12 Local Search Developments You Need to Know About from Q4 2022
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.
Hard to believe but neither Q1, nor Q2, nor Q3 can equal Q4 for the activity we’ve seen in local search, and the quarter isn’t even quite over yet! For all I know, Google could celebrate New Year’s Eve by renaming Google Business Profiles “Google Plus Places My Business Profiles Merchant Experience Listings” and we would just have to roll with that, too.
There has been so much going on, it’s small wonder if you haven’t caught every development, but here’s a list of some of the most interesting ones you should be aware of as we look towards 2023. We’ve got one new interface, two awful bugs, three new GBP features, four review developments, several guideline updates … all that’s missing is the partridge in the pear tree!
The new merchant experience breaks upon us like a thunderclap
Watch this space for a vast post from me on the NMX in the next few weeks, but for now, you need to know that the editing via the old Google Business Profile Manager dashboard is a thing of the past and you’ll need to manage your data in the new in-SERP interface that’s been dubbed the “New Merchant Experience”.
About a year ago, Google warned us that this was coming, but it must be said that they also intimated that this change would only impact single location businesses. In Q4, a hue and cry understandably went up from the local SEO community when everyone – including multi-location listings managers – woke up to find themselves summarily escorted out of the old dashboard and into the SERPs for management.
The good folks at Bright Local, Streetfight, and Online Ownership have done a great job of early reporting on the frustrations and discoveries surrounding the NMX, and for the most part, have concluded that if you click around enough within the new interface, you will relocate most features. A few new surprises have been noted so far. For example, Q&A is now part-and-parcel of the interface instead of being treated as a separate instance:
And check out Khushal Bherwani’s tweet capturing Google tagging the previous location of a business under the “locations” tab of the NMX when the company’s location has been changed.
We can get used to the NMX. We should also expect changes to it in the new year, but at the moment, my most interesting industry takeaway from the deprecation of the historic dashboard is that listings management software just became more appealing. BrightLocal’s informal poll captures how clunky many users will find the act of trying to manage listings amid the clutter of the organic SERPs:
In recent years, there has been some debate about whether local business should pay for listings management software. Google’s latest move is making experts like Mike Blumenthal and Carrie Hill say “yes” if you’ve got multiple listings and require the calm and quiet organization of a dedicated listings management dashboard instead of the awkward mess of the NMX.
Google bugs only an entomologist could love
David Mihm captures some of the industry angst many are feeling right now as a result of multiple Google bugs making work needlessly difficult for us in recent months. For the record, I love and appreciate all insects, but Google’s listing suspension spree has been about as fun as finding potato bugs in one’s bathtub. When even the smallest of normal edits to listings (like writing a post or editing a description) results in suspension, it can make local SEOs and local business owners very leery of keeping their listings updated:
Fortunately, about one month after reports of suspensions began flooding fora, Joy Hawkins announced the good news that Google had apparently resolved this bug.
This is a good time and place to mention Amy Toman’s reinstatement request tip:
And also, that Colan Nielsen spotted what appears to be a new notification from Google in the NMX of how long it should take for your edits to be reviewed:
Meanwhile, a second bug began chasing us all around the local picnic table in the form of a big wave of review loss. If you’ve recently lost a ton of reviews, Mike Blumenthal has done outstanding investigative reporting at Near Media on this latest aggravation, including his finding that Google had been auto-updating Google Business Profiles and changing their CID numbers right before reviews were thrown out. As he says,
“Changing the CID and losing reviews with a Suggested Edit update is a new and disturbing bug…You should always capture and store your Google CID and Place ID somewhere safe. Gatherup’s Google Review Link Generator Chrome extension helps you get those numbers easily as does Pleper’s free Google CID converter.”
I also highly recommend reading Mike’s article examining the difference between a review bug and a review filter and outlining steps you can take in the wake of review loss.
New Google features we don’t dislike
Barry Schwartz captured a new feature test that several people had noticed in which a speaker icon reads out the name and category of the local business. I’m not sure where Google is headed with this, but I am a fan of audio features as an alternative to too much screen time.
Stefan Somborac notes a nifty feature, referenced in this Google help doc, that lets dining establishments select their preferred menu. Also new for restaurants, Abner Li wrote up the “Nearby Dishes” US rollout from Google that can return a carousel of local options to you when you search for something like “pho near me”. I have yet to see this feature in the wild, but Abner’s article has screenshots.
Good review things!
Darren Shaw was jubilant at finding something truly new in local SEO – this time, a notation of the number of times a Google reviewer profile had published reviews in a specific city. This sparked a great discussion between Greg Sterling and Mike Blumenthal as to whether this signal will actually boost the authenticity of Google-based reviews, or whether location is too easy to spoof. I like this feature because it adds some transparency to the fact that Google is tracking your location when you leave a review – which might come as a surprise to some users. Perhaps this might be a minor deterrent to some forms of review spam?
Next up, an amazing find from Christina LeVasseur Brodzky for the hospitality industry of Google quantifying the positive and negative sentiment in association with place topics within reviews. In her example, 72% of reviewers favorably mentioned the bar at a hotel, while 17% were not so favorable. This rollout showcases the deepening levels Google is reaching in sentiment analysis.
And to round up review developments, Q4 saw the publication of two major review studies. Moz’s own, The Impact of Local Business Reviews on Consumer Behavior will take you through three chapters of insights into the habits of review readers, review writers, and successful owner responses based on a large-scale survey. Meanwhile, the good folks at SOCi have a gated report on The State of Google Reviews based on an analysis of nearly five million reviews. Also, the team over at Sterling Sky has been publishing a series of small and interesting studies on the impacts of review recency, number, text, and diversity on local pack rankings. If Google will just stop accidentally deleting local business reviews and let us get on with things, all of these reports will seriously power up your reputation strategy for 2023.
Guideline updates should always be noted
In the aforementioned Moz review survey, we learned that the next step 51% of consumers take after reading reviews will land them on local business websites. Given this, it’s quite relevant to local business owners and marketers that Google has replaced its historic Webmaster Guidelines with the overhauled, rebranded Google Search Essentials. This would be a good time to read through the refreshed guidelines to be sure your website is being understood by people and search engines alike.
And finally, Colan Nielsen took note of Google adding a stern warning against review gating back into their Prohibited and Restricted Content guidelines. In sum, don’t ever ask customers to specifically leave you a positive review, don’t use software that weeds out negative sentiment, and if you publish first-party reviews on your own website, don’t show only the good stuff. Be honest and authentic, and you should be fine.
And that puts a bow on local SEO 2022! I want to thank everyone who has read this new quarterly series this year and who has tweeted it, blogged about it, included it in your newsletters, and discussed it on your podcasts. Warmest gratitude, as well, to each of the local SEO community members giving time every month of every year to freely sharing your discoveries with all of us. I hope to continue this series in 2023 and to keep learning local with all of you!