Local Memo: A Wave of Google Suspensions Plagues Business Owners
In this week’s update, learn about a wave of Google suspensions plaguing business owners; subjective attribute scores in GBP insights; Google’s guidelines on review gating; the removal of health and safety attributes; Walmart’s foray into immersive shopping; and Yelp’s new report on business growth in non-downtown neighborhoods.
A Wave of Google Suspensions Plagues Business Owners
For at least the last three to four weeks, owners and managers of Google Business Profiles have experienced a wave of suspensions, meaning that those managing the profile lose access due to what Google deems to be suspicious activity. These suspensions are occurring, though, after seemingly innocent updates such as publishing a new Google Post or updating business hours. An unusual uptick of suspensions has been noted in the Google Business Profile help forums, in the Local Search Forum, and elsewhere. For many businesses, Google is requiring reverification in order to gain access to the profile.
In at least some cases, suspension seems to be occurring when new listings are created and verified, and the owner or manager tries to make updates for the first time. But established listings are also falling prey to suspensions when information is updated. This has all the hallmarks of a bug — or an AI-based procedure that is inadvertently producing false positives — though for now Google has not confirmed the nature of the problem. Suspended listings can be reinstated via Google support, but support channels are currently backed up, leaving many owners and managers waiting weeks for access to be restored.
Subjective Attribute Scores in GBP Insights
As noted by Krystal Taing on Twitter, Google reports on subjective attributes in a chart in the Insights section of Google Business Profile Manager. This is the older Insights page, not the new Performance page that appears in Search, and I don’t think the feature is new, but it’s a good reminder that you can access information about the sentiment of consumers related to your business. The chart is available, however, only for select business categories including restaurants and cafes. Google explains on its Insights help page that subjective input gathered from consumers is based on their opinions and can’t be removed unless proven false.
Subjective attributes are gathered via prompts from logged in Google Maps users about the experience of visiting a restaurant or cafe. Those with the highest vote counts are published alongside attributes configured by the business owner in the About tab on mobile profiles.
Subjective attributes chart from GBP Insights
Google Clarifies Guidelines on Review Gating
Google has added language to its contributor guidelines for local reviews stating clearly that “discouraging or prohibiting negative reviews, or selectively soliciting positive reviews from customers,” violates Google’s policies. Similar to language added a few weeks ago that specifies business cannot offer incentives for the removal of negative reviews, this policy statement does not reflect a change on Google’s part, but merely offers clarity on the company’s longstanding position about review gating.
Review gating is any practice that is intended to bias public reviews towards the positive. Gating can occur before the review is written, for instance by surveying customers and only asking those who are satisfied to leave reviews. Gating can also happen after the fact, when companies selectively publish only positive reviews to their own websites. The latter version made headlines earlier this year when online retailer Fashion Nova was fined $4.2 million by the FTC for engaging in review gating.
Health and Safety Attributes Removed from GBP
In a clear sign of waning concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, Google has removed the “Health & safety” section from Google Business Profile attributes. These attributes were launched in 2020 in response to the pandemic, and included items like “Mask required,” “Staff wear masks,” “Temperature check required” and others. For a period of time, health and safety attributes were displayed prominently with special icons in some versions of the public business profile. I did notice that some of Google’s messaging still references health and safety attributes, such as the callout in the screenshot below from a monthly performance email sent to profile managers, sent after the attributes were removed.
Reference to outmoded health & safety attributes in promo email
Walmart’s Foray into Immersive Shopping
As covered by Mike Boland in the Localogy blog, Walmart is making moves into immersive shopping with a new “Be Your Own Model” feature that allows users to upload photos of themselves in order to try on clothing virtually before they buy. Previously, shoppers could see clothing modeled by virtual models representing a range of body types and skin tones. The move toward utilization of shopper photos adds another layer of personalization. Using Walmart’s iOS app, shoppers can upload a photo and try on a selection of 270,000 clothing items from brands like Champion and Levi’s. The capability follows from Walmart’s acquisition of startup Zeekit in 2021. AR-based shopping tools have been shown both to increase conversions and to reduce returns.
Yelp Report Finds Businesses are Growing Outside Downtown Areas
A new report from Yelp Economic Average finds that in cities across the United States, recent business growth is stronger in non-downtown areas than in downtowns with numerous office buildings. The trend reflects changes in the workforce as many companies have transitioned to hybrid or fully remote work — a pandemic-era strategy that has proven to have a long-term impact. The report measures growth in terms of new businesses opening in downtown vs. non-downtown areas.
Yelp’s report finds that businesses grew three times faster during 2020-2022 in non-downtown areas, with growth in 2022 exceeding pre-pandemic levels. Business growth was especially strong in some categories, including restaurants and food businesses. Trends differ by city, with cities like Portland, San Francisco, and New York all seeing higher rates of growth in non-downtown neighborhoods, while in Miami growth was roughly equal in both sectors.
Rate of new businesses in non-downtown compared to downtown areas, 2022 vs. 2017-2019, courtesy Yelp