In this week’s update, learn about Google’s new health and safety attributes; new “Place an order” links in GMB profiles; a study of GMB feature adoption; voting info from Google Assistant; wait times and busyness in GMB; using Duplex to improve GMB accuracy; and the expanded role of BERT in Google search results.
Google adds more health & safety attributes to GMB
Google continues to roll out new attributes related to COVID-19 priorities such as health and safety. In addition to “Mask required,” “Staff get temperature checks,” and other attributes recently launched across multiple business categories, users are now seeing two new health and safety attributes, both of them related to sanitary conditions in high-traffic areas: “Safety dividers at checkout” and “Staff required to disinfect surfaces between visits.” These attributes were first noted by Andrew Bullimore on Twitter.
Image courtesy Andrew Bullimore
Retailers can now add “Place an order” links to GMB profiles
The official Google My Business account on Twitter posted last week that retailers are now eligible to provide a “Place an order” link in their GMB profiles. Google’s updated help page on local business links points out that businesses can now add two types of link in addition to the primary business website. The first type, which includes menus, COVID-19 information, and online services, allows the business to post a single URL. The second type, which Google terms Place Action links, allows for up to 10 URLs per category and includes book an appointment, make a reservation, place a food order, and place a shopping order.
Google recommends that multi-location businesses make use of a special Place Actions feed in order to provide links for GMB locations.
For each of the link categories allowing multiple links, the business can choose which link displays first, but cannot directly control certain links that may be provided by third parties, in particular restaurant ordering services such as Doordash. In order to remove third-party links, businesses must contact the third party directly, though Google does provide for support if links violate its policies.
Whitespark studies GMB feature adoption
Whitespark has completed a study of 800,000 GMB profiles in 70 categories and 100 cities, focusing on Google Posts, Questions and Answers, products, and reviews. The study finds that:
96% of businesses are not actively using Google Posts, and 72% have never used the feature.
70% of businesses do not have Q&A on their listings.
Thousands of businesses have left questions unanswered.
Only 49% of businesses have claimed their GMB listing.
Unclaimed listings on average are three times more likely to have no reviews or low ratings.
The majority of businesses have less than 10 reviews.
62% of businesses have 0 to 10 reviews.
Only 11% of businesses have more than 100 reviews.
Only 4% of businesses are using the Products tab in GMB to display featured products.
Whitespark notes that low adoption of Google Posts means that businesses who do post will stand out from the competition. Similarly, Questions and Answers are underutilized by many businesses, so businesses using the feature will be more likely to convert searchers into buyers.
Google Assistant adds “Hey Google, where do I vote?” feature
Noting that searches for “how to vote” in the U.S. are higher than ever before, Google has rolled out some new features to make it easier for U.S. citizens to find voting information. Google Maps will now redirect users who search for voting locations to Google Search, where the user can enter their street address and view options based on voting preference. In addition, Google will soon add support in Google Assistant for the query, “Hey Google, where do I vote?” The query will be supported on smartphones, smart displays, and smart speakers, and will provide results similar to those now available in search. Information provided by Google is sourced from the Voting Information Project.
Image courtesy 9to5Google
Google displaying inaccurate wait times, announces busyness updates
Changing consumer trends due to COVID-19 have apparently wreaked havoc on the Google feature that predicts expected wait times. Many restaurants are complaining that Google is reporting excessive wait times that do not reflect reality, such as a wait of 45 minutes for a resort restaurant in the off season who reports that wait times are actually zero.
Seemingly acknowledging the problem, a recent Google announcement stated, “With social distancing measures established and businesses adjusting hours or even closing temporarily due to COVID-19, our historical data was no longer as reliable in predicting what current conditions would be.” In response, Google “began favoring more recent data from the previous four to six weeks to quickly adapt to changing patterns for popular times and live busyness information – with plans to bring a similar approach to other features like wait times soon.”
Google says it is now able to display busyness information in real time, in cases where enough data is available. The company says engagement with this feature grew by 50% between March and May, as users sought information about the best times to visit a business. Google has begun displaying busyness information directly in Maps labels, as shown in the screenshot. Since June 2020, global coverage of live busyness information has increased by five times.
Image courtesy Search Engine Journal
Google using Duplex to improve GMB accuracy
Google is calling local businesses using the AI-driven technology known as Duplex, the same technology that powered the now-shuttered CallJoy offering that was designed to help businesses field phone calls from customers. Now, Google is using Duplex technology to “keep local business information fresh.” According to the company, “Duplex conversational technology is now calling businesses to automatically update business listings on Search and Maps with modified store hours and details like takeout or no-contact delivery. We began using Duplex to automatically update business information and add it to Search and Maps at scale in the U.S. last year. That means business owners don’t have to worry about manually updating these details, and potential customers get access to the most accurate information. When the pandemic started, we expanded business updates to eight countries, and have since made over 3 million updates to businesses like pharmacies, restaurants and grocery stores that have been seen over 20 billion times in Maps and Search.”
BERT is now used in almost every English-language Google query
Google announced at its virtual Search On event last week that BERT, the natural language processing model, is now involved in almost every English language query. Last October, Google stated that BERT was linked to just 10% of search queries, so the new announcement suggests that natural language processing has quickly taken a much larger role in determining Google search results. In his writeup of the latest news, Barry Schwartz reminds us that SEOs cannot optimize for BERT; rather, BERT as deployed by Google is designed to improve the relevancy of search results based on better understanding of the content of web pages.