Read Time: 4 minutes

Local Memo: Google Publishes Guide to Search Ranking Systems


In this week’s update, learn about Google’s new guide to search ranking systems; suggested service areas for SABs; how to deal with missing reviews; Twitter’s feature plans; removing Zocdoc from business profiles; and more experiments with business profile layout. 


Google Publishes Guide to Search Ranking Systems


Google has published a resource on its Search Central site called “A Guide to Google Search Ranking Systems.” In the new guide, Google outlines in clear language for the first time all of the automated processes that are currently involved in determining today’s search results. In a blog post announcing the guide, Google’s Danny Sullivan says the company will now differentiate between “systems,” which are distinct algorithm components like Page Experience, and “updates,” which are instances when one of these systems is either introduced or modified; so we might hear references to Google’s “Helpful Content System” and similar components moving forward. 


In all, the guide provides descriptions of 19 different systems that are in active use today, listed in alphabetical order from BERT to Spam Detection. Google makes use of a large number of AI-based algorithms today, such as BERT, MUM, and RankBrain, but still relies heavily on more traditional algorithms such as PageRank, the original foundation of Google search. A final entry in the guide lists 6 ranking systems that have been retired, including the notorious animal-named Hummingbird, Panda, and Penguin updates from 2011-2013, which have been incorporated into Google’s main search algorithm. 


The company has also updated its Search Essentials document, which provides a summary of best practices for SEOs.


Google Suggesting Service Areas to SABs


Google has begun offering service-area businesses a list of service areas, displayed as a group of buttons in the profile update section of Google Business Profiles. This was first noticed by Stefan Somborac. Somborac noticed that the service areas suggested by Google are based on the user’s location, not the location of the business, meaning they will be more useful for business owners than for agencies and others working on a business’s behalf. Still, it’s good to see Google reminding businesses to select relevant areas where they visit customers to perform services. 



An image showing the backend of Google Business Profile where businesses can select suggested service areas for their business


Courtesy Stefan Somborac / Search Engine Roundtable


How to Deal with Missing Google Reviews


Mike Blumenthal has a new guide that extends his recent commentary on the loss of reviews many businesses are experiencing since Google began using AI to clean up fake reviews. Unfortunately, legitimate reviews are getting caught in Google’s net, causing businesses to lose evidence of customer goodwill they’ve built up over years of effort. Though there was a recent bug that caused a small number of businesses to lose reviews inadvertently, most review deletions are due to Google’s sincere but error-prone effort to remove spam. 


However, there are a few other reasons why reviews might be missing. Google has disabled reviews for certain sensitive business categories, such as reproductive clinics. Recently, service area businesses with newer listings have noticed that reviews consumers have submitted are not showing publicly. Finally, Google has recently been reexamining older reviews that had previously passed through its spam filters, causing some businesses to lose older reviews. 


Working with Product Experts in the Google Business Profile help forum is one way to get missing reviews restored or to address issues with review publication. Blumenthal also suggests that businesses look at patterns in their review streams that might have triggered Google’s filters, such as receiving too many reviews in a short span of time. 


Twitter’s Near-Term Feature Plans


As we move into the fifth week of Elon Musk’s tumultuous tenure as the owner of Twitter, plans are still taking shape for new features the company may develop in order to generate revenue and realize Musk’s vision for the company. These include a revised version of a subscription-based verification service, still in a redesign phase after early versions caused confusion and were quickly pulled. The launch of a Content Moderation Council, foreshadowed by Musk in late October, seems to have taken a backseat to reinstatement decisions conducted through ad hoc methods like polling Twitter users. Musk is also known to be working on a payments system that would allow Twitter users to transfer crypto payments to each other via tweet, in a possible bid to transform Twitter into an “everything app” similar to WeChat in China.


Removing Zocdoc from Business Profiles


Colan Nielsen has shared an update on his recent post about intrusive Zocdoc appointment links appearing in medical profiles on Google – links that require the medical practice to pay Zocdoc in order to receive appointment information. Nielsen reports that the feature may be enabled if a practice has ever done business in the past with Zocdoc. Google support directs the business to get in touch with Zocdoc directly to request removal. Nielsen reports that a dentist he worked with did just that, and was eventually able to get the appointment links taken down, though there was some delay.


More Experimentation with Desktop Business Profile Layout


More users are noticing a modified desktop layout for full Google Business Profiles that is similar, though not identical, to the version captured by our own Kameron Neal, as reported in last week’s post. Similar to Kameron’s version, the page shared on Local Search Forum appears to be largely taken over by information about the business, rather than relegating that info to the righthand margin. A single featured photo appears below the main contact information for the business in the “Knowledge Panel” section, while organic results featuring the business website and Yelp’s profile of the business are intermingled in the main display with a map view showing the business location.


An image showcasing a slightly different desktop layout for the search results for "Gunsleman's Tavern"


Courtesy sarmcl / Local Search Forum

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.

Subscribe to Local Memo!


Signup to receive Local memo updates and the latest on localized marketing, delivered weekly to your inbox.