In this week’s update, read about increased engagement with local businesses on Nextdoor; an Apple Maps pilot in Australia; virtual appointment booking in GMB; new Google Local Ads features; service-area GMB updates; a new GMB video on local ranking; and COVID-19 severity in Google Maps.
Nextdoor data shows increases in local business engagement
A new report from Nextdoor, the popular social network for neighborhoods, shows tremendous growth in 2020 in the number of Nextdoor members who are engaging with local businesses on the platform. The report notes that during the pandemic, 7 in 10 adults have said they are interested in a digital resource that connects them with local communities. Daily active engagement on Nextdoor increased significantly after the onset of COVID-19, and much of the time, they’re seeking information about local businesses. In fact, many business categories have seen big increases in search volume on the platform this year, including grocery, banks, home and garden, automotive, and medical.
Image courtesy Nextdoor
The report also notes that demand for home services, such as landscaping, house painting, and carpet cleaning, has increased throughout the U.S. as people spend more time at home. Brands like PayPal and H&R Block have launched campaigns on Nextdoor to help neighbors connect with small businesses, and Walmart helped to sponsor Nextdoor’s Help Map, a service connecting neighbors needing assistance with others willing to help.
Apple Maps is piloting ratings and photos in Australia
I mentioned last week that the initial release of iOS 14 did not include ratings and user photos on Apple Maps, despite news reports indicating these features might be included. I’ve now been informed by sources at Apple that ratings and photos are in fact being piloted in Australia. In addition, Apple has a new terms page covering both features. On the page, Apple mostly focuses on the rights and obligations of users who upload photos into Apple Maps, noting in one passage that Apple reserves the right to blur parts of an image in order to obscure “personal or confidential” information. The terms note that ratings and photos are only available to users aged 13 or older. Apple also includes a long list of content not allowed in photo submissions, including profanity, nudity, weapons, drugs, filters, overlays, poor lighting, blurry images, and stock photos. Images must be in JPEG, PNG, or HEIC format and may not have a resolution of less than 960x1280 or greater than 4864x4864.
Clarification on virtual appointments in GMB
It appears, according to reporting from Greg Sterling, that Google may be adding virtual appointments to Google My Business. Last month, Google began prompting Google My Business users to incorporate third party tools including Google Meet, Webex, Zoom, and Skype, in order to offer online services such as classes and professional consultations. Along the same lines, Google announced earlier this year that it was expanding the Reserve with Google program specifically in order to showcase the availability of virtual appointments. Reserve with Google allows business owners, working with approved booking partners, to embed an appointment booking workflow into their GMB profiles. Though the statements Sterling received from Google are somewhat vague, they imply that businesses working with a Reserve with Google partner that supports virtual appointments may be able to launch those appointments directly from GMB.
Google Local Ads incorporate GMB attributes
Also reported by Greg Sterling, Google has made some changes in Local Ads in order to showcase local availability and incorporate attributes from Google My Business. Local Campaigns, which can be showcased on Google Maps, Google Search, YouTube, and the Google Display Network, will now display attributes from GMB such as dine-in, curbside pickup, and no-contact delivery.
Image courtesy Search Engine Land, showing GMB attributes in Local Ads
Google is also adding a “pick up later” option in Local Inventory Ads, allowing businesses to advertise that, although an item may not be currently in stock, it will be available for pickup in a few days. And finally, large multi-location retailers can now make use of a new feature that optimizes Smart Bidding campaigns for in-store sales. Google launched Smart Bidding optimization for store visits last fall; this new update improves optimization capabilities but requires that brands share transaction data with Google.
Google My Business updates guidelines for service-area businesses
On September 24, as reported by Joy Hawkins, Google updated the GMB guidelines for service-area business to add back the requirement, previously removed, that separate office locations must be staffed by employees of the business and cannot make use only of hired virtual office services. Another change relates to the number of listings allowed for service-area businesses. The requirements now state, “If you have different locations for your service business, with separate service areas and separate staff at each location, you’re allowed one profile for each location. The boundaries of your profile’s overall service area shouldn’t extend farther than about 2 hours of driving time from where your business is based. For some businesses, larger service areas may be appropriate.” This is a change from previous requirements, wherein service-area businesses could only have one listing per state.
New GMB video: “Improve your local ranking on Google”
Google has published a new video showing businesses how to improve their local ranking. The video was added last week to Google’s help page on local ranking, which was also updated with several changes in phrasing and with a change in tone regarding reviews. Before, the help page stated that a large number of reviews with a high average rating “will improve” the ranking of a business; now, the wording has been softened to “can improve.”
The video covers the main components in GMB ranking: relevance, distance, and prominence. Noting that business cannot control all of these factors, Google recommends that merchants make sure their business information is complete; add photos of the business location, merchandise, or services; and verify each business location.
Video courtesy Google
Google Maps rolls out COVID severity feature
Google Maps is rolling out color coding that indicates COVID-19 severity in different geographic regions. The new feature will be available in the COVID-19 app for both iOS and Android. The app will show seven-day averages of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people. When users navigate to a given area, Google will use color coding to indicate the current count of overall cases and whether cases are increasing or decreasing. In an announcement, Google said its intent was to provide “critical information about Covid-19 cases in an area so you can make more informed decisions about where to go and what to do."
Once the feature is made available, you can access it by tapping the layers icon in the Google Maps app (two squares, one on top of the other) and choosing “Covid-19 Info.”