In this week’s update, find out about the launch date of Google’s page experience update; delays in publication of GMB reviews; the rollout of health and safety attributes for hotels; the new relevance of vertical search; the state of voice search; and a new digital-only offering from Chipotle.
Google will launch page experience update in May 2021
Google confirmed last week that the page experience update to its search algorithm will launch in May of next year. The news comes about one year after Google first previewed the update, and six months before it takes effect. As we’ve discussed in this space previously, the new update will combine Core Web Vitals with signals that are already part of Google’s algorithm, including mobile friendliness and HTTPS security.
Core Web Vitals as part of the page experience update; image courtesy Google
Along with the page experience update, Google says it will also launch a change in Top Stories on mobile that will make it possible for non-AMP pages to compete for placement. In addition, Google will test a “visual indicator” in search results that highlights pages offering a “great page experience.”
Google recommends that webmasters conduct a site-wide audit to ensure they are prepared for the page experience update and to fix any issues. The page at web.dev/vitals-tools offers an overview of tools that can be used to gauge site performance. In its post, Google also indicates that AMP is a viable long-term strategy for creating good page experiences, contradicting earlier reports that AMP is on its way out.
GMB review publication delayed
Numerous users on the Local Search Forum site and the GMB support forum have reported that review publication was delayed in the November 11-12 timeframe, with many businesses receiving no new review notifications during this time. For Brandify clients as well, the volume of new reviews during this period was conspicuously low. On November 12, Google confirmed it was working to resolve the issue and that delayed reviews would begin to appear within 24 hours.
Sure enough, on Friday, November 13, we began to see delayed reviews reach publication for numerous Brandify clients. As of Sunday, November 15, independent sources are confirming that reviews dating back to November 11 appear to have been restored. No word from Google on the root cause of the issue.
Google announces full rollout of health and safety attributes for hotels
In a blog post on November 10 entitled “Tips for holiday travel and beyond,” Google confirmed that enhanced health and safety attributes for hotels have been fully rolled out. We’ve spotted these in the field before, and Brandify has worked as a liaison to provide health and safety updates to Google on behalf of hotel clients, but this is the first official confirmation from Google that the feature is live.
Google notes in its post that despite COVID-19 concerns, 40% of Americans are still planning to travel during the holiday season. To assist with travel planning, the company has rolled out several features, including indicators of reopening shown directly in search results, such as percentage of flights operating or hotels with availability. At google.com/travel, users can find historical trends and links to local resources. Google has also added a filter to hotel search identifying hotels that offer free cancellation.
Hotel health and safety attributes, courtesy Google
The role of vertical search engines
Andrew Bocskocsky, CEO of B2B search engine Grata, has a column at Search Engine Watch arguing that the recent antitrust action against Google opens the door to vertical search engines, who can provide support for specific use cases where generalized search falls short. Bocskocsky argues that the search industry hasn’t seen any major disruption since the rise of Google 20 years ago, and suggests that the antitrust action may signal “a new market for specialized information.”
As examples of vertical search, Bocskocsky cites LinkedIn for people, Zillow for housing, and Kayak for travel. As opposed to the aggregated approach Google has taken to verticals like these, dedicated search engines offer more precise information and are designed to support specific user journeys. B2B search, in particular, can offer better visibility to SMBs who are trying to compete in middle markets, where Google’s generic approach makes it difficult for SMBs to gain sufficient visibility.
Whatever happened to voice search?
Brent Csutoras offers some thoughts in Search Engine Journal about the early hype around voice search as opposed to the current state of the industry. He notes that adoption of voice assistants continues to grow at a swift page, with 4.2 billion voice assistants in use in 2020, projected to grow to 8 billion by 2023.
Still, users of voice assistants are not making purchases via voice search at a rate manufacturers had hoped for. According to eMarketer, only 10.8% of voice assistant users made a purchase by voice in the last calendar year.
Image courtesy eMarketer
Voice assistant users are much more likely to use their devices to perform simple commands, such as setting a timer. But Csutoras suggests that businesses should still try to optimize for the types of searches voice users are likely to perform. For instance, a surprising 40% of users request directions to local businesses via voice assistant, so ensuring your address is properly reflected in GMB can help more voice users reach your location.
Chipotle opens its first digital-only restaurant
Chipotle opened its first digital-only restaurant on Saturday in Highland Falls, New York. As online sales continue to rise, the restaurant chain’s strategy is designed to gain a foothold in urban areas where a full-sized restaurant would not be feasible. Digital sales for Chipotle tripled year over year in the last quarter. At the new digital restaurant location, customers can pick up orders in the lobby or order for delivery, but cannot place orders at the restaurant itself. Virtual restaurants are expected to become more common in the near future, according to a recent report from the National Restaurant Association.