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Local SEO: What's New with Google My Business?

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Suspended Listings in Google My Business

Carrie: Hi everybody, welcome to What's New with Google My Business. My name is Carrie Hill. I'm joined by Mike Blumenthal from GatherUp, and Joy Hawkins from Sterling Sky out of Canada. 

And I think we're just going to jump right into it and talk about what's new with Google My Business. We'll absolutely have time for Q&A at the end. I have some pre-loaded questions I'd love to handle if we have time. Joy, take it away.

Joy: Perfect. I'm going to go through some of the recent things that we've been seeing in the last few months, questions that have come upon various forums pertaining to Google My Business. 

The first thing I'm going to go over is the issue with suspensions. If you guys are not really aware of what I'm referring to here, I'm going to backtrack and explain what it is that prompted all of the Google My Business suspensions that we're seeing right now.

We have a thing that happens quite frequently, unfortunately, with various businesses that we work with where we'll see this kind of drop-off in ranking. And when we go to look to see what is the cause of it, we see stuff like this. 

When you do a search here for homeowner's insurance in this area, you'll see that there are listings that come up in the local results that are pushing down legitimate businesses. 

These two listings that are featured here, called Homeowner's Insurance Promo, Homeowner's Insurance Orem; these are not real businesses. Often the companies that create these are selling leads and phone calls to actual business. This is a very common issue that we see a lot. 

But back in the spring of this year, around April-March time, it was insane to a record that I've never seen before. I wrote an article on how much it has impacted attorneys. 

You can see here every single listing that I've highlighted is fake. 18 out of 20 listings on the first page results here were actually fake listings. They weren't real attorneys. They were lead general listings that were selling leads to attorneys.

There was an article that was published in June by the Wall Street Journal, talked a lot about this problem and right around the same time that this published, we saw an insane amount of suspension issues on forums everywhere. It happened around June 18th, we started seeing complaints on the Google My Business forum, on the forum that I own called the Local Search forum.

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I believe these two things are connected. The amount of spam that we saw in the spring and then the way that the suspensions that hit after. This caused another kind of problem which Google actually posted about the end of June where they were talking about their support team being backlogged. This is due to the number of suspensions and reinstatements that are coming in as a result.

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When all these listings got suspended, unfortunately, there were a lot of legitimate businesses that also got suspended. And now those businesses are filing to get reinstated. But because there are so many of them, currently the wait time to hear back is about three weeks. 

The good news in all this is that it did sort of solve the problem. This is a before and after shot. When I was talking about those listings that were appearing that we were seeing such a high volume of in March, the top three listings that appeared for car accident attorney were all fake; now they're all real businesses. 

There was just this side-effect that unfortunately also impacted legitimate businesses as well. So if you're in that boat and you are currently facing a suspension, you're most definitely not alone.

Missing GMB Reviews & GMB Products (Beta) 

Another thing that came up recently is this issue with missing reviews on Google. We saw this happen to various number of clients of ours. It came up a lot in the forum threads. 

We actually had it happen to one of our own reviews here at Sterling Sky. So just to clarify these were real customers, nothing wrong with the way that we're soliciting reviews or anything. But this is, unfortunately, another thing that often happens. As Google is trying to fix these problems, there are real things that get nixed in the way. 

We see reports like this where people are saying, they're losing three reviews every day. We're seeing other people that are saying they lost 30 or 40. And when we asked Google about this, this is unfortunately intentional. This was intentional and again, Google trying to fight spam. There is always going to be this effect where unfortunately you get legitimate reviews or listings that get caught up in it. But it's not a bug.

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The third thing is the products beta. More on a positive note, the products beta has launched I believe in June. This is an example of a florist’s, and you'll see all of the products listed there in the knowledge panel. Really cool feature. It actually gets placed higher in the knowledge panel on desktop than posts do. 

Here's another example. This is a real estate agent. Really creative use of it. They did some floor plans. We've done similar things with attorneys. Attorneys don't have products, they have services. But we're still utilizing the product section due to how visible it is and you can do all kinds of neat and creative things with it.

I had someone ask me what's the difference between the products versus Google product posts because it's a bit confusing. I'll clarify. 

Google product posts do not function the same way. For example, they only show up for seven days when you post them on desktop in the post section. They do live forever on mobile, but they get placed above the products, so it's kind of a little confusing. 

You'll see here these ones are product posts, these ones are the Google products beta. On mobile, both of them are not overly visible. The big thing for the Google products beta is on desktop. On desktop, they are super visible as I highlighted in the previous thing.

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And then also the products beta are not time-sensitive in the sense that they are not like posts where they're being featured in the Post section for seven days. They are sticky. 

Q&A Feature Updates & Local Scroll Packs

Next, I'll cover just a quick update to the Questions and Answers feature on Google My Business. When you go on to a listing and you post a question, Google tries to answer it for you before you even post.

First, when this rolled out they were pulling information from review content. Now it's actually pulling in content from Google posts, and it's also pulling in content from Google My Business products beta.

This is one way I think that there is value to spending time on posts. Here's an example where it's pulling in products, so if I'm like, “hey, do you have tulips?” They're pulling in a post of the product that the florist uploaded for tulips, which is kind of cool.

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The fifth thing which I'm sure that Mike will have some comments on after this is the local scroll pack, I guess that's what we've called it. You'll see, instead of getting a traditional three-pack, it actually shows just one result, half-of-a-second result until you start scrolling with your thumb. And then there are all these options to expand. 

This is not something that has rolled out yet. It is something that is just currently in testing mode, I'd say probably one percent or less of people can even trigger it at the moment. I secretly am hoping that it doesn't roll out because I don't like it. 

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Revisiting the Ranking Effect of Local Citations

The sixth thing I'm going to cover is just citations. This is not a new thing but there have been a lot of discussions recently so I wanted to include it around citations.

Darren Shaw did a really cool presentation at MozCon, one of my favorite ones of the entire conference. What he did was he took this business, that didn't have anything, didn't have a website, didn't have citations, didn't have any type of SEO efforts, and he took the business and basically did all these different things that normally an SEO company would do, one by one, so that he could measure the impact. 

And I thought it was really interesting coming from Darren, who runs a company that is based on citations. When you think about it, if he had something to make him want to say a certain thing, it would be that citations do impact rankings, right? But he talked about how, like, if the citations, when he got to the point where he felt citations had an impact on ranking, it was pretty much very minimal, from what he was showing here in the graphs in his presentation

Andrew Shotland weighs in. He has a lot of information on the subject coming from a big brand perspective so it's a really great article. I'll quote a few of the tidbits here from the people that were on this panel. 

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Andrew was kind of an advocate of it for citations. He was talking about, he managed a lot of locations, you get a lot of these Google updates where Google's changing the phone number or category and this could be a giant pain for big brands. It is a bit of an argument for why you still might want to consider citations.

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My take on it was, like I mentioned, we really don't focus much on citations at my agency. We really want to do things that are going to drive up phone calls and conversions. And we really only deal with citations if the clients moved. And even in that case, we find that it doesn't make a big difference.

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I guess now we'll jump into Q and A and I'll hand this back over to Carrie. 

Checking for Suspended GMB Listings and Getting Deleted Reviews Back

Carrie: Great, thanks, Joy. Ed McMasters asks, "How do you check and see or know that you have a suspension or a client is suspended?"

Joy: It usually says it's suspended when you log into the Google My Business dashboard, but I don't believe they send you an email alert or anything. One of two things will happen depending on what type of suspension it is. Either the listing will be unlisted; it won't show up anywhere, it doesn't exist on maps at all. Or it'll just become unverified, so it still exists but you don't have the ability to access it. 

Inside Google my Business, it should give you the suspended message, though, on the listing and I think that happens 99 percent of the time. 

Carrie: The next question we have is..."Is there any method by which you can appeal to get removed legitimate reviews back?"

Joy: Not that I've seen. I know every time that we have tried to on the forum, we get the default response of No. Because I think when they're algorithmically removed I think it's harder for them to get them back. I don't know what happens behind the scenes, but our answer has always been no. 

Mike: I mean, the suggestion is to keep getting reviews and to recognize that because they use a big data AI machine-learning approach that it's only accurate to a certain percentage. It could be 70 or 80 percent that this is going to happen, and has always happened and will continue to happen. 

It's just the nature of the beast. Very aggravating, but if your review matches the profile, in some way of what the machine has determined is a profile fake review, it's going to get nailed.

Carrie: Right. The tactic is don't worry about Google removing that, because you're the 20 to 30 percent collateral damage at that point. And worry more about just getting more good reviews, right?

Mike: That's easy to say, but when it's your 30 reviews they removed, it's very annoying.

Carrie: Sure. Absolutely.

Service-Based Businesses and GMB

Next question is from Lisa Carr. "For a service-related organization, is there an alternative to the products feature or is there a way to creatively use products for services?"

I have a client who I have entered their products as "hot water heater/installation" as a product, and it works. I don't know how legit it is, but it works.

Joy: I would 100 percent add your services as products. And even if the products label looks stupid, but the actual way the feature looks on Google, it makes sense regardless if they're actual products or not.

Carrie: Yeah I agree. That model's gone. Can we move on? Are we good? The next question is about service-area businesses. "How are the service-related businesses that don't have a physical address like plumbers who service an area," I think he means how do they succeed and how do they rank? And "is it recommended for the plumber to publish its physical address in GMB?" 

Mike: I would add that Google has gotten a lot better at identifying service area businesses, and particularly ones that are violating the guidelines and have suspended a lot more of them. If you're going to do it, if you're going to add an address you're going to fake it, you've got to fake it really, really well. With signage and et cetera. That's issue one.

I think issue two is that service area businesses have been a huge spam vector on Google. And very easy to abuse. And issue three in this is that I think that Google is on a long-term plan to get it squared away. 

We're seeing the beginnings of that with the suspensions and harsher requirements. But I think at some point they will figure out how to effectively distribute visits to businesses without an address. Not yet. But I think they will get there.

Should You Geotag Photos for Google My Business?

Carrie: The next question "Should photos for GMB posts be geotagged for the business and does it make a difference?"

Mike: You know, with everything tested, most photos are already geotagged. Most photos in the world are taken on your iPhone or your Android, those already come in geotagged. I can't see any huge benefit. 

I mean, unless you have some real old camera that's not geotagging photos, and it's this investment of time versus money. I would test it but I can't theoretically come up with any reason why your geotag is better than one on the camera. 

Joy: Joel Hadley, I'll quote him because I asked him extensively about this. He told me that they get tagged the moment you upload them. When you upload photos inside Google My Business, to a place, they get geotagged to that place because they are literally associated with that place. 

Carrie: "I know we're focusing on local SEO here, but is the importance of citation indexing also waning in global search, as well?" Yes.

Mike: We certainly see low-level directories not getting indexed and you have to make some extra effort to even get them indexed. When they do get indexed, they have very low prominence because these pages are buried knee-deep in crappy pages. Google's not that interested in them. 

Joy: I think it's important, too, to remember, why would Google index a citation? It doesn't have anything unique on it. Like, it's literally just a copy of something they already had and it's already listed on 20 other sites.

You hear all this stuff about Google filters duplicate data, citations are literally duplicate data unless they have, like Yelp, user-generated content on them, like reviews or photos or whatever. I don't see any reason why Google would index citations.

Do Google My Business Posts Have an Impact?

Carrie: Another question from E T Moore Manufacturing Inc, "How much impact do posts have?" And I would say a lot. And it depends, right? That's our standard answer.

Mike: Traditional posts with a call to action have relatively low conversions. It's probably higher than a Facebook post-conversion, as from the research we've seen. It does influence, to some extent, Google's knowledge about your business in terms of the products you carry and things you do. And it does now surface in the Google Q and A. There is value to a post beyond direct ranking and the limited conversions.

There is the ability to control your presence on that page. Particularly on mobile. There is the ability to influence Google's broad understanding of your business, potentially expand your reach. There are also some new capabilities with posts. 

Like this ability to offer a coupon to a new follower. I've got to believe that that feature could have value and Google's looking for a million other signals to rank your business. You get a lot of followers, that come to your place and cash the coupon in, that's got to be a strong signal like we talked about with visits.

I think that there's broad value to it. But it's important, like all these things, that you not invest a gazillion hours in it and that you measure the value so that the value you get is what you give. I think if you're already posting to Facebook it's very trivial to cross-post. It's trivial to get some good tools to automate posts, at least on businesses less nine or smaller locations. 

I think there's value to it in terms of branding and visuals. It's not as concrete the value in terms of conversions or rank.

Carrie: I think there are two things that make it worth it for me. One of which is real estate. At the bottom of most even local knowledge panels, there are the three or four "people also searched for" or something. That's where they kind of poke your competitors in there at the bottom sometimes. If I've got a post in there, I just have a bunch more scroll space that pushes that down the page. 

I also like the fact that now they're surfacing snippets from posts over into your maps listing results if they're relevant to the query. And I think that that's another big opportunity for you to enhance the look of your listing or why pick me over this one? Well, I have more stuff in mine kind of thing.

Mike: And finally, with restaurants at least, photos from posts go to your photos updates so it keeps your photos fresh, as well, with one step. 

Carrie: Yes.

Joy: We've actually completely changed our strategy on posts in the last six months. If you had asked me six months ago what we were doing versus what we are doing now it would be totally different.

We're doing a lot of tests. I used to say that it's useless to post about your products or services because they don't really catch people's eye and they don't convert well. Which is, I would say, probably still true. 

But because of the snippet feature that you were talking about, Carrie, we have basically changed that we are now trying to post an individual post about a certain product or service, for at least all of the products and services that they offer, because of that snippet that gets pulled in. I just checked when I did one this morning, a couple hours ago, it's already gotten a snippet for the post that I just posted this morning.

Mike: And that single snippet will answer the Q and A question as well.

Joy: It's got additional value that it didn't have before. 

Carrie: Here's a question that I think I know the answer to but I'd love confirmation from you guys. If that post falls off in seven days, that snippet could still possibly be pulled in, right? Even though we're not physically seeing the post, the text could still be pulled in to a snippet?

Joy: Yes, and that's why we were like, oh my gosh, once we realized that because we see it for posts that were posted eight months ago. Or you know, a year ago. It's not like you have to continually post new stuff all the time for all your products and services. 

But at least having one post for each major thing that you do, that talks about that thing and uses all kinds of other related keywords, so you know if you're a lawyer talk about the word case, or results, or things along with the different types of law cases, crimes that you help with and whatnot.

Carrie: Google is a beast for data, and this is a source of data to them. Which, if semantically structured like Joy just said, can expand the reach of your business or enhance Google's understanding of your business in broader areas. I recommend it to everybody.

You can even use tools and automate them. You put them in a spreadsheet and upload them once and week or once a month or whatever that looks like, and it's kind of a no-brainer for me. Why not? You should. It's free. It only costs time, right?

Joy: Yeah. 

GMB One Website, Multiple Locations

Carrie: Jeffrey Metamah asks, "For businesses with multiple locations and one website, would you recommend that the GMB pages link to location pages on the website, or should they all link to the homepage?" I vote for location pages.

Mike: It depends, right? It depends on how many locations, how many location pages, how strong those location pages are. If there are only three or four locations, they probably would perform better linking to the home page and making clear in the footer in how the user can get more information about the location and include it in the footer.

But once you get to 50 or 100, you know, that strategy doesn't work, and so there is this continuum. It's not a simple answer. 

You got two, three, four maybe five? I think your homepage is going to give you more prominence to each listing. And the trick is to not confuse the customer.

Carrie: I vote for the location page because as a consumer if I'm looking at a specific location and I click on the website button, I don't want to then hunt around the website to find that location. 

Mike: Right. It depends though on the service, and the product and the interface on the website. There's no one answer to this. But there is a gain to be had in the smaller quantities of locations by linking to the homepage because the homepage is more prominent, typically, than the location pages. 

Over time, I think a location page strategy makes sense. I use 10 as the arbitrary cut-off number. But it also means that you've got to think about good internal linking to location pages, you've got to think about link building those location pages. It's more expensive and more work but long haul, probably a better customer experience and can serve you well if done thoroughly and well.

It also depends on the business. How do they handle the phone calls, right? If there's a single point of entry for the customer, they're going to get the same experience. There's a lot of variables. 

Carrie: This question I sort of get. Let's see if you guys do. "If you can, we have a lot of events that take place at a particular location/arena. But Google My Business only allows one company per address. How can we address this, no pun intended? We'd like to have a listing." If you don't control that location, you're not eligible for a listing, right?

Joy: That's correct. My church hosts AA meetings all the time, for example. The AA organization are not allowed to be able to create a listing using my church's address.

Carrie: Right. The better tactic would be to do event posts within your own Google My Business and list the events on your website and market it that way, in my opinion.

Joy: You can also put schema on your website on the event listing and it'll actually get pulled into that location's knowledge panel.

Mike: And it will also show up in the Google search. If you search events plus city, it gives you a great big list of things to do and events will show up there as well. And if you can't do schema on your website, then get the events posted at MeetUp or Eventbrite if they're free. You'll get similar markup and inclusion. Although the website is better, again because it's more likely to generate website traffic.

Ads in GMB vs Google Ads Account

Carrie: Jay Holmes asks, "Do you recommend running ads directly through the GMB account versus a Google ads account?"

Joy: Depends on your budget. If you're spending less than 1,000 dollars a month, use something like AdWords Express, it's much easier and faster. If you're spending five grand a month you definitely should be utilizing the full-blown Google ads account with an agency or someone helping you monitor it.

Carrie: I think that really depends on how much control you want to have. If you only want to bid on a specific set of keywords in a specific location, you don't have that control in AdWords Express. I mean, I think budget is definitely a good indicator but also, how granular do you want to be with your ads?

Mike: I mean, as soon as you get over a certain dollar volume, with the right consultant and or manager of the account, you're going to get better performance, generally speaking. But if it's poorly managed, you might as well do AdWords Express.

Removing Unwanted GMB Events and Duplicate Listings

Carrie: Nicole McKent asks, "How do you stop other places from adding an event to your GMB page? Example, a clinic offering services for women had a church event on their GMB page against them." 

This is a problem, I know Tim Capper has covered this quite extensively with events not related to the business showing up in the knowledge panel. Because it's all done by AI on Google's side, it's very hard to fight this, unfortunately. 

Mike: I would start producing events for the church's GMB.

Joy: You can get it removed if you contact the My Business Support if it's not actually an event at your place. We had this happen with a client where like some random thing was posted on another site and it wasn't even an event happening at his office, it had nothing to do with him. 

It just had wrong data on this other site and listed his address. But we were able to get Google My Business support to remove it. If it's wrong data, they'll remove it.

Mike: Right. And I think Carrie's idea is to have your own events probably works well in tandem with it.

Carrie: Yeah, so your own events marked up is probably more authoritative and Google would bemore likely to show that than something they're pulling in from a third party somewhere. I'd make sure your Sunday School events are marked up and or whatever. Your clinic events, so all those are marked up on your own website, for sure.

Bracewell Webworks asks, "I have a client with a duplicate GMB page. He no longer has a login for the duplicate so he can't log in to delete it. I've requested it be removed several times with no luck. Any suggestions?"

Mike: For me, I find that these sort of orphan pages often have one or two details that are different than the main page, and if you go in with some amount of editing cred, in other words, you've been an editor or you have friends who are editors and you make suggestions to the orphan page so that it gets changed to exactly the same as the main page, and that's down to every detail. 

Then when you request, and make sure that the pins are in physically the same spot, and all the data is exactly the same, then when you request the duplicate be merged or removed, it happens. 

If you can't get it yourself, then reaching out to Google support, which right now is a laborious time consuming, you know, it takes a long time for them to respond but they can be helpful with that, for sure as well. But I've found just editing it so that, and you get your edits to prove it's exactly the same, and then requesting a merger typically works.

Carrie: Eric asks, 'A citation from the New York Times would matter for local search too, right?" Well, sure.

Mike: And next to getting a Wikipedia article about your business, which is going to send you through the roof, a New York Times article will do great. I had a client who was involved in the scandals in California who got interviewed in the San Francisco Chronicle and he saw six months of steady gains from that in terms of maps presence and GMB presence. And very, very powerful. 

Carrie: I think depending upon your category and your market, hiring a good PR firm or person can do a lot for a business if you can afford it.

Shelly Fagin asks, "What are your recommendations for setting up a GMB if you rent a physical office in a larger shared office suite with a mix of other businesses?" 

I actually have experience with this. Don't rent an office in a larger shared office suite where there are other people in your same category, you're going to have a hot mess. But if they're all unrelated businesses, you're eligible if you have signage, right? If you have a sign that says this is what my business is.

Mike: And you answer the phone.

Carrie: Yeah, and you're physically there, and suite numbers do not matter one iota anymore to Google at all, right?

Mike: Unless you're using a suite number. It matters to the consumer.

Carrie: That's our hour. We do thank Mike and Joy for joining us. And Andrew via Slack message, thanks for joining in. And thank you, everybody, for attending. Have a great afternoon. Bye bye.

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