of your communications technologies (texting, live chat, phone, etc.) must be responsive!
Thirdly, Barry Schwartz spotted early testing of a Find Places Through Reviews feature in July, but as of September, I have still not been able to replicate this interesting result, which is a further indication of Google’s continuous experimentation in the review space.
Finally, another tip from the inimitable Hawkins as tweeted by Brandon Schmidt: longer reviews tend to remain higher up in your Google review corpus for a longer time. The problem with this is that lengthier reviews are commonly negative, with unhappy customers taking the time to wax poetic about their complaints. Take some time to consider whether you can finesse your review requests so that your delighted customers are inspired to leave more voluble reviews.
2) HCU near you
It’s my belief that local businesses which have already made a habit of publishing content that thoughtfully serves their specific customers should come out well in the much-talked-about Helpful Content Update, which finished rolling out on September 9th. While many SEOs are trying to ascertain which changes can rightfully be attributed to the update, our friends at NearMediaCo are having interesting discussions about whether the HCU is, in fact, part of Google’s response to the rise of TikTok as a vehicle for search. As Greg Sterling notes,
“Right now the most influential internet company is arguably TikTok. Google’s HCU appears to be partly a response to the popularity of the site and its much-touted “authenticity.”
Local SEOs and their clients cannot have failed to notice how many Google searches (including local searches) return low-quality results made up of optimized filler rather than human-worthy help. While the search engines and social sites play ball over who will win the authenticity trophy, my best advice to independent local businesses is to be sure that everything on your website is a proudly-published source of information for your community.
3) Beyond content: communication
There may be times when I’m willing to wander about in the Google maze or the morass of site search hoping for an answer to a complex query, but usually, I don’t have the patience and want to be able to ask a business directly, “Do you have size 8, man-made, furry boots, with fluffy linings, but not from this brand, and only from this brand, and can you deliver them to my house, and can you do that contactlessly, and is there a surcharge for that?” Local businesses can certainly publish content to cover all of these bases, but bless the brand that makes it easy for me to have a conversation with a human being.
Brandon Schmidt did us the favor of photographing Aaron Weiche’s recent presentation on this topic. Ahead of the holidays, be sure your texting, live chat, and phone staff is ready with all the answers via highly visible numbers and links (and my boots!).
4) Toggle to hide your address
Barry Schwartz highlighted Stefan Somborac’s screenshot of a new toggle feature in search and Maps that is meant to make it easier for business owners to hide the address on their Google Business Profile. The hidden address drama is one of the longest-running plots in the soap opera that is the Guidelines for representing your business on Google. I would personally like to see this character written out of the script in favor of businesses having the say in whether they want their exact location to be visible on their listings. I’ve never understood Google’s logic for requiring SABs to obscure their locations; living in an old house as I do, I’ve had too many opportunities of needing to know which 24-hour plumber is actually nearest to me.
5) Linked FAQs in Google Messaging
This might be one of the most exciting developments of the third quarter and we again have Stefan Somborac to thank for noticing it first. You can now populate Google Messaging with up to 10 FAQs with questions of up to 40 characters and answers of up to 500 characters and your answers can include links! While I’m not personally fond of automated consumer-brand communications, I can see a good use of this for answering really common questions about hours of operation, premise accessibility, or the availability of top brands in your inventory.
6) Filter local packs by days of the week
Google has long offered searchers the ability to filter packs by hours of the day, but Shameem Adhikarath realized that, at some point, the ability to filter results by specific days of the week was added. When a customer wants to know on Monday which are the best restaurants that are open on Saturday, a little feature like this makes sense. Word to the wise: be sure your hours of operation are always up-to-date on your listings!
7) Evaluate the role local SEO should play in property hunting
Elizabeth Rule brought us this screenshot of Andy Simpson’s LocalU presentation in which he reminded local SEOs that our concerns are not the only ones that should be involved when a client moves or opens a new branch. While I’m sorry to have missed Andy’s full presentation, I can see the sense of it, just from this slide. So many of the goodies of reputation and profit will flow naturally when other factors like the location, convenience, and size of a new locale are properly considered, so definitely weigh in with local SEO recommendations during times of change, but prepare to be in a queue of many priorities.
8) Maps Photo Pins exist, but have you seen them yet?
Our honored colleagues at BrightLocal captured a version of Maps-based photo pins in September that is different than the ones reported by Barry Schwartz back in July as spotted by Vishal Sharma. These latest examples are round instead of square. I have not been able to replicate this test with similar search terms from my location in the US, and so I have no way of sussing out what the source of these images is or how to nudge Google into giving a business pin like this. For now, keep adding photos and keep checking Maps for this intriguing feature.
9) Be the winner next-door next year?
Nextdoor users voted many local and ten national businesses as their favorites this past August, and the winners have received press, badges and $500 ad credits. It’s definitely a platform worth getting listed on, and home service providers came out especially well in the contest. Nextdoor highlighted how showing up on time for appointments, providing excellent service, offering specialty goods and services, and earning recommendations from neighbors all contributed to winners’ successes. Sounds like good advice to take with you into the fourth and final quarter of 2022!