Google My Business Shakes up Service-Area Businesses: What Has Changed and What to Do

https://www.flickr.com/photos/rothwerx/1404435911/in/photolist-3976Sg-39774k

Using Google My Business long has been a murky matter for owners of service-area businesses.  Most people have wondered what kinds of addresses are eligible, how many GMB pages they can have, whether to “hide” their addresses from showing publicly, and how big of a “service area” to specify (or whether to specify one at all).

Google just made some changes that may make things simpler for service-area businesses long-term, but that make things even more confusing for now.  The changes appear to have happened today. (Thanks to Tim Colling for the intel in his forum thread.)

What’s changed?

1. The entire “address” field now appears to be optional.

If you’re creating a page for the first time, it’s not clear to me whether still you need to specify an address to get the verification postcard sent to you.  Even if you need to specify an address initially, you can wipe the address after you’re verified.

2. Radius-targeting is gone. No longer can you target everything within a specific distance from your place of business.

Now you have to specify cities, or states/provinces, or ZIP/postal codes, etc.

Google’s updated rules read: “You can no longer set your service area as a distance around your business. If you previously entered a distance around your business, you won’t be able to edit it. Instead, you’ll need to specify your service area by region, city, or ZIP code.”

3. Now you update the “Address” and “Service Area” settings separately, in two separate fields, rather than mess with your service-area settings in the “Address” field.

4. Certain businesses in service industries no longer have their addresses showing in the local 3-pack, even if those businesses never chose to “hide” their address from showing publicly. It’s not clear to me whether that’s because Google doesn’t want businesses in certain industries to have their addresses show up in the 3-pack, or because (more likely) those business owners simply haven’t gone into Google My Business today to mess with their address and service-area settings.

My (early) take and suggestions

It’s not yet clear (to me) why Google has made those changes.  Nor is it clear whether they’re only the first in a series of changes.  Often there is another shoe to drop.

My tinfoil-hat theory is Google wants to make it easier for more businesses of a certain type to have a Google My Business page that doesn’t break a rule or three, so that more of them can use Local Services Ads and get into a PPC bidding war with each other.  Guess we’ll see.

For now, I don’t see a downside to your specifying an address AND a service area, assuming you’re not the owner of a home-based business and are concerned about revealing your address.  If you do run a home-based business and have privacy concerns, there doesn’t appear to be a drawback to scrubbing your address out of the “Address” field of your Google My Business page.

When Google makes a big change like this, business owners are slow to adapt (and many never do) and Google knows that.  This is a good time to experiment, while your competitors don’t even know there was a change.

Any early observations?

Any bugs or problems you’ve run into?

Leave a comment!

Google+ Autopsy for People Who Do Local SEO: What to Know and What to Do

https://www.flickr.com/photos/robandstephanielevy/3092240036/

Google constantly tweaks the local search results, but every now and then makes a change that at least seems big.  I’m here to tell you the official shuttering of Google+ is not consequential for local SEO, and that your strategy shouldn’t change one whisker.

Still, the end of Google+ (hastened by the breach and cover-up) is a “teachable moment” for anyone whose business relies on Google Maps visibility and similar types of local visibility.  Here are a few quick observations and suggestions, in no particular order:

What to know

1. Every time you see what appears to be a big change in the local search results – of the kind seen in 2012 and 2015-2016 – don’t assume it will last. The local search results don’t change that much over the years. Google constantly adds and removes features, and messes with the layout, but the Google Maps / 3-pack results are remarkably similar to what they were in yesteryears.

2. Everything’s an experiment to Google. Not much is a permanent fixture, and nothing is sacred. When trying out any of Google’s new doo-dads, you need to ask how you can make it a temporary laboratory or Petri dish for your business.  The goal is to try out ideas that – if promising – you can develop without using anything owned by Google.

3. Those duplicate “Google+ for Business” pages are not a problem, have not been a problem for several years (if at all), and soon won’t exist at all. Don’t worry about ‘em.

4. Now would you agree that Google+ probably doesn’t affect your visibility on the local map (and likely never did)?

What to do (and what not to do)

1. Put your best content (or all of it) on your site, before and maybe instead of throwing it on the social platform du jour. Today it’s Google+. Tomorrow it may be Facebook.  If it’s not on a site you own, it’s not content you own.  That may sound like a royal pain, but as a longtime content-hoarder who doesn’t even do guest posts, I can tell you it’s best for all glory and links due you to benefit your site, rather than someone else’s.

2. Speaking of content-hoarding, don’t assume Google My Business posts will be around forever. Use them as a way to call attention to what’s on your site, but not in lieu of putting stuff on your site. Google My Business posts have promise now, especially if you use them now, but GMB posts are a laser pointer.  We’re the cats.  Google is the human.

3. Don’t ask customers for a “Google Plus” review. That’s been a vestigial term since early 2016. Just call them “Google reviews” or “Google Maps reviews” and people will know what you mean, and probably write you one.

4. Scour your site for “write a review” links and other links to your Google Plus page, and update those links. For the past 2 1/2 years there’s been no way to write a review from a Plus page. Soon those links simply will be broken. What do I suggest changing those Google+ links to? A Google-review link of the kind you can easily create here.

5. Perhaps it’s time to remove those G+ “share” buttons on your site.

Questions, observations, or plans?

Leave a comment!

P.S.  If you’ve been part of the Local Search G+ Community that Max Minzer and I have run for the last 5 years, please check out this post and let us know the direction you’d like us to take next.

Suggested Local Search Terms Ooze onto Google’s Default Homepage

Local-business results were plenty visible before.  We’ve long seen them in the Maps 3-pack, in the Maps tab, in the Maps app, and in the local organic search results.

You or I might say, “The local results are visible enough” or, “OK, we know where to find ‘em.”  Google, on the other hand, might say, “Where else can we push local search results?”

On the holiest of holy ground: the homepage of Google:

3 suggested searches for specific songs, plus “piano teachers near me.”  Loosely related, of course, but which of those items least belongs under that heading of “Explore musical instruments and sheet music”?

The results may be Chrome-specific and personalized.  For all I know, maybe they’re music-specific.  I had been listening to some Irish pub songs on YouTube in the same browsing session, which may have turned Google onto the musical theme.  If I watch a cat video, then will I get a nudge toward “veterinarian near me” or “cat psychologist nearby”?

The kicker is that when I clicked the link, the local results I saw weren’t great.

Two businesses with keyword-stuffed Google My Business names, and absent was the very-nearby music school where my wife has taken violin lessons (which you’d assume Big Brother Google knows we like).

Anyway, I don’t know yet whether this is just a weird little test.  I suspect not, given how over the years the the organic results have become localized, and the ads have seeped into the Maps results, and the Maps results have shown for more terms that used to show only organic results.  I suspect this is the next phase of Google’s mixing all the chocolate with all the peanut butter.

But who knows.  I just caught a little glimpse of something that may or may not be something.

Have you seen any suggested local search terms on Google’s homepage / your default Chrome page?

Any other observations?

Leave a comment!

Google My Business Description Gets the Catbird Seat

Google appears to have moved the new-ish “description” field to the top of the right-hand sidebar (AKA the knowledge panel).

For the few weeks since Google reintroduced Google My Business descriptions, the description had showed up near the bottom of the sidebar.  Now it’s above even the most-basic business info, like the address and phone number.

Clearly Google wants people to see the thing.

Whether it’s a permanent change or just another test remains to be seen.  It’s also unclear how this might tie into Google’s ongoing push to monetize the local search results.

Still, you should make hay while the sun shines, and write the catchiest, hardest-to-resist description you can in the 250 characters you’re given.  (Google truncates the description after 250 characters.)

Where do you see the “description” field, in relation to the other info in the sidebar?

Are you seeing it on all devices

What do you think Google’s up to?

Leave a comment!

Google My Business Now Lets You Specify a List of Services

This is the first I’ve seen of the “Services” area in Google My Business.

(Update 4/6/18: A few people saw this first a few days ago (h/t Nyagoslav Zhekov), but the rollout seems to have been tiny until now.)

The input is pretty structured, as you can see.

Only the “name” field appears to be required.  The “Price” and “Description” are optional, from what I’ve seen so far.

It may be another of Google’s slow rollouts or buggy rollouts, because the info I slopped down (pictured above) hasn’t showed up yet when I search for “Local Visibility System.”  It’s possible that, like structured-snippet extensions in AdWords, your “services” only show up for certain search terms.

Anyway, I’ll continue to experiment in my dashboard and in certain clients’.  By the way, I’m seeing “Services” in non-US clients’ dashboards, so the rollout doesn’t appear limited to the States.

If the “Services” feature sticks around it’ll fill a need.  Google’s list of “Categories” long has fallen short of accurately describing many businesses.  Because of that, because of Google’s murky guidelines on category-selection, and because of Google’s poor policing of Maps, many business owners pick too many categories or shoehorn keywords into the “business name” field.  Maybe the “Services” field will make those sorts of things less tempting.

Are you seeing “Services” in your (or a client’s) Google My Business dashboard?  Are your additions showing up publicly yet?

Leave a comment!

Photos Now Allowed in Google Maps Spam-Reporting Feature

Pull up a Google My Business page that shouldn’t be on the map, click the “Suggest an edit” link, and you’ll see a new feature: the ability to upload a photo as evidence to back up your request.

You don’t have to include a photo, but it should help tilt the scales in your favor.  It’s a new feature, so I don’t yet know the effectiveness of anti-spam reports with photos compared to those without photos.

What I do know is that Google’s got a pitiful track record on following up on valid anti-spam edits, so the photos can’t make things worse.  Google never has done enough to prevent and remove mapspam, but since retiring MapMaker in March of 2017 Google’s really let the rash spread and ooze, particularly in the service-area industries.

Edits with photos aren’t anonymous.  Because “Your photos will be publicly available under your name,” an edit with a photo will include a trail of breadcrumbs back to the good-faith Maps user or to the spammer.  This new feature is like a “MapMaker Lite,” in that MapMaker also showed who edited what.  That’s both good and bad, for reasons I think are obvious.  I guess you don’t include a photo if you don’t want a spammy competitor (for instance) to know who you are.

Have you tried out this new feature in Google Maps spam-reporting yet?  If so, how’s it worked for you?

Are you seeing any similar changes in “Suggest an edit”?

Do you think this is a good move on Google’s part?

Leave a comment!

12 Facts to Know about Google My Business Appointment URLs

https://www.flickr.com/photos/762_photo/14036204887/

Google wants people to make an appointment.  Businesses now can add (in the Google My Business dashboard) a link to a “book an appointment” page or similar page.  The link will show up wherever your Google My Business page shows up in the local search results.

The “appointment URL” feature has promise.  Here are a few things you may want to know before you dig in and use it for your business (as I suggest you do):

1. An “appointment” URL probably won’t show up automatically for you, unless you use online scheduling software. Even then, you may not automatically get the link, in which case you’ll probably need to add it manually (if you want it).

2. Appointment URLs are not just for restaurants and medical practices. You can also add one if you’ve got a service business, a law practice, or other type of business.

3. Pretty much every business can add an appointment URL right now. This doesn’t appear to be one of Google’s molasses-speed rollouts of a new feature.  Of the dozens of Google My Business dashboards I’ve looked at, the only ones that can’t yet add an “appointment” URL are for a couple of private schools, an auction house, and a painting company.  I’m sure I’ll see the option available to those guys soon enough.)

4. “Practitioners” can add appointment URLs, too.

5. Some businesses can add a “menu” URL, too. Whether you can add only an appointment URL or an appointment URL and a “menu” URL depends on what kind of business yours is.  But even then, it doesn’t have to be a restaurant.  (I see the “menu URL” option for a chiropractor client of mine.)  Other businesses can get a “Products and Services” URL, but I can’t yet tell how.

6. Appointment URLs don’t seem to be available to businesses outside of the US yet, although restaurants outside the US do get the other URLs.

7. Your URL will go live instantly, or within about 5 minutes.

8. Google will accept invalid URLs. You won’t get an error in your Google My Business dashboard.  You’ll just confuse and annoy customers.  So be sure to click on your link to make sure it works.

9. You can add a URL to your “Contact Us” page, or to whatever page you like. (Mine points to my contact page.)

10. The full URL won’t show up. Google won’t show the subpage (e.g. “yoursite.com/appointment”) or subdomain (e.g. “appointments.yoursite.com”) in the URL.  They’ll just show “yoursite.com.”  It’s a display URL.

11. It’s not publicly editable from Google’s knowledge panel (yet?).  So at least your competitors can’t stick you with a bogus URL (yet?).

12. The rules are ambiguous, at least for now. Experiment in the meantime.  Consider creating a “contact” page on your site that’s only accessible through the “appointment” link; see how much traffic it gets.  Track visitors’ clicking behavior on that page by hooking it up to CrazyEgg or HotJar; see where they go next.  Maybe link to a site where you’ve got a fistful of great reviews (hey, Google didn’t say anything about linking to your site).

I’m guessing Google has big plans for these new links.  Like Yelp and the other local-search players that matter, Google wants to be involved in the transaction as early as possible – as we’ve seen with Google Home Services ads (AKA the “paid Maps” results).  Speaking of which, I wonder when those links will appear in Google Home Services ads.

With Google everything’s an experiment, but the “appointment” URL is one lab chimp probably won’t let die any time soon.

Update: If you can’t add an appointment URL, try this workaround.

Can you specify other types of URLs (like “Products and Services”)?

Where do you think Google is headed with this – and why now?

Have you tried it and noticed any clear benefits?

Leave a comment!

BBB Dips a Toe in Answer-Box SEO, Highlighting Accredited Businesses

Love it or hate it, the Better Business Bureau has long been an SEO powerhouse.  Though not splattered all over the local search results the way Yelp has been, the BBB often ranks well – both for broad search terms and when you search for a specific company by name.  It’s also become a prominent review site.

Now the BBB may piggyback off of Google’s increasing tendency to show “answer boxes”:

I find it interesting that that category page on the BBB doesn’t even rank #1.  It’s #4.  (Sometimes that’s the case with these answer-box results.)

No particularly fancy footwork in the source code, either.

The answer box + BBB lovechild doesn’t rank for many search terms yet (that I’ve seen), but I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t start popping up for more. The BBB recently redesigned its business pages, no doubt with local visibility in mind. Perhaps they also made tweaks to their category pages, too, which is what’s returning an answer box in Google in the above example.

As I’ve written before, there are several good reasons to consider holding your nose and getting accredited by the BBB.  This is another one.  Classic barnacle SEO.

For more on Google’s answer boxes, see the excellent post by Dr. Pete at Moz.

Are you seeing the BBB show up in Google with answer boxes?  How about answer boxes for other local directories?

Leave a comment!

Distance to Business Now Showing in Google’s Local Knowledge Panel

Google a business by name and you’ll see something new in the knowledge panel on the right: your distance to the business, from the number of miles, down to the number of feet if you’re real close.

I didn’t see this even earlier today.  The above screenshot is from desktop, but clearly it’s another “mobile-first” update.  It shows in the Google Maps app – and may have been showing there for some time – but does not show in the Google app.

Google has loaded up the knowledge panel continuously, with “critic reviews,” the return of “Reviews from the web,” and “Send directions to phone” having popped up just in 2016.  Google had been adding features to it before then, too, like “peak hours.”

Who knows where Google is headed with this?  I wouldn’t be surprised if “distance to business” went away for a while, and then got reincarnated as an AdWords extenstion.

This addition is many things, but if nothing else, it goes to show how much Google knows about you and your location.  Kinda unnerving.

What do you make of the “distance to business” addition?

Yelp Now Showing Review Summaries on Business Pages

If your business has more than about 10 Yelp reviews, Yelp now will try to summarize them in 2-3 sentence-long blurbs at the top of your page.

This appears to be new.  At least for Yelp.  Google’s been showing the same kinds of summaries for over 2 1/2 years.

Unlike with Google’s review-sentiment summaries, Yelp lets you see at least some of how the sausage is made.  If a specific keyword appears often enough in the (unfiltered) reviews, it will probably end up in a sentiment snippet.

Click on one of the blue hyperlinked keywords and you’ll see where in the reviews Yelp grabbed that word.  Similarly if you click on one of the gray “# reviews” links; Yelp will show you which specific reviews it bred together to beget the review-sentiment  lovechild.

Keywords in reviews have always seemed (in my experience) to help your local SEO in indirect ways.  They affect your reputation – or at least the “first impression” – in obvious ways.  Add another way.

I’m guessing Yelp rolled out these summaries as a way to make large bodies of reviews easier to digest for users of the mobile app.  In theory it may also be of minor use when you’re looking at a business with hundreds of reviews, though in a case like that I doubt Yelp’s summaries will satisfy most people.

I’m sure there’s also a monetization scheme stuck to the bottom of the other shoe.

When did you start noticing Yelp’s review summaries?

Why do you think they’re doing it?

Good thing or bad thing

Leave a comment!