Local Search News: May 2022

May 2022

There was no shortage of local search updates last month, including at least one development that is sure to exemplify the extraordinary importance of user reviews. Let’s get straight to it.

Google Maps prompts users to answer Q&A and asks Local Guides to update old reviews

GBP managers need to keep up with various aspects of their listings, including Q&A. Why? Because businesses that fail to respond to their Q&A or manage their reviews not only look less credible, but risk having their listings rank lower than rivals with more complete profiles.

Fortunately, businesses can populate their own Q&A content by asking and answering their own questions. But remember that it’s not enough to “set and forget” this type of content: Spam is a serious problem on Google Q&A, and bad actors are able to upvote their spam to the top of a business’s knowledge panel. In a new development, Google is highlighting Q&A content on Google Maps via an “Others are asking” section. As a result, business owners have to not only maintain their own Q&A but actively prevent bad actors from amplifying their spam.

In a related update, Google is asking Local Guides to update their older reviews. Though it is common knowledge that reviews older than three months are less relevant (to users and Google alike), this change will breathe new life into old content. If you responded positively to these older reviews when they were first published, you may well see Local Guides update their older reviews to be more favorable.

Google Business Profile opened up to “virtual kitchens”

“Virtual kitchens”, which offer food delivery but do not have a dine-in options or even a visible storefront, are becoming more popular. As such, Google has clarified its local business profile guidelines, and confirmed that such businesses are now eligible for their own Google Business Profiles (GBPs).

Though they may lack signage, virtual kitchens still need to list their offerings the same way as other service area businesses. Because the exact address often unimportant (unless pick-up is also offered), Google has created new guidelines.

Co-located food brands offering pick-up

  • Food brands that are co-located must each have permanent separate signage. They should display their address only if they offer pick-up to all customers.
  • Delivery-only brands (no pick-up option) out of shared kitchens must hide their address and add service areas to that specific brand to avoid confusing their customers.

Delivery-only food brands

  • Delivery-only brands (i.e. those operating out of virtual kitchens) are permitted if they have distinct branded packaging and a distinct website.
  • Multiple virtual brands operating out of one location are permitted, but are subject to additional verification steps.
  • Delivery-only brands must add their service areas and hide the address on their business profile to avoid confusing their customers.
  • If there is a partnership where a food brand has authorized the virtual kitchen as a verified provider of the food, the virtual kitchen may manage each authorized brand’s business profile once the authorization is confirmed
  • The facility that houses the delivery-only brands (e.g. DoorDash Kitchens) is permitted to have its own separate business profile. Only someone affiliated with the facility can claim and verify this profile.

Competing not only with other virtual kitchens but with conventional restaurants as well, every food delivery service should maximize its presence on Google Maps.

New search features for Google Travel

New features launched this past month on Google Travel—the search giant’s solution for flights, hotels, destination of interest, and more—will help Google further optimize in this space against competitors such as Trip Advisor. These new features include:

Google is also using hotel review content to generate quick summaries and lists of things to do. It takes the form of a “Top things to know” section:

Data for these features is pulled from GBP (as well as other sources), so it’s another reason for hotels, tourist attractions, and all related businesses to fully optimize every aspect of every listing.

“This business doesn’t exist”

Google has added yet another tool to address the rising flood of spam that pushes legitimate listings down the rankings. Very simply, it is a new “This business does not exist” option when reporting businesses for violating Google’s terms of service.

Most spam listings exist only to either steal customer information or steal legitimate leads to sell back to the targeted business. This update will hopefully supercharge efforts to remove listing spam in terms of both speed and volume, allowing genuine businesses to compete for top rankings rather than worrying about fraudulent listings.

Google Duplex calls to confirm hours

Google’s AI, Duplex, has been calling business locations to confirm hours of operation. This, in turn, has led to an affirmation appearing on listings: “Confirmed by phone call X weeks ago”. If for any reason inaccurate hours are confirmed, be warned that this incorrect information will go live immediately—and reverting that data will require manual intervention. Automated calls from Duplex can be toggled off, but only on a per-listing basis; enterprises may find it easier to ensure those answering the calls have accurate information to hand.

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