This week, read about Google Maps search trends in January; new device-specific GMB Insights; a one-year study of Local Finder rankings; split-screen Street View on Android; Google’s cookie replacement; and a guide to local SEO keyword research.
Google reveals Maps search trends for January
Google has released new data showing how user search trends in Google Maps differed from December 2019-January 2020 to December 2020-January 2021. This is a time of year when many of us think about making resolutions and planning vacations, and Google’s report focuses on how the pandemic has affected these traditional New Year preoccupations.
As for travel, last year at this time searches were booming for international travel and island destinations, but those searches, due to travel restrictions, were flat this January, whereas searches for domestic travel and snow trips were up. Searches for ski resorts were twice as high this January compared to last year.
Dry January was a popular topic last January, with alcohol-related searches dropping 40% compared to December; this year, they only dropped by 11%. Searches for healthy food are up 46% this year over December, but searches for ice cream shops are also up 10%. Searches for hiking trails only increased 16% compared to 55% last January, possibly suggesting that more exercise-seekers are turning to in-home workouts.
New GMB Insights shows views by device and platform
Sterling Sky’s Colan Neilsen has shared a screenshot of a new GMB Insights display that breaks down views by device type in addition to platform. This new interface, not yet live for most users, will likely be part of the new Performance reporting that appears for logged-in listing owners and managers in Search and Maps. I’ve written recently about another new Performance page that displays phone call and message metrics as well as a new table of search terms similar to “Queries used to find your business” in the GMB dashboard.
The new breakdown shows a count of views for a given date range, indicating by count and by percentage how many Search views or Maps views were on mobile vs. desktop. This should give businesses a much clearer view of which interfaces are getting the most consumer traffic, and should also help to confirm or deny the supposition of local SEOs that Maps views mostly come from mobile devices and Search views from desktop.
Image courtesy Colan Nielsen
A one-year study of competing for top placement in Local Finder
Miriam Ellis has published the results of a study that looks at the competitive positioning in Google’s Local Finder of breakfast restaurants in a northern California city over the course of a year. She found that no amount of effort on the part of other businesses was able to unseat the top performing restaurant from first position. In fact, the higher rank positions in the top ten were more stable overall than the lower positions.
Ellis examined 48 data points for each listing to try to discern why some were more competitive than others. She finds that a more targeted selection of primary category (“breakfast restaurant”) as well as a rich array of secondary categories was a big differentiator, along with a large number of high-quality photos as well as high review count and review recency. She speculates that place topics (the trending terms Google shows at the top of the reviews feed) may indicate how Google uses reviews to determine relevance. The top-ranked restaurant was the only one using Google Posts and Q&A, and was also one of the only restaurants in the list to have a well-built website with a decent domain authority and backlink profile
Local finder volatility over 12 months, courtesy Miriam Ellis
A new split-screen display for Street View on Android
Google is launching a new split-screen version of Street View on Android devices, mirroring a feature that has been available for some time on desktop. The new interface makes it possible for mobile users to track their location on a map while simultaneously seeing Street View imagery of the surrounding area. Users can jump around by tapping on the map and can access Photo Spheres uploaded by other users, which are indicated on the map as blue circles. Blue paths indicate routes where Street View is available. A circular blue marker with an arrow in the middle indicates the direction the user is pointing or traveling. The updated interface is especially useful if you want to quickly view a route or set of related areas on Street View, using the map as a tool to move from one view to another.
Split-screen Street View in landscape mode, courtesy 9to5 Google
Google offers FLoC to replace cookies
We have known for some time that Google will phase out third-party cookies in its Chrome browser -- one move among many in a wave of privacy-based changes expected to impact many of our most popular digital platforms over the next two years. Third-party cookies are the tracking mechanisms that collect information about individual browsing histories for purposes such as ad targeting. Now, Google has released new information about a protocol known as FLoC that could replace cookies. FLoC stands for “Federated Learning of Cohorts,” and refers to a Chrome browser extension that aggregates individual activity into groups consisting of thousands of users. Google claims that in its own testing, ad targeting using FLoC results in 95% of the conversions per dollar seen with cookies.
The basic principle of FLoC, as Google’s Chetna Bindra explains in a blog post, is to “hide individuals in the crowd.” Google is also promoting an initiative known as FLEDGE, whose mission is to develop a new technology based on interest groups that could provide advertisers with the relevancy signals they desire without revealing information about individual users.
A guide to local SEO keyword research
Blake Denman has published an extensive guide to local SEO keyword research on the SEMRush blog. He emphasizes that the correct way to think about keyword research is not by focusing on individual keywords, but on topics that group similar keywords together. Denman uses the example of a plumber in Phoenix and walks through the steps of researching relevant keywords with SEMRush’s Keyword Magic Tool. Denman correlates these findings with data from Google Search Console showing the number of searches for each keyword over 12 months as well as the average monthly search volume. He makes use of AlsoAsked.com to gather popular questions related to the topic “tankless water heater,” and checks to see what keyword opportunities are indicated by the rankings of competitors.
Once research has been completed, Denman then begins to build a content strategy focused on keyword optimization on main topic pages, child pages, FAQ pages, and blog posts. Main topic keywords are included in the URL, title tag, meta description, and H1 tag for the main pages, while subtopics are relegated to H2 tags and child pages. Keywords should be “naturally included” in the content for each page, with the focus being on providing the best and most useful content for the end user.