Local Memo: Will SGE Actually Have an Official Launch?
In this week’s post, learn about SGE’s uncertain future; signs that Google search is getting worse; the small business filter in local results; a new Nearby Events and Deals feature that makes Google Posts more prominent; the rising importance of forums in local search; and new generative AI features for Chrome.
Will SGE Actually Have an Official Launch?
The articles continue to come out in the SEO press at a rapid press, declaring that Google’s SGE will have an immense impact on search when it ceases to be an experiment and officially launches as part of the Google interface. But Greg Sterling has questioned whether that launch is still imminent, pointing out that Google has already achieved its initial goal of beating back the competitive threat of Bing and OpenAI to the company’s search dominance. It’s true that Google removed the end date of December 2023 from SGE in the Labs interface, leaving its future uncertain. Of course, Google will continue to push generative AI in all of its products, but if generative AI enters search proper, it may come in a different form than we see in the current SGE interface.
Still, 60% of SEOs say they’re worried about the potential impact of SGE according to a recent industry poll. Recent studies have looked at the impact of SGE by industry as well as its potential effect on site traffic. And a leaked internal communication from Google CEO Sundar Pichai indicates that Google has prioritized dominance in AI in 2024, with search inevitably factoring into those plans.
— Barry Schwartz (@rustybrick) January 19, 2024
Is Google Search Getting Worse?
In December, SEO commentators, starting with Lily Ray, reported that Google was hit by a huge influx of spam, a situation that apparently impacted millions of SERPs. Spammers targeted lower volume long tail search queries as well as local results, where, as Roger Montti notes, Google has “a more permissive algorithm” which can allow listings to rank even with no website link or a website that shows signs of fraud. The spam problem, which involves networks of linked spam sites that can individually rank for thousands of keywords, still persists according to Ray’s recent posts.
The notion that Google search results are getting worse is further bolstered by a new study from a German research firm, which finds that “a torrent of low-quality content” is degrading the quality of product search results. In light of this, it was surprising to learn that Google has terminated its contract with Appen, a firm that employs thousands of Google’s search quality raters, though the move may be unrelated.
Small Business Filter Appearing in Local Searches
Mike Blumenthal and Greg Sterling have both spotted a small business filter in local search results that allows users to isolate businesses displaying the small business attribute in their profiles, a feature that was launched a few months back. At the time, I noted that the small business attribute could pose a threat to multi-location brands, who might be filtered out of searches when users want to choose a small business. Of course, franchisees might arguably be able to use the attribute. The popularity of the new search filter will be hard to gauge, but we’ll want to keep an eye on whether it seems to be appearing more often over time.
Courtesy Mike Blumenthal
Nearby Events and Deals in Local Results
Google is testing a Nearby Events and Deals feature in local search results, as spotted by Saad Alikhan who posted about it on X. The feature, when it appears, shows up further down the page than the local pack, and seems to typically showcase four options in a card style display, with prominent photos. The content is taken from Google Posts advertising deals (presumably offer-type posts) and events, suggesting these post types may become even more valuable for businesses.
Google > Mobile
I saw “Nearby events and deals” section in SERPs (featuring local listings), this might be new.
— Saad AK (@SaadAlikhan1994) January 1, 2024
Courtesy Saad Alikhan
The Rising Importance of Forums in Local Search
Joy Hawkins has written about the increased prevalence of forum results in local search, noting that her own Local Search Forum has increased 144% in traffic year over year. Forum results, she says, have begun dominating the organic SERPs for local searches of all kinds in the last 60 days. Hawkins points out that forums provide human-moderated content that is much harder to spam, making them appealing to Google as a source of authentic content at a time when spam content has grown (likely aided by AI). Especially given that brand searches are impacted by this change, Hawkins recommends that businesses pay attention to how their brand is appearing in forum results, some of which may make complaints and negative content more visible.
Lily Ray posting about the growth of Reddit, courtesy Joy Hawkins
Google Adds Generative AI to Chrome
Google has announced some new generative AI features for the Chrome browser, including expanded support for custom backgrounds, as well as a writing assistant that can help with queries and posts. Google’s announcement calls out use cases for the writing assistant which include leaving “a well-written review for a restaurant.” Users can “type in a few words” and “AI will kickstart the writing process for you.” For those who tend to have multiple browser tabs open, Chrome will also now automatically sort your tabs into topic groups, making it easier to keep track of them.