Local Memo: Google Hints at Major Changes in Search
In this week’s update, learn about Google’s hints at major changes in search; emojis in Google Maps; a new GBP verification method; Bing Chat’s rebranding; SGE’s holiday shopping features; and the drama around OpenAI’s leadership.
Google Hints at Major Changes in Search
Danny Sullivan, Search Liaison at Google, delivered a keynote address at the recent BrightonSEO conference where he hinted that major changes were coming to search in the near future and those who may have been getting away with search ranking practices frowned upon by Google will need to “buckle up.” In his writeup, Barry Schwartz notes that the past year has already been a volatile one for SEOs, with multiple search algorithm updates impacting general ranking signals as well as specific categories like review sites. (Roger Montti in Search Engine Journal suggests that Sullivan’s “buckle up” statement was overplayed in the press, and that the real news of the keynote address was Sullivan’s message that SEOs should not take Google’s ranking advice too literally. Montti argues that Google may be rethinking the way it communicates search priorities.)
In the days following Sullivan’s speech, Google made several announcements about new search features, though there’s no indication as to whether these changes were part of what Sullivan was referencing. The new features include a “follow” button users can click after searching for a topic like “half marathon training” in order to see matching content appear regularly in the Discover feed of the Google mobile app; personalization, whereby frequently visited websites will be shown more prominently in search results; and the full rollout of the Perspectives filter for desktop, which offers results from social platforms.
In addition, Google has added a new experiment to Labs called Notes. Appearing in the Google mobile app, notes are annotations added by users to websites that surface in search. Google suggests they can be used to provide context and helpful tips, both from experts and from ordinary people with experience in the search topic. Anyone can create new notes and read notes left by others. Google will also soon let users add AI-generated images to notes.
Google Maps Launches New Features Including Emoji Reactions
Google is launching several updates to Google Maps, such as improved transit directions and functionality allowing groups to plan trips together with shared location lists. In advance of the holidays, Google is also showcasing the best times during the holiday season to visit busy locations like malls and grocery stores. And in a move that brings more user generated content to local search, Google is rolling out emoji reactions users can apply to photos, videos, and reviews. In addition to preset emojis, Google will suggest “mashup” emojis for certain contexts, “like a combined yum face and bagel emoji for reactions to food photos,” in the words of Search Engine Journal’s Matt Southern.
GBP Adds New Photo Verification Method
Spotted and shared on X by Kevin Pauls is a new verification method in Google Business Profiles that seems to apply to service area businesses. In addition to numerous other options like phone call, postcard, video, and utility bill verification, apparently some users can now verify their listings by uploading a photo of their work vehicle. The screenshot of the new option shared by Pauls instructs users to upload “pictures which show the vehicle in the local area where you meet customers.”
Image courtesy Kevin Pauls / Search Engine Roundtable
Bing Chat Rebranded as Copilot, Adds New OpenAI Features
Microsoft has announced that the ChatGPT-powered search chatbot previously known as Bing Chat will be rebranded under the name Copilot. In addition, Copilot will now have its own dedicated website at copilot.microsoft.com, even as it continues to be available as an AI assistant in the Bing interface and the Edge browser. Tom Warren, writing for The Verge, argues that the repositioning is Microsoft’s attempt to compete for traffic with ChatGPT’s direct user base. Copilot will also be integrating the new dedicated AI agents called GPTs that were recently rolled out as part of the ChatGPT platform.
Google Promotes SGE for Holiday Shopping
Google wants holiday shoppers to use Search Generative Experience (SGE) to help find the perfect gift, and has announced some new SGE features to augment the shopping experience. These include AI-generated “shoppable” gift ideas, where you can enter the interests of your gift recipient and get specialized recommendations; AI image generation for shopping, where users can use AI to create an image of an ideal gift item, then use the image to search for matching options across the web; and functionality for trying on clothing virtually, again making use of AI capabilities.
Leadership Drama at OpenAI
The sudden announcement on Friday that the board of OpenAI had fired CEO Sam Altman was met with a huge amount of tech press attention, given that Altman had served as the public face not only of OpenAI itself but of the AI revolution that began with OpenAI’s public launch of ChatGPT last November. No clear reason was given for Altman’s departure from the company, though it was rumored that the charge was led by OpenAI chief scientist and board member Ilya Sutskever, who has advocated for safety over commercialization of AI.
The board’s decision was met with anger from a contingent of OpenAI staff. Following the announcement, OpenAI president and former board chairman Greg Brockman resigned, along with several senior researchers. After a rally of support for Altman over the weekend, he and company representatives were reportedly in talks on Sunday about his reinstatement and the reorganization of the company’s board. But late Sunday night, in a surprising reversal, the board named former Twitch CEO Emmett Shear to be OpenAI’s new interim CEO. Shear confirmed the news in a long post on X at 1:00am Pacific Time. This morning, it was announced that Sam Altman, Greg Brockman, and select OpenAI staff would be joining Microsoft, where Altman will run a new division dedicated to AI research.