12 Local Search Developments You Need to Know About from Q2 2023

Greetings, local business owners and marketers! I know I’m not alone in bidding a fond farewell to Local U’s fantastic Last Week in Local Series. It just got a bit harder to keep up with local SEO news due to this departure, but hang in there. This quarterly installment here at Moz will keep you up-to-date with the most important local search developments of the past three months. Let’s dive right into this summery swimming pool of changes and opportunities!

1. A first peek at local search in Google’s SGE

I was graciously invited to access Google Search Labs, and you can read my live-tweeted thread on my first look at Google’s test of their new Search Generative Experience. My first takeaways include:

A thumbs up on local searches, including a 5-pack of results but a thumbs down that the SGE pack does not click to anything else. No Local Finder for more results, meaning if your first five options are unhelpful, not to your liking, or even spam, you have to ask another question to see more options.

Some UX problems, like the map disappearing as soon as you click on any of the SGE pack results, meaning you can’t look at it again to see what the next-closest option might be, as well as formatting errors of the Google Business Profile overlapping the results as you toggle about within the experience, like this:

The interesting realization that once you are having a conversation, SGE remembers what you are talking about. In other words, if you search for “best tacos in san francisco” and then you follow up with something like “who has organic tacos?”, the bot still “knows” you are talking about San Francisco, even though you didn’t repeat the city name in your query. This is a quality of these chatty experiences that feels really novel to me.

An overall impression of this being even more of a closed loop/walled garden than the interfaces to which we’ve long been accustomed in local. Once inside this feature, you just stay inside it, which may be good for Google, but may not actually be best for users. Time will tell.

And as time is telling and you are waiting in line to get into SGE for your own look, I recommend reading:

Google SGE: Meet the New Pack by Greg Sterling

How Google’s New AI Impacts Local Search by Joy Hawkins

Cool heads in the industry are refusing to give into the whole “SEO is dead thing” about AI, and I think local SEOs will be able to work with the SGE packs, should they roll out. My word to the wise local business owners out there: remember that not being robots may be your greatest asset. Even if automation brings customers to you via search/AI chat/SGE, polls consistently show that consumers shop locally for personalized service, and you can’t bot that.

2) Finalmente! A dedicated Google form for recovering missing reviews

Have you noticed an uptick in your Google Business Profile reviews disappearing since 2022? You’re not alone; experienced local SEOs like Mike Blumenthal have been reporting a high instance of legitimate review loss ever since Google switched to an AI-based review filter last year. The good news is, you can now follow along with Mike’s excellent tutorial for reporting missing reviews via a welcome new process.

Your workflow will start here and then continue through a series of steps that will hopefully result in your reviews being restored (no guarantees, of course!) As Mike points out, this development is an improvement, but the overall process is still rather onerous for business owners. I think AI-induced headaches should come with a bottle of AI-spirin for all users, especially when they involve reviews, due to the massive impact of this content on reputation, rankings and revenue.

3) Speaking of reviews, don’t acquire them via donations

It’s always helpful when Google clarifies a grey area of their guidelines, and thanks to Joy Hawkins’ personal outreach, we now know that your local business should not ask for a review after giving a donation to a third party. In other words, if your grocery store donates $100 to the local no-kill animal shelter, Google says you must not ask them to “pay you back” with a review.

A much better idea is to view these philanthropic endeavors as a source of linked unstructured citations, of the kind picture above. It’s good business to be listed as a sponsor of local teams, events, and organizations, and it fits in very nicely with the “Authoritativeness” factor of Google’s E-E-A-T concept, with trusted local sites linking to and citing your company.

4) Video: the long and short of it

Kudos to Andy Simpson for demoing this budget hack for using animation effects to turn local business photos into short videos. Videos are very hot in local right now, but the “short” part has been a cause of some recent puzzlement and parlaying.

Google’s guidelines for adding video to your GBPs state that your films should be 30 seconds long. However, experimentation by Darren Shaw indicates that it may actually be file size, not video length, which affects inclusion of your videos on your listings:

Note that, technically, videos over 30 seconds in length don’t meet the guidelines, but the worst thing that can happen to your business if you try for a longer length is that it won’t be approved. Could be worth a try, but safest best would be to film a 30-second version of your content, as well, just to be sure it has sticking power. Google definitely has its eye on video right now, and has launched YouTube shorts, which many see as a response to the TikTok phenomenon. Local businesses in competitive markets can easily film and upload to their GBPs dozens of aspects of their business premises, staff, inventory, community involvement and more!

5) Yes, that text could be from Google

Thanks to Molly Youngblood, we have the above screenshot of Google texting a business owner to verify some of their information, and Barry Schwartz lent a hand by confirming that text-based fact-checking communications are now, indeed, coming from Google. But please be careful with this. As Barry warns:

Google will never ask you to sign up for a service, make a payment, or provide sensitive personal information via calls or texts. Google will only text from phone numbers listed on this help page. Also if you want, you can opt-out by responding STOP to those messages (more on that here).”

6) Speaking of communications, how about chatting with a live agent?

Joy Hawkins tweeted this capture of a Google Business Profile featuring a CTA to chat with a live agent and Joel Headley stepped up to explain that this catchy feature stems from Google BusinessMessages. Then, Aaron Weiche mentioned that if you’re using a third-party service like Leadferno to manage messaging, get in touch with them to coordinate making this appear on your listing. Any way you can be more accessible to your customers is worth investigating!

7) A mobile grid test packed with local results

This screenshot from a gentleman named Brandon (click to watch video capture) formed the basis of a blog post from Barry Schwartz in which he marveled at just how much local information is packed into this mobile grid display test. As we know, Google is always testing things and it’s honestly hard to know if you’ve seen a particular experiment before or if it’s truly new. This instance is certainly dense with local business results, to the point that I wonder how effectively users can navigate it. And, of course, I am really wondering where all this is headed if SGE rolls out to everyone’s phones.

8) Google Maps services button gets the spotlight

Allie Margeson has sharp eyes to have caught this slight but significant change in the ordering of CTA buttons on some maps listings, with the “services” button appearing to the left of the “call” button. When clicked on, that button can take your customers to a wealth of information about your business, if you’ve taken the time to provide it. Allie recommends:

Adding all your services with descriptions to your Google Business Profile

Adding any relevant predefined services Google suggests (remember, Joy Hawkins found these can impact rankings)

Adding all relevant categories to your listing so that you are offered as many predefined services as possible

Check back often to see if new services become available to you, or if any of your current ones have become outdated

Good advice!

9) A quick competitive analysis tip

There are many ways to suss out the businesses Google regards as your local competitors, including via the lengthy and thorough process of a formal audit, but for some very quick ideas, I think Mordy Oberstein’s tip is excellent.

If your Google Business Profile includes an “Often Searched Together” section, it’s inside information about what Google knows customers in your area are actually doing with search. If you click on this element, you will be taken to the local finder, with a “People also search for” heading (and you can see some debate in the Twitter thread over whether this is a re-branded People Also Asked segment):

Chances are, you should take a look at the businesses that come up in the format and study their marketing, SEO, and basic business operations, because you know your own customers are seeing them, too.

10) A bothersome Google Updates bug

In the real world, bugs are wonderful and support life on Earth in numerous ways and are never larger than your town, but in the Google world, a bug is no fun at all. Mike Blumenthal reported a bug in mid-May that caused listing owners to be unable to edit or remove their Google Updates (formerly known as Google Posts). This may have been confined to desktop devices because some respondents to his thread found a workaround in using their mobile phones to manage their updates. If you had trouble with a typo in a post that you couldn’t correct last month, try again. The bug appears to have been resolved.

And here’s hoping that Google again re-brands this useful feature with a little more thoughtfulness, because “updating” your “updates” is just a silly thing to have to say or contemplate. I don’t understand what the problem was with “posts”.

11) A confirmation that hiding your GBP address results in negative consequences

Anyone who has been reading my Moz column for any part of the past 12 years knows that I am a firm advocate of following the Guidelines for representing your business on Google when listing yourself in Google’s local product. Even when the guidelines don’t make good horse sense, I still advise sticking to them. But there is one instance of this in which Google makes it so very hard to go along with their thinking: the edict that home-based businesses should hide their addresses. Google says this of home-based service area business:

Watch this video and read this post to see how Joy Hawkins and her team at SterlingSky tested hiding the address for home-based businesses and confirmed that:

This resulted in a massive drop in local rankings

Which, of course, led to a significant drop in phone calls to the business

And it even made a local pack completely disappear until Joy’s agency added the address back in!

It’s long been speculated that compliance with Google’s ruling on this negatively impacts visibility, and this is doubtless why so many business owners list their addresses and hope not to be caught at it.

There is no good reason I can think of for Google to put home-based businesses at a disadvantage like this. I’d like to ask:

Why should the plumber, the landscaper, the mobile auto repair specialist, the contractor, the mobile notary public, the therapist, the dog walker, and all the other small business professionals who are counted upon by whole communities be punished with lower rankings for adhering to Google’s guidelines?

Why do these helpful businesses deserve less visibility and fewer phone calls if they operate from home instead of an office? This is a senseless bias on Google’s part.

Where is the awareness from Google that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has caused a mass transition to working from home for safety’s sake? Why have the guidelines not been updated to reflect this world-changing reality that is very much still affecting both business owners and customers? This lack of currentness makes the guidelines feel as neglected as a GBP with a Christmas tree as its profile pic in July. Ignoring the real-world impacts of the pandemic doesn’t make them go away.

How is it a better user experience for no local pack to show for queries if, as in Joy’s test, an address is hidden? How are towns better-resourced and better served by not being shown a list of local service providers?

And, finally, what is the logic behind making any business hide its address in the first place? All of us have needed to hire an emergency plumber, locksmith, or towing service at some point, and we definitely want to see the addresses of the providers so that a) we can estimate how quickly the pros can get to us and b) we won’t be charged extra for them having to come a long way to our house or remote location. When we need help, we don’t care if the helper is coming from their living room or their office, but we do want to know exactly where they’re located so that we can make the most informed decision.

I’d urge Google to reconsider this section of their policy. It doesn’t match today’s reality of so many helpful folks working from home, and it just doesn’t feel right that compliance with the guidelines results in such negative consequences for both providers and customers. 

12) A local session with an adept

While this isn’t an update, per se, I want to invite you to spend eight minutes today watching Darren Shaw audit a Google Business Profile and website. If you’re just getting started with local search marketing, this short video will teach you a ton, and even if you’re more experienced, it’s a good thing to watch a recognized pro at work. As I mentioned to Darren:

And thank you, Darren, and all of the local SEOs featured in today’s column, for the daily work you put in, sharing your findings with the community. Q2 has had some of the usual glitches and tests, but it also bears signs of significant potential change ahead. Let’s all keep learning together!

We hope you’re as excited as we are for August 7th and 8th to hurry up and get here. And again, if you haven’t grabbed your ticket yet and need help making a case we have a handy template to convince your boss!

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