In this week’s update, learn about Apple’s new mapping upgrades; the impact of the summer Core Updates; a possible local algorithm update; a primer on Google Analytics for local businesses; the global growth of Google Lens; and an Ohio lawsuit that claims Google is a public utility.
Apple announces a round of mapping upgrades
Apple made several announcements at its Worldwide Developer Conference last week regarding new features in Apple Maps, including several that seem designed to compete with recent additions to Google Maps. Apple’s new features will be introduced as part of the iOS 15 update and will roll out progressively throughout the coming year.
Consistent with Apple’s focus in the two-year course of its rebuilding of the Maps product, the updates are oriented towards consumer experience and navigation. The new look and feel for Maps, live for some time in the U.S., U.K., Ireland, and Canada, is rolling out to more countries, including Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Australia. In a Google-like move, Maps will get a refresh adding a new level of detail, including turn lanes, medians, crosswalks, and bike lanes. Maps will also make use of 3D to help drivers navigate complex interchanges.
Transit riders will also see several improvements, such as notifications from Maps when you’ve reached your stop. And in another apparent nod to Google, Apple will add an augmented reality feature to Maps allowing users to see directions superimposed on their live surroundings. The AR view will launch in selected cities in 2021.
Apple’s version of AR for Maps, courtesy TechCrunch / Apple
The impact of Google’s summer Core Updates
Searchmetrics has published a useful deep dive on the June and July Core Updates announced by Google and discussed in last week’s column. As I said last week, Google has taken the unusual move of dividing the latest Core Update release into two parts, the first of which began rolling out on June 2, with the second slated for sometime in July. One interesting comment from Google’s Danny Sullivan, cited in the Searchmetrics piece, is that some sites may see gains or drops in June that are reversed in July, due to the two-part nature of the update.
Searchmetrics founder Marcus Tober notes that many low-quality directory sites (such as usphonebook.com) appear to have suffered in the June update, as well as a large network of spam pages related to airports. Overall, sites with thin content appear to have been targeted.
Sullivan published some general info about Google’s search algorithm updates on June 2, noting that Google in fact rolls out thousands of algorithm updates each year, and that traffic to irrelevant sites has decreased by 40% in the past five years as a result of these efforts. He explains that Core Updates are broad based and don’t have a defined target (in contrast to updates like Product Reviews or Page Experience), and that updates are never aimed at specific sites, but are “rather about improving Search overall.”
Possible local search algorithm update around June 8th
BrightLocal’s Local RankFlux tool has detected a possible local algorithm update centered around Tuesday, June 8th, when local ranking fluctuations reached a volatility rating of 4.10 out of a possible 10. On two other days last week, volatility also hit the “red” range in the tracking tool, with more modest ratings of 3.37 on June 6 and 3.18 on June 9.
Barry Schwartz wrote that it was unlikely this volatility is related to the June Core Update -- remember, Google’s search and local algorithms are supposedly updated separately and do not affect each other. However, Colan Nielsen noted that several local ranking reports show an upward trend that seems to coincide with the Core Update rollout. Also in relation to the apparent local update, Mark Kabana of Places Scout was quoted as saying that businesses more than 10 miles from the city center appear to be ranking for keywords where they didn’t rank before. No comment from Google as to whether this was an official local update.
Local RankFlux results 6/4-6/10, courtesy Search Engine Roundtable / BrightLocal
A primer on Google Analytics for local businesses
Alex Ratynski has a useful Whiteboard Friday post on the Moz blog that offers guidelines for local businesses wanting to make use of Google Analytics. He notes that Google Analytics is particularly useful for understanding user behavior on your website and how your pages are performing. Ratynski offers step-by-step tips including how to block out bots and spam from your analysis of website traffic; how to set goals for the types of user behavior that indicate conversion; the benefits of connecting Google Analytics to Google Search Console in order to track website performance against specific search queries; the use of UTM parameters to track website traffic from specific sources like Google My Business; and the use of Google Tag Manager to make tracking more efficient.
Google Lens grows to 3 billion uses per month
Google UK has launched a new campaign aimed at helping people “rediscover their cities using Google Lens.” Google is touting the usefulness of Google Lens as a visual search tool that helps you find information about the world around you, from the species of birds to the items at a farmer’s market to the historical significance of local landmarks. Lens is built into the camera app on Pixel phones, a feature Google is showcasing in its promotional campaign.
The campaign marks the official announcement of the Places filter in Lens, taking its place alongside other filters including Translate, Text, Search, Homework, Shopping, and Dining. The Places filter helps users identify landmarks by matching camera images with 3D models from Google Earth.
Google says that Lens is now used 3 billion times a month globally.
Image courtesy 9to5Google
Ohio attorney general makes a case for Google as public utility
In another development on the anti-monopoly front, the state of Ohio has sued Google, claiming the company acts as a public utility under Ohio law. In a statement, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said that Google “uses its dominance of Internet search to steer Ohioans to Google’s own products,” a practice he called “discriminatory and anti-competitive.” Rather than asking for a monetary penalty, the suit requests that Google be required to “carry content from other sources without unfair discrimination as compared to comparable Google content.”
The Ohio lawsuit was reportedly influenced by a recent opinion from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote that some digital platforms “resemble traditional common carriers” and that free speech laws should not prevent lawmakers from regulating them. One notable detail in the suit’s arguments is the term “captured click,” which is used to describe scenarios where Google search results lead users to click to another Google property, such as YouTube, Google Maps, or Google Shopping. The suit’s complaint against “captured clicks” echoes much of the recent commentary about “zero-click search” as a sign of Google’s increasing dominance.
Google has stated that the suit is without merit and against the best interests of Ohio citizens.