The holiday shopping season has arrived, and some shiny new updates from Google are already waiting under the tree. Read up on what’s new in local search this month, so you can stay up to date—and help keep your business on the “nice” list.
Google My Business gets a new name
Google is renaming Google My Business (GMB) to Google Business Profile (GBP), as it migrates features away from the Google My Business app and allows business owners to manage their listings via Google Search, Google Maps, and their respective apps. We have seen Google add these management features on desktop over the past few months, and now it is becoming clear why Google added theses redundant options. As listings management becomes increasingly important and an omnichannel experience presents itself among search, maps, and other directories, Google needs to make it easier than ever for business owners to optimize their Google Business Profiles.
There may be initial growing pains with the name change but as Google intends to retire the Google My Business app in its entirety in 2022, the Google Business Profile moniker will make considerably more sense when the eponymous GMB app is relegated to legacy software.
For those who think the change will be difficult to implement, it’s good to remember that GBP was referred to as Google Places prior to Google My Business and Google+ Local before that. The change in branding will feel natural soon enough with the bigger takeaway that Google is focusing on ease of use for users to manage their listings directly in search and on desktop. With Google Posts, responding to reviews, and newer features added into GBP regularly, business owners need the ability to optimize their listings easily and frequently.
Google Maps adds four new features for local shopping
Just in time for the holiday season, Google Maps launched four new features to improve the local shopping experience for customers, which in turn can lead to more sales for businesses.
Google already tracks and displays foot traffic for individual businesses, but now the feature is expanding into entire shopping districts. Customers can see how busy a particular area is before visiting, with data being aggregated from individual businesses in close proximity to each other.
Customers can access Area Busyness on Google Maps when viewing a neighborhood rather than a specific pin or business. The Area Busyness feature will tell users the current foot traffic in that location as well as estimated future traffic. As the holiday season draws larger crowds, this can be very valuable information for customers looking to avoid hectic shopping times.
Google Maps already provides directories for shopping malls and sports arenas, but it’s now expanding the feature globally for both Android and iOS for all airports, malls, arenas, and transit stations. The feature will allow users to locate waiting areas, parking lots, and, most importantly, the businesses located inside of these complexes.
All businesses operating inside larger establishments should make sure they are listed within these directories, as users who are traveling between destinations will undoubtedly look for food, drink, and other amenities on their smartphones. When viewed on these directories, users will be able to see which businesses are open, their star ratings, and what floor they are on via a directory map.
Necessity called for Google to implement a grocery pickup feature into Google Maps earlier this year. Initially only available through a limited number of stores, Google has since expanded this feature to over 2,000 locations and 30 states across the US. Customers can utilize the feature to order groceries from Kroger, Fry’s, Ralphs, and Marianos.
More information about restaurants
Google is pushing customer reviews yet again by scrubbing the content of these reviews to add to a restaurant’s main listings. When customers leave reviews, they can now share details about a restaurant’s price range, amenities, delivery, curbside pickup, and more. Restaurant managers have been able to manually add these items to their listings, but now Google is trying to guarantee the information will be available to users by including reviews as another data source. To make sure this review information is accurate, restaurant owners should make sure they update their listings before their customers do.
Yelp users are familiar with having price ranges available at a glance—and Google is looking to emulate that feature. Google users can rate prices based on $10 increments, with the number of users suggesting each range displayed on the restaurant’s Google listing. Unlike other features such as listed amenities, which are editable by the business owner, prices ranges are left entirely in the hands of users. Owners might be able to use this information to assess how customers feel about their (and their competitors’) prices, but there’s not much they can do about the ranges listed on their profile as they’re based solely on user contributions.
Google releases core algorithm update targeting spam
Google rolled out a new search ranking algorithm update targeting spam links with intent to steal information or install malware. Google launched three spam updates already this year, this latest update marking the fourth. Google states that 99% of its searches are now spam-free and while that may be accurate, the 1% of industries that still see a lot of spam have always struggled to fight back against it.
Industries such as locksmiths, lawyers, and insurance agents often compete against spam links that try to steal and then resell leads. These spam listings often outrank legitimate businesses, and Google is clearly not able to fully automate the process of removing bad actors. If you work in one of these spam-heavy industries, it may be valuable to see how this latest update affected your legitimate listings.
Whenever Google updates its search ranking algorithms, it means that your site may fare better or worse in the search results. Knowing when Google makes these updates gives us something to point to in order to understand if it was something you updated on your website or something Google changed with its ranking algorithm. The best response to these updates is the same thing you should do whether there is an algorithm update or not: follow SEO best practices and maintain an organic ranking that is less prone to algorithm volatility.
Google rolls out call history and read receipts
The messages feature on Google listings is very useful for industries such as home repair, tech support, automotive repair, and any business where a customer may contact the business for routine questions such as a quote on a basic service. Google is expanding the Business Profile messaging platform by offering read receipts for customers on both Search and Maps.
Google is also testing a new “call history” feature for select businesses in the US and Canada. To help you respond to missed calls and stay engaged with your customers, call history keeps your calls in one place. These calls may make it easier for you to connect with customers who found your business through Google. Any calls you get from your Business Profile will start with a short message that lets you know they’re from Google and not part of your business’s usual direct call volume.
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