November 2020 Local Search Roundup

November 2020 Local Search Roundup

Monday, November 30, 2020
Zoran Dobrijevic

An eventful year may be winding down, but there’s no such thing as a lull in local search. This month, Google pushed ahead with a few updates that have been months in the making—but it wasn’t all plain sailing for the search giant. All is revealed in our November roundup.

Google reviews and replies fail to publish

In mid-November, Google My Business (GMB) reviews and replies were subject to significant delays. In some instances, reviews and replies simply disappeared without trace. Investigations failed to reveal a pattern as to what triggered these issues—but the issue has persisted into late November. Google is aiming to remedy the problem in early December, but, given the nature of the issue, some residual side-effects will likely demand manual intervention from business owners.

Our advice? Even after Google announces a fix, business owners should still monitor their reviews/responses throughout December to make sure nothing is amiss. For instance, even if the glitch is officially resolved on December 10, reviews and responses posted up to December 9 may still need to be re-uploaded. Because reputation management is a key part of any marketing strategy, business owners will need to remain vigilant to ensure their holiday season isn’t hampered by mismanaged reviews.

“Google Guaranteed” badge appears on local pack and maps results

“Google Guaranteed” is a designation meant to increase customer confidence in various service-area businesses such as local plumbers, contractors, and HVAC services. The badge isn’t simply cosmetic: it comes with a few other benefits, most notably the fact that Google will refund any disputed claims from unhappy customers. If a customer is unsatisfied with a business’s work, the Google Guarantee will refund them up to $2,000 USD or CAD depending on the local currency. This is a lifetime coverage for claims, so businesses that regularly pull from this insurance may see their Google Guarantee revoked.

A Google Maps business listing with the "Google Guaranteed" designation

The larger benefit—and one that Google is looking to further monetize—is that Google Guaranteed services allow for Local Service Ads (LSAs). LSAs are an advertising opportunity for service-area businesses where Google will sell leads at a predetermined rate. This is not an organic listing option but paid ad space, and Google is trying to further sweeten the deal with its new $50 “Upgraded Profiles”.

The Google Guaranteed designation is now seeing a further push with the badge appearing in local pack and maps results. Performance data is not yet available, but it’s easy to imagine that most users will prefer businesses that have verification over those that do not. Businesses will need to decide for themselves if they believe the cost of this upgrade is worth it. We eagerly anticipate learning more about the effectiveness of this program in the coming months. For now, we wait.

More GMB listings are hijacked, spiking suspensions

There has been a concerted effort by bad actors to take control of GMB listings and then hold them hostage for the holiday season. Some phishing schemes ask businesses to verify their information through illegitimate links, while others create duplicates of authentic listings then use Google’s duplicate flagging feature as a back door to gain control.

The best way to combat these tactics is to follow established best practice: verify all your GMB listings and monitor duplicates carefully. Duplicates appear as a matter of course, and merging or removing these duplicate listings is already known to boost your business’s rankings. For its part, Google has responded by issuing a growing number of listing suspensions. It seems these are account-wide suspensions, with all an offending account’s business listings suspended whether or not they’re authentic.

To avoid this potentially disastrous suspension issue, businesses need to remain vigilant against these phishing schemes that seem to appear around the holidays. Verify your listings ahead of time and contest any merging of duplicates you did not initiate yourself. You do not want to be paying the ransom to these bad actors to regain access to your listings during the holiday season! (Fortunately, if your business is struggling with merging duplicates or is unable to monitor new duplicates as they inevitably appear, we have a ready-made solution for duplicate listing monitoring and removal.)

Google Travel’s new health and safety attributes

Travel and hospitality have been rocked by the pandemic for obvious reasons. To cope, many hotels have had to convert themselves into stations for civic services and healthcare workers. Google allowed for hotels to post COVID-related information in the past, such as first-responder discounts. Now, the search giant has further enhanced hotel listings on Google Travel because there are still those that need to travel for business or other essential services.

Health and safety attributes on a hotel listing in Google Travel

In Google’s own words: “Many hotels and vacation rentals are taking additional measures to ensure the safety of guests in response to COVID-19. Now when you search for a place to stay on google.com/travel and view a specific property, you may see a tip when additional health and safety precautions, like enhanced cleaning, are being taken.”

Google is attempting to display as much health and safety information as possible within a hotel’s knowledge panel or GMB listing. Not everything can easily be displayed in that limited space, of course, so users are encouraged to click the “About” tab within hotel listings to see the full list of safety measures.

“X years in business” reappears in local packs

In a final small update that will appeal to long-running businesses, Google is testing showing the number of years a business has been in operation directly in local pack results. Google first tested this feature earlier in the year, and its recent reappearance suggests a proper rollout is imminent. If you have not updated your business listing to specify your opening year, now may be a good time to fill in that data point to build a more complete GMB profile. You never know which factor, however small, may encourage a user to click your listing rather than your competitor’s.

Are your local listings driving measurable growth? Whether you need a word of advice, a practical plan, or a fully managed service, we’re here to help. Let’s talk!

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