In this week’s update, learn about Apple’s new search initiative; TripAdvisor products for restaurants and hotels; local search metrics that matter; a video explaining how Google search works; an uptick in GMB suspensions; and the factors that qualify a business for a label in Google Maps.
More signs of Apple’s new focus on search
A report in the Financial Times is suggesting that Apple may be paying more attention to search these days in part due to the antitrust action against Google, which could result in government-imposed penalties opening up the search market to Google’s tech competitors. Among other signs of Apple’s activity in search, iPhone users are now seeing Apple-powered search results in response to queries typed on the home screen.
Three years ago, Apple hired John Giannandrea, former head of search at Google, to improve its machine learning, AI, and the Siri voice assistant; it is speculated that Giannandrea may be consulting on Apple’s expansion into general search.
As Greg Sterling points out in a recent Search Engine Land article, Apple may be anticipating antitrust actions that force the company to give users a choice among search engines, thus ending the mutually lucrative deal by which Apple earns billions a year by making Google the default for search on iPhones, and Google generates a massive amount of revenue given that, according to reports, 50% of its mobile search queries originate from Apple devices. If government actions end this exclusive relationship, Apple stands to gain the most if it can insert itself into the mix, displacing Google’s position as the default choice for iPhone users.
Siri-suggested website results, courtesy Search Engine Land
TripAdvisor rolls out new products for hotels and restaurants
TripAdvisor has launched Menu Connect, a new offering for restaurants, enabled by the company’s acquisition in 2019 of menu syndicator SinglePlatform. The Menu Connect offering lets restaurants control menu content on a range of sites including TripAdvisor itself, as well as Google, Yelp, OpenTable, Foursquare, Facebook, and others. The Menu Connect analytics dashboard displays metrics such as menu views and number of new and returning customers.
In addition, TripAdvisor has announced two new offerings for hotels. The Spotlight product uses data from OTA Insight, a hotel data platform. It has two components: Rate Spotlight helps hotels understand how to price room rates competitively, and Market Spotlight helps them understand demand signals such as local events and travel searches. Another product, Reputation Pro, monitors hotel reviews on TripAdvisor, Google, and Facebook; lets hotels respond to reviews from the Reputation Pro platform; offers sentiment analysis of reviews; and solicits new reviews via email, mobile apps, and text messaging.
The local search metrics that matter
In a new post on his Local Visibility System blog, Phil Rozek highlights seven “goofy metrics” that local SEOs should not rely on to determine the success of search campaigns, matching each of them with a metric that actually demonstrates value. Rozek writes, for example, that total traffic to your site is not a reliable metric, since total traffic doesn’t tell you whether site visitors are reaching pages that lead to conversion. Instead, Rozek suggests we pay attention to total impressions for your whole site or for specific pages or queries.
Similarly, Rozek says we should pay less attention to the number terms a business ranks #1 for, and more attention to the number of relevant terms a business ranks for, where they are the obvious choice. Merely surfacing in a local pack won’t help a business if they are not the best choice for that query.
On the topic of reviews, Rozek points out that having a high review count or a lot of five-star reviews won’t help if the average star rating is low or if positive reviews are uninformative or if they seem forced. He also writes about misconceptions regarding page speed, links to your site, and average rank position.
Google releases long form video explaining how search works
Google has released an hour-long video called "Trillions of Questions, No Easy Answers: A (home) movie about how Google Search works." The video includes contributions from many of the Google employees whose work has significantly impacted the development of Google’s search strategy over the past several years. Topics covered include, per Barry Schwartz’s writeup, “UI, rankings, data centers, spam, quality raters, evaluations, E-A-T, testing, misinformation, BERT/machine learning and so much more.”
Uptick in GMB suspensions when profiles are edited
According to a blog post from Sterling Sky’s Brian Barwig, listing edits are triggering GMB suspensions for a significant number of businesses. Examples include a newly verified listing that merely added a website URL, another that changed its phone number, and a business that updated its secondary categories and saw the listing suspended less than a minute later. Apparently, suspensions are becoming more common due to recent spikes in spam listings. Suspension may be more likely if several fields are updated at the same time. Some suspensions have taken days or even weeks to clear after the business has applied for reinstatement. Presumably, this is an unintended consequence of Google’s fight against spam listings and therefore may only be a temporary situation as Google works to resolve the problem.
Many factors determine whether your business has a label in Google Maps
Joy Hawkins has studied what it takes for a business to qualify for a label next to its map pin in Google Maps. Labels cannot be applied to every business, since there simply isn’t room within the Maps display to accommodate them. Therefore, it’s logical to conclude that Google has rules determining whether a business qualifies for a label calling them out by name. According to tests Hawkins and her team performed, the following factors have the greatest impact on the likelihood that a business will be labeled in Maps:
Website is linked to GMB listing
GMB listing has a high review count
GMB listing is older (7 years old on average for business with labels)
GMB listing has an editorial summary
GMB listing has high user engagement
Popular times are present in GMB listing
Qualifying category is likely a factor -- education, emergency services, entertainment, and hotels are especially likely to have labels
High search volume is likely a factor
Place labels at different zoom levels, courtesy Sterling Sky