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In this week’s update, learn about the sunsetting of Universal Analytics; Snapchat’s new Custom Landmarkers; Meta’s lawsuit against a fake reviews company; Google’s Ukraine relief attributes; visual SEO for local businesses; and several other recent Google news items. 


Google Announces Sunset Date for Universal Analytics


As has been widely reported (and widely bemoaned), Google has announced that Google Analytics 3 (GA3), also known as Universal Analytics, will sunset as of July 1, 2023. On that date, the platform will stop collecting data for new website hits, meaning that SEOs will need to plan well ahead in order to continue to provide year-over-year reporting to clients. Google Analytics 4 (GA4), the replacement for GA3 that was launched in December 2020, will not allow migration of data from GA3.


GA4 is Google’s cookieless solution for website analytics, promising privacy-focused measurement of website performance as well as new insights derived from machine learning and the ability to report on “unified user journeys” across the web and mobile apps. It is, however, notoriously difficult to use, and many have grown used to GA3 during its nearly 10-year history as the default analytics platform for SEO. In fact, some 34% of more than 1,000 respondents in a Twitter poll reported that they would consider a different analytics platform rather than making the switch to GA4. 


Data in GA3 will remain available for approximately 6 months after the sunset date.




Snapchat Launches Custom Landmarkers


Snapchat has launched Custom Landmarkers, a tool that lets users create AR experiences anchored to geographical locations and landmarks such as statues, buildings, and storefronts. The launch expands upon a pilot begun in 2019 where 30 worldwide locations, such as the Great Sphinx in Egypt, became available as Landmarkers. Snapchat also launched Local Lenses in 2020, allowing users to create shared AR experiences in city neighborhoods.


Custom Landmarkers, by contrast, are tied to specific, named locations. They are designed, according to the company’s announcement, to let creators “anchor Lenses to local places they care about … to tell richer stories about their communities through AR.” Landmarkers will be moderated by Snapchat; those released to the public can be discovered via Snapcodes at the physical location or via the creator’s profile.




Courtesy Snapchat


Meta Files Lawsuit Over Fake Reviews


Facebook parent Meta has filed a lawsuit in California against an individual whose company was alleged to be selling fake reviews on the Facebook platform – marking one more notable development in a recent wave of review fraud actions on the part of publishers and the FTC. Meta claims the company targeted in the suit, Customer Feedback Score Solutions, organized the activities of numerous fake and hired accounts in order to manipulate the Customer Feedback Score for businesses selling products on Facebook. The lawsuit represents the first time Meta has taken aim at a fake reviews company; earlier this year, Amazon filed a similar suit against two companies alleged to have brokered fake reviews. 


Google Adds “Emergency Help” Attributes in Response to Ukraine Crisis


Google has added a new set of attributes to Google Business Profiles under the heading “Emergency help,” letting businesses promote their efforts to support Ukraine. Businesses can specify the following attributes: “Accepts donations,” “Employs refugees,” “Needs volunteers,” and “Offers free products or services.” At the moment, it’s unclear whether these attributes will be rolled out to all businesses or just those in and near Ukraine, nor has Google officially announced them. 


In addition, Google has released a special set of attributes for hotel listings in the region, allowing them to specify whether they offer free or discounted rooms to refugees along with other details. Google has published two new help documents offering guidance to hotels and other businesses near Ukraine who want to offer support. Tips include turning on live chat and using Google Posts to promote refugee services.




Courtesy Krystal Taing


Visual Search Optimization for Local Businesses


Claire Carlile has written a useful primer on visual search optimization for local businesses, illustrated with examples that demonstrate the common use of photos tied to search intent in Google’s local results. (According to recent SOCi research, 44% of local search results now contain prominent photos.) Carlile encourages businesses to make use of Google’s free Vision AI tool in order to see how the search engine understands the content of images. Because Google uses its image analysis technology to tie images to relevant queries, businesses should upload photos that are understood by Google to accurately depict their most important products or services. 


Carlile also notes that visual search – where users enter images rather than words or speech as the input – is now returning local results in some cases, tying images even more closely to the overall search experience. Her post concludes with ten tips local businesses can use in order to ensure their Google Business Profiles make the best use of images. 



Visual search tied to local results, courtesy Claire Carlile


Google Local News Roundup


There were several smaller Google-related updates in the news this week; rather than leave any of them out I’ve opted to gather them into a quick roundup.


Google has extended its free hotel room listings outside of Google Travel and says they now qualify to appear in Search and Maps. Hotels will supposedly soon be able to specify pricing directly within their Google Business Profiles. 


Google, as usual, is testing some new local features, including a “More about” button in mobile results that takes users directly to detailed contact information, as well as an “On these lists” section in the local panel that displays publicly shared lists created by Google Maps users that the business is a part of. 


For about two weeks there’s been a large upsurge in reports in the GBP help forum about Google reviews disappearing from publication. According to a Local Search Forum post from Colan Nielsen, Google is aware of the problem and most of the missing reviews should now be restored. 

Finally, a partial outage on March 18 caused widespread problems with Google Maps. Visitors to saw an error when searching for locations, and third-party platforms making use of the Google Maps Platform saw issues with features across a range of services, including the Directions API, the Maps Embed API, the Maps JavaScript API, and several others. The outage lasted about three hours and was announced to be resolved at noon Pacific time on the 18th.

Damian Rollison

With over a decade of local search experience, Damian Rollison, SOCI's Director of Market Insights, has focused his career on discovering innovative ways to help businesses large and small get noticed online. Damian's columns appear frequently at Street Fight, Search Engine Land, and other publications, and he is a frequent speaker at industry conferences such as Localogy, Brand Innovators, State of Search, SMX, and more.

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