In this week’s update, learn about Google’s latest local algorithm update; a study showing consumer trust in reviews has eroded even as usage grows; Meta’s upcoming conference on messaging for businesses; an antitrust investigation targeting Google Maps; Yelp’s new partnership with a health inspection data company; and how to remove a closed business from Google.
The Latest Google Local Algorithm Update Corrects for Vicinity
An apparent update to Google’s local algorithm around March 22 and 23 seems to have corrected for some of the punitive results of the Vicinity Update. As you may recall, the Vicinity Update rolled out from late November to early December 2021, and impacted businesses by limiting the geographic reach of those who once ranked across a broad territory (thus the name “Vicinity”). Aside from geographic reach, the Vicinity Update also limited the ranking benefit of keywords in business names, and prior studies have suggested that businesses with legitimate keywords in their names were punished more severely than those with spam keywords.
The update in March seems to have corrected for some of what Joy Hawkins has called the “overkill” of the Vicinity Update. For instance, cases where businesses with keywords in their names were filtered out of search results have now been corrected. Overall, it would appear that the benefit of keywords in business names, though still somewhat lessened, has been partially restored. Hawkins reports that the first signs of a change began occurring in early March, with the biggest spike on March 22 and 23.
Whitespark rank tracker showing volatility March 22-23, courtesy Joy Hawkins
Consumers Trust Reviews Less, But Use Them More
A new study from Mike Blumenthal finds that consumer trust in reviews has been on the decline for the past five years, even though consumers still rely on reviews as an important tool for evaluation of businesses. Analyzing trends in the last 10 years of consumer review surveys conducted by BrightLocal, Blumenthal finds that the percentage of consumers who trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations has declined precipitously, from a high mark of 84% in 2016 to just 49% in 2021.
However, the same survey data shows an increase in reliance on reviews. The proportion of consumers who say they regularly read reviews of local businesses went from a low mark of 33% in 2015 to 77% in 2022, with significant gains during the 2020-2021 pandemic period.
Blumenthal speculates that consumer awareness of fake reviews, the subject of increased news coverage starting in 2018, eroded confidence in reviews overall. Even as reliance on online information increased during the pandemic, consumers are evaluating reviews on stricter criteria, aware of the chance that overly positive reviews may be fake and perhaps spending more time evaluating negative reviews.
Google Trends shows surge in awareness around fake reviews, courtesy Mike Blumenthal
Meta to Hold Business Messaging Event
Meta has announced it will hold a virtual conference on messaging for businesses on May 19th, to be called Conversations. The company reports that more than 1 billion people connect with businesses using one of its messaging services each week, asking questions before a purchase, confirming travel reservations, checking inventory at local stores, and more. The expectation is growing that businesses will be available for quick feedback via messaging. In light of this, Meta has released features like shops on WhatsApp and improved payment options on Messenger. The company will discuss recent updates and offer technical deep dives and demos at the conference.
Google Maps Targeted by U.S. Antitrust Investigation
According to reports from Reuters, the U.S. Justice Department has been conducting an antitrust investigation targeting Google Maps since late 2020 and has recently ramped up its inquiries. The investigation is intended to determine whether Google is stifling competition by bundling Google Maps in its products and platforms. Specifically, it looks at the bundling of Google Maps into Google Automotive Services, as well as a requirement that web and app developers use Google Maps when integrating other Google services.
Google is already fighting an antitrust suit from the Justice Department related to search, which is expected to go to trial in 2023. Another suit alleging unfair practices in online advertising is expected to follow before any action related to Google Maps is formally filed.
Yelp Partners with Hazel Analytics for Health Inspection Data
Yelp has announced a partnership with Hazel Analytics designed to broaden the availability of health inspection results for restaurants on the platform. Back in 2013, Yelp developed an open data standard called LIVES to digitize restaurant health scores, in light of research showing that foodborne illness rates decline when this information is publicly available. Some 700,000 restaurants and food businesses on Yelp now carry hygiene information provided by Hazel Analytics, a firm specializing in food safety data.
Yelp’s Health Scores, with detailed info on inspection dates and results, are displayed in “Amenities and more” on the web and in the “Info” section of profiles in the Yelp app. Scores differ by jurisdiction and are sometimes shown as a letter grade, pass/fail, or a numerical score on a 100 point scale. Some health data is gathered by Yelp directly from local jurisdictions and Hazel Analytics augments Yelp’s data with its own sources.
Health Score page for Poole’s in Raleigh, NC, courtesy Yelp
How to Remove a Closed Business from Google for Good
Phil Rozek has a useful post on how to remove permanently closed businesses from Google. It’s a known annoyance amongst local SEOs that many permanently closed locations remain in publication on Google for months or even years, potentially confusing consumers. Google’s policies state that it’s up to the company to decide when or whether to remove the listing from publication entirely. Rozek says, though, that a process involving several steps has been successful in removing these dated listings. It involves marking the location as permanently closed via “Suggest an edit,” cleaning up related citations, and removing any mention of the location from your website. The final step is to go back to “Suggest and edit” and choose “Doesn’t exist here.” There are several notable details in the full post so if you’re interested I’d recommend checking it out.