In this week’s update, learn about the demise of short names along with some new Google features for local businesses; the June 2021 Core Update; the prevalence of fake reviews in healthcare; a loophole in Google’s review spam regulations; the localization of image-based product search; and a new guide to practitioner listings.
Google sunsets short names, tests new features for local businesses
Google has issued a round of updates in the past few days that impact the way businesses and consumers interact with Google My Business. To begin with, a change to its help documentation indicates that Google is probably going to sunset GMB short names. The updated documentation says “you can no longer create or edit short names. Short names and URLs that already exist will still work.” Given that short names have only been around since 2019, it’s surprising that Google appears to be gradually removing it -- probably a sign of poor adoption.
As far as new features, users have spotted a label that identifies business listings created within the last 60 days or so and labels them “New on Google.” Joy Hawkins points out that this feature can be useful for monitoring competitors and identifying spam.
Amy Toman also found a variation on display of results in mobile business profiles, where selecting “See all” under the business’s contact information takes the user to the About tab, where that info is repeated alongside other fields and features. And Tom Waddington and Mike Blumenthal both saw variants on the mobile version of the local finder with integrated results from Local Service Ads.
New Local Finder and Business Profile Test for Services Businesses
I am starting to see this new faceted interface to the local finder first spotted by @tomwaddington8 in April.
Finally, Google has begun rolling out a fully voice-based onboarding process for new businesses who want to create a GMB listing, in the form of a new Google Assistant app that is currently only available in Italy. Businesses in Italy can use the app to create new GMB listings by saying, “Hey Google, bring my business online.”
Google announces June 2021 Core Update
Google officially announced the rollout of the June 2021 Core Update on June 2, and the rollout began about 3:30pm Pacific time that same day. According to the information Google has provided, this search algorithm update -- the first official Core Update since December 2020 -- is unrelated to the search volatility SEO tools detected throughout the month of May. Google also said this is the first of two Core Updates that will come one after the other, with the second scheduled for July. Somewhat confusingly, neither of these Core Updates is linked to the long awaited Page Experience update, which will begin to factor in mobile load criteria grouped together under the term Core Web Vitals. The Page Experience update is still slated to begin a slow rollout in mid-June.
Report tracks the prevalence of fake reviews in healthcare
A new report from the Washington Post claims that reviews from fake patients are a significant problem in healthcare listings on multiple sites, including Google, Yelp, and Trustpilot. As the Post reports, fake reviews are thriving today in all industries, given the great degree of trust today’s consumers place in online reviews and the relative ease with which unscrupulous companies and individuals can exploit loopholes and make money by publishing fake reviews. For a certain alcohol treatment facility discussed in the Post’s article, fake reviews were found on multiple sites, and were removed by the publishers once the problem was pointed out. Spokespeople from each publisher pointed to rigorous practices designed to weed out fake reviews, practices that were clearly inadequate in the case of the treatment center.
In my post last week, I noted that the fake review industry thrives in part because it is not illegal. The Post article clarifies that these practices may in fact be illegal under federal and state laws where financial gain is involved, but enforcement is very lax. In both California and New York, the Post found no recent legal or professional disciplinary actions on file for doctors who post fake reviews. Publishers, as opposed to business owners, face no liability at all for hosting fake reviews, due to protections in the Communications Decency Act.
Some 70% of patients trust online reviews when searching for a medical professional, according to a 2020 survey, up from just 25% in 2013.
Updating negative Google reviews won’t lead to removal
Joy Hawkins points out a practice amongst some negative reviewers on Google that should probably cause a review to be removed from publication, though Google has so far declined to take action. The situation is one where the author of a negative review updates that review over and over again, with minor changes such as modifying a single letter, simply in order to get that review to show up near the top of the review feed. Google posts the most recent reviews first, so editing a negative review is a tricky means of making it more prominent, but it’s also, as Hawkins makes clear, an abusive practice designed to do damage to the business, and one that Google should not allow.
The localization of image-based product search on Google
Mike Blumenthal writes about image search optimization as a local SEO tactic in a new post on Nearmedia. He notes that “image pack” type search results, where Google displays a cluster of images in the SERP, are becoming more common and are showing up now in local search results. Where businesses are using Schema markup for products to indicate product content in images, Google can serve up those images in local results with the tag “Product,” and users clicking on these images are directed to the business website to purchase. E-commerce platforms like Shopify are making it easy for small businesses to include product markup in the images they publish, and this tactic is likely to grow in importance as Google pushes harder to incorporate images into its localized play to gain on Amazon as a shopping destination.
Image courtesy Mike Blumenthal / Nearmedia
A new guide to practitioner listings
Joy Hawkins has a new guide to practitioner listings that includes a wealth of information about this tricky listing type. Practitioners are professionals who work out of an office, such as a doctor or an attorney. In cases where multiple practitioners work at the same office, Google allows them each to have their own listing, with a separate listing for the firm or practice itself. Hawkins suggests that creating multiple practitioner listings can be especially effective if each of them has a different speciality -- for example, a chiropractor’s office that also employs a massage therapist, or attorneys who specialize in different areas of the law. Using different GMB categories and pointing to different landing pages, these listings can cover more search territory than would be possible with a single listing. However, if multiple practitioners offer the same specializations and their listings all point to the same website, Google will tend to filter some of them from search results. These tips and a lot more are explained in further detail in the article.