Subtitled: Q: Mike, Oh Mike? Would you take out the recycling? A: As soon as I do a word count and proof this article.
I have been busy writing over the past week, sometimes on the weekend when you might not have seen the article and other times at other sites that you might not have in your feed.
Here is the rundown of articles since September 8th in case you are feeling a burning need to waste an hour or two or to get all geeky about local. Be sure to read these during your work day. Just tell your boss its worth the time.
Has Google finally committed to Local? Has Local finally been elevated to the big leagues within Google as a starter instead of being relegated to filling the role of pinch hit competitive enhancer? Is Local receiving both the financial support and more importantly front page Google love that it needs to really succeed.
It would appear so. Will they succeed? Maybe, lets hope so.
This is an 1100 or so word piece. It takes roughly 6 minutes to read. Let me know if the time was well spent.
The Trigger that Got Me Thinking
Last week during the rollout of the Reviews from the web, Sergey Alakov pointed out that the editing of information via the Knowledge Panel by the business owner had been slightly enhanced. The feature has been around for awhile but it now allows feedback on a few additional fields.
Not a big deal in the scheme of things but it struck me that Google was in fact chewing gum and walking at the same time vis a vis their local product rollouts. And it appeared that the efforts were both within the GMB division and cross departmental with the organic search team.
The (sordid) History
Coming off of the old Google Places, when Marissa Mayer was demoted to head Google’s local effort, there was a bold and ambitious plan in place for accelerating feature development. There were goals of creating an SMB CRM solution with capabilities that stretched from pre-sale to post sale management.
GPlus came along and with it, the forced march to the integration of Local and Plus began and then Marissa was force marched to the door (or whatever). Development efforts were aimed at integration and feature recovery not moving forward.
In the middle of all of this, in moving local to the Knowledge Graph, Google totally restructured the architecture of local with new plumbing, pipes and processes.1
In 2014, GPlus and Vic Gundotra were then marched to the door and all efforts seemed to be focused on dissolving the many links that had formed between Local and Plus and not focusing on moving forward. Most efforts seemed to go into things like creating a stand alone Local product.
The above five paragraphs sums up 5 years of lost local feature/benefit development. They were 5 years of patching and putzing with a few Local/GMB features coming (but mostly going). There was no sustained focus on developing useful features (other than web wide review monitoring) and more importantly no vision for making Local work better for the local business.
The Very Recent Past of the GMB
But this August and the early part of September have been busy months for Google My Business. During this time the number of product previews with the Top Contributor GMB group were numerous with inklings of more to come. Importantly, we saw a number of developments in the GMB:
Google, has been reporting out a number of these developments in the GMB help area2 and I was curious to see if the trend of product development I was noticing had any merit. When looked at over time it’s impressive.
The Very Recent Past of Changes in Local Search Results in the SERPS
But the pace of development isn’t just fast within the confines of the GMB, Google has clearly been working at integrating more aspects of local into the main search results. We have seen the introduction of Critic Reviews, Top 10 Lists, Reviews from web and enhanced review snippets. In the main search results Google is even testing allowing SMBs to “Write Directly to Search” with their new Posts feature.
For Local business listings to truly “become all they can be” they need the front page. They need the front page for the exposure and retention of users and they need the front page so that business owners can see its benefit and be funneled into a more comprehensive relationship with Google. And all of that needs to be obvious and apparent to the SMB (like KP editing and Posts).
Since the early days of Local those in the industry have wondered why Google didn’t use this incredible front page “bully pulpit” power to bolster Local. We asked it about Places and we asked it about Plus.3 But for many of us, Local within Google was always a day late and a dollar short of meeting expectations.
The Bottom Line
These recent activities and trends imply an incredible (and perhaps increasing) amount of coordination between the search and local groups at Google. It implies an increase in resources allocated to local. Programming is hard, making changes to a big product like Google Local search with numerous system wide dependencies and hooks in and out to all parts of Google takes commitment. Adding new features and capabilities takes planning and coordination.
This amount of effort and human power does not come without it being prioritized within the organization and paid for with real dollars and opportunity costs. This sort of aggressive development support can only be coming from the very core of Google.
The Tea Leaves4
If this new found commitment to Local at Google persists and the development keeps apace, it should make for fun times.
Google has long sent most SMBs the bulk of their traffic. All too often these very same SMBs weren’t aware of it or if they did know it, found Google to frikken’ hard to figure out. But Google, like no other, can have an amazing influence on local business marketing if they can make Local accessible on top of being useful.
And that’s a big if as over the years Google has, despite numerous half hearted attempts, not really grown the SMB dashboard beyond the basics. In that time, they have given up a great deal of SMB mindshare to Facebook,
They have been demonstrating that they can finally walk and chew gum in Local at the same time. They have demonstrated over the past 6 months that they can execute tactically and do development along multiple paths simultaneously. That’s the good news.
Can they take the long view? Google manages to shift folks in and out of departments and local like clock work. Christ, I am a component of their institutional memory for local. They certainly need continuity.
And they need easier to use, more intuitive and more helpful SMB products, they need consistency (oh god do they need consistency), they need a solid vision and they need long term persistence.
Do they have the chops internally to plot a path to a successful SMB future, I think so. If Google has finally taken off the gloves and made the commitment to local maybe we can stop asking when Local will get the love it deserves.
1- The transition of Local Search results from a web indexed result to a database driven result is one of the all time impressive big data feats. Google, managing somewhere on the order of 125 million business listings, switched out the way that information was gathered, stored, updated and displayed, all of the pipelines into and out of the data, the assorted relationships of that data with all of its other products like Mapmaker, Maps & Plus all the while continuing to provide some semblance of normality on the Search results pages and within Maps. It’s akin to replacing the engines and tires and painting the bus while its moving down the road and maintaining the speed limit. With no one falling off the bus…. ok so a few fell off the bus but thats a small price to pay, no?
2- Just the fact that Google is reporting these developments, publicly tracking them and even making an RSS feed available for newly announced features is a sign from on high that at least there IS something happening
3- Why Plus never got the love it needed on the front pages of Google is an interesting question. Its fate may well have been different. In the end search engineers seem to still “rule the roost” and without their support and active engagement most Google products will stay in a small(ish) niche.
4- I love teas leaves. I mean its the future so I CAN’T be wrong or if I am no one notices except David Mihm who, if you bet him a beer, will remember something like this for years!
Since early August with the roll out of Critic Reviews and Top 10 Lists and with the recent rollout of Reviews from the web and a significant review snippet display upgrade, Google has been on a rich snippet tear. Here are some my thoughts, big and small, about these changes.
Do you see these changes as anti-competitive? Do you see them as helping your business? I would love to hear from you.
Rich Snippets and Aggregate Review Counts are significantly more prominent in the search results with upgrades to both the Knowledge Panel and the review snippet display.
Not only has Google increased review rich snippet prominence in the mobile display but has also included pricing information.
This new review snippet display has been changed for other entities as well. You can see in this Recipe snippet that the third column was also used to include even more information. It is interesting to speculate how that might be used for Local. (H/T to Aaron Weiche.)
Google has looked far and wide for additional review content and has included a lot of content from sites Zomato and FourSquare as well as others providing site reviews.
It would appear that sites like FourSquare and Zomato became more visible in brand searches as well.
As noted by Joy Hawkins having your own review system like GetFiveStars seems to offer SERP display benefits particularly for multi location businesses. (I am a principal in GetFiveStars.)
There is, as always, a ranking element in the order that the aggregate data shows in the Knowledge Panel. This, at first glance, seems to mirror the organic order of the review sites with snippets on the brand search. There also seems to be a correlation with total review count. Which also correlates somewhat to organic positioning… ooh my head is spinning.
These guidelines make it totally obvious that critic reviews must be human curated. While no mention was made whether Top 10 lists also need to be so curated one assumes that might be the case. (Although this is not at all clear.)
With the rollout of Critic review displays, it is likely that these sorts of reviews have taken on a more important ranking impact than UGC reviews. Google in articulating the newest guidelines seems to be encouraging the development of this sort of content for businesses other than restaurants.
Yelp has come and gone from the KP display of aggregate reviews while TripAdvisor has not been seen even though both rank highly and frequently on brand searches. Yelp, for those of you new to Local, has had a long standing and contentious relationship vis a vis Google’s use of their review content that precedes their anti-trust testimony.
Google has searched far and wide for review content to include in this upgrade. I would speculate that Yelp and TripAdvisor apparently chose not to participate in the Knowledge Panel display. I would posit that Google, not having as much ability to display these two leader’s aggregate review content, perhaps chose to dilute Yelp’s and TA’s impact by prominently showing all of the other review content around the internet?
Interesting question that we can only speculate about. I am sure that we will more on the topic from Yelp and Google.
Conversations with Joy Hawkins, Priya Chandra and Sergey Alakov surfaced some odd behaviors with the new “Reviews from the web” Knowledge Graph feature. These 3rd party reviews were sometimes appearing and other times not when the Knowledge Panel was displaying.
After some testing, I determined that the specific query and its degree of relatedness to the actual entity seems to dictate whether the 3rd party reviews show in the Knowledge Panel.
For example “Dive Bar Olean” surfaces the 3rd Base Knowledge Panel but no reviews from the web while the search “3rd Base Olean” does surface the reviews. In a similar case a search for “Juliana’s Cafe Coburg Au” shows the Knowledge Panel but no reviews while the more specific search “Juliana’s Cafe Coburg Vic” does show them.
It appears that there is some degree of certainty dictated by the general relevance of an entity. I would postulate that if an entity has better relevance across more variations of its name it would be more likely to get the reviews with less accurate searches.
In other words for businesses that have a very low web presence and very few varieties of their names used in articles and links around the web, the less sure that Google is of the presentation. Thus a solid, on-going SEO campaign is likely to create a situation where these reviews show up more of the time with your Knowledge Panel.
Here are the searches and the resultant Knowledge Panels. On the left are the less precise searches that don’t show the Reviews from the web and on the right are the more precise searches which do show them. :
In addition to the release of Reviews from the web and new review rich snippet guidelines (again), Google has simultaneously updated the display of mobile organic review rich snippets with more space and additional pricing details. H/T to Aaron Weiche, the CMO at GetFivestars.
Yelp reviews, after showing briefly in the new “Reviews from the web” area of the Knowledge Panel, have once again disappeared from site. It would seem that TripAdvisor aggregate reviews are also conspicuously absent.
Google must work on the premise of ask for forgiveness not permission. Unfortunately it does not appear that Jeremy Stoppleman (of delete your account fame) is not in a forgiving mood.
Here is a Knowledge Panel screen capture of Barbara Oliver Jewelry, my pet client in Buffalo, from Thursday showing Yelp reviews:
And the same screen shot after Yelp deleted their Google account yesterday:
I checked around the world via Twitter and Priya Chandra, my favorite Aussie and fellow Top Contributor to Google My Business, noted that as of yesterday evening (EDT) Yelp was still showing. But as of this AM its gone.
In the restaurant world ,at least on my favorite dive bar in Olean, 3rd Base, Yelp was quickly replaced by 4Square and Zomato:
It would appear from casual observation that the order of the reviews showing in the Knowledge Panel mirrors the organic ranking of that review site. And that to be shown the review site, needs to be on the first page of the organic results. It appears that some sites like Zomato and perhaps Foursquare have also achieved some ranking boost as neither was anecdotally visible prior to this update.
I would also note that TripAdvisor is also conspicuously missing from panel despite ranking highly for many brand searches and displaying rich snippets in the search results. It does not appear accidental.
Go figure. But this recent update will keep tin hat theorists, Google world domination theorists AND Jeremy occupied for a while.
For those of you that don’t go back to the “early” days of Google Local, it would seem like it’s deja vu all over again. I wrote this in June 2010:
Yelp’s relationship with Google Maps has been off and on again. Their reviews have disappeared and reappeared on Google Maps over the past 3 years as Google’s and Yelp’s relationship has waxed and waned. But the relationship now seems to be on once again. About 10 days ago Yelp’s reviews again started showing up on Places Pages.
To give you a sense of the kind of speakers and topics we will be dealing with we are interviewing some of the speakers. In this second interview of our speaker series with myself, Mike Ramsey and Joy Hawkins, we cover what’s hot with Google Local and what’s not as well as some interesting tips on dealing with Google issues that might cause a loss of rank. Joy is chock full of Google Local knowledge and you won’t want to miss this video or her session at Local U.
Joy Hawkins of Imprezzio Marketing, one of the leading experts on Google Local, local spam & Google troubleshooting will be heading two sessions at Local U Advanced: Troubleshooting Google My Business Problems, and a deep dive problem solving session on Google Local with myself and Google. If you want to learn the latest in how to maximize your Google Local visibility and fix the many problems that your customers are experiencing with Google, you owe it to yourself and your team to come to LocalU Advanced Nola.
Review rich snippets are a powerful local markup type but they have been open to abuse and misuse. Google with release of their critic review snippet extension has also significantly updated their rules for Local Business‘s use of review rich snippets on their website.
IN typical Google fashion, the new rules while adding additional use cases manage to direcgtly contradict the previous rules particularly in regards to whether you can mark up reviews from third party sites (previously you could but you can no more.
At the GetFiveStars blog, I have detailed the new rule changes and which of the new rules you should be aware of when implementing rich snippet mark up on your site.
Head over there and let me know what you think of the new rules.