New Things I’ve Learned About Google Review Likes

Posted by MiriamEllis

Last time I counted, there were upwards of 35 components to a single Google Business Profile (GBP). Hotel panels, in and of themselves, are enough to make one squeal, but even on a more “typical” GPB, it’s easy to overlook some low-lying features. Often, you may simply ignore them until life makes you engage.

A few weeks ago, a local SEO came to me with a curious real-life anecdote, in which a client was pressuring the agency to have all their staff hit the “like” button on all of the brand’s positive Google reviews. Presumably, the client felt this would help their business in some manner. More on the nitty-gritty of this scenario later, but at first, it made me face that I’d set this whole GBP feature to one side of my brain as not terribly important.

Fast forward a bit, and I’ve now spent a couple of days looking more closely at the review like button, its uses, abuses, and industry opinions about it. I’ve done a very small study, conducted a poll, and spoken to three different Google reps. Now, I’m ready to share what I’ve learned with you.

Wait, what is the “like” button?

Crash course: Rolled out in 2016, this simple function allows anyone logged into a Google account to thumbs-up any review they like. There is no opposite thumbs-down function. From the same account, you can only thumb up a single review once. Hitting the button twice simply reverses the “liking” action. Google doesn’t prevent anyone from hitting the button, including owners of the business being reviewed.

At a glance, do Google review likes influence anything?

My teammate, Kameron Jenkins, and I plugged 20 totally random local businesses into a spreadsheet, with 60 total reviews being highlighted on the front interface of the GBP. Google highlights just three reviews on the GBP and I wanted to know two things:

  1. How many businesses out of twenty had a liked review anywhere in their corpus
  2. Did the presence of likes appear to be impacting which reviews Google was highlighting on the front of the GBP?

The study was very small, and should certainly be expanded on, but here’s what I saw:

60 percent of the brands had earned at least one like somewhere in their review corpus.

15 percent of the time, Google highlighted only reviews with zero likes, even when a business had liked reviews elsewhere in its corpus. But, 85 percent of the time, if a business had some likes, at least one liked review was making it to the front of the GBP.

At a glance, I’d say it looks like a brand’s liked reviews may have an advantage when it comes to which sentiment Google highlights. This can be either a positive or negative scenario, depending on whether the reviews that get thumbed up on your listing are your positive or negative reviews.

And that leads us to…

Google’s guidelines for the use of the review likes function

But don’t get too excited, because it turns out, no such guidelines exist. Though it’s been three years since Google debuted this potentially-influential feature, I’ve confirmed with them that nothing has actually been published about what you should and shouldn’t do with this capability. If that seems like an open invitation to spam, I hear you!

So, since there were no official rules, I had to hunt for the next best thing. I was thinking about that SEO agency with the client wanting to pay them to thumb up reviews when I decided to take a Twitter poll. I asked my followers:

Unsurprisingly, given the lack of guidelines, 15 percent of 111 respondents had no idea whether it would be fishy to employ staff or markers to thumb up brand reviews. The dominant 53 percent felt it would be totally fine, but a staunch 32 percent called it spam. The latter group added additional thoughts like these:

I want to thank Tess Voecks, Gyi Tsakalakis, and everyone else for taking the poll. And I think the disagreement in it is especially interesting when we look at what happens next.

After polling the industry, I contacted three forms of Google support: phone, chat, and Twitter. If you found it curious that SEOs might disagree about whether or not paying for review likes is spam, I’m sorry to tell you that Google’s own staff doesn’t have brand-wide consensus on this either. In three parts:

1. The Google phone rep was initially unfamiliar with what the like button is. I explained it to her. First, I asked if it was okay for the business owner to hit the like button on the brand’s reviews, she confirmed that it’s fine to do that. This didn’t surprise me. But, when I asked the question about paying people to take such actions, she replied (I paraphrase):

“If a review is being liked by people apart from the owner, it’s not considered as spam.”

“What if the business owner is paying people, like staff or marketers, to like their reviews,” I asked.

“No, it’s not considered spam.”

“Not even then?”

“No,” she said.

2. Next, here’s a screenshot of my chat with a Google rep:

The final response actually amused me (i.e. yeah, go ahead and do that if you want to, but I wouldn’t do it if I were you).

3. Finally, I spoke with Google’s Twitter support, which I always find helpful:

To sum up, we had one Google rep tell is it would be fine and dandy to pay people to thumb up reviews (uh-oh!), but the other two warned against doing this. We’ll go with majority rule here and try to cobble together our own guidelines, in the absence of public ones.

My guidelines for use of the review likes function

Going forward with what we’ve learned, here’s what I would recommend:

  1. As a business owner, if you receive a review you appreciate, definitely go ahead and thumb it up. It may have some influence on what makes it to the highly-visible “front” of your Google Business Profile, and, even if not, it’s a way of saying “thank you” to the customer when you’re also writing your owner response. So, a nice review comes in, respond with thanks and hit the like button. End of story.
  2. Don’t tell anyone in your employ to thumb up your brand’s reviews. That means staff, marketers, and dependents to whom you pay allowance. Two-thirds of Google reps agree this would be spam, and 32 percent of respondents to my poll got it right about this. Buying likes is almost as sad a strategy as buying reviews. You could get caught and damage the very reputation you are hoping to build. It’s just not worth the risk.
  3. While we’re on the subject, avoid the temptation to thumbs-up your competitors’ negative reviews in hopes of getting them to surface on GBPs. Let’s just not go there. I didn’t ask Google specifically about this, but can’t you just see some unscrupulous party deciding this is clever?
  4. If you suspect someone is artificially inflating review likes on positive or negative reviews, the Twitter Google rep suggests flagging the review. So, this is a step you can take, though my confidence in Google taking action on such measures is not high. But, you could try.

How big of a priority should review likes be for local brands?

In the grand scheme of things, I’d put this low on the scale of local search marketing initiatives. As I mentioned, I’d given only a passing glance at this function over the past few years until I was confronted with the fact that people were trying to spam their way to purchased glory with it.

If reputation is a major focus for your brand (and it should be!) I’d invest more resources into creating excellent in-store experiences, review acquisition and management, and sentiment analysis than I would in worrying too much about those little thumbs. But, if you have some time to spare on a deep rep dive, it could be interesting to see if you can analyze why some types of your brand’s reviews get likes and if there’s anything you can do to build on that. I can also see showing positive reviewers that you reward their nice feedback with likes, if for no other reason than a sign of engagement.

What’s your take? Do you know anything about review likes that I should know? Please, share in the comments, and you know what I’ll do if you share a good tip? I’ll thumb up your reply!

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Reblogged 1 month ago from tracking.feedpress.it

What Your Google Tag Manager Container Should Contain – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by DiTomaso

Agencies, are you set up for ongoing Google Tag Manager success? GTM isn’t the easiest tool in the world to work with, but if you know how to use it, it can make your life much easier. Make your future self happier and more productive by setting up your GTM containers the right way today. Dana DiTomaso shares more tips and hints in this edition of Whiteboard Friday.

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Hi, Moz fans. My name is Dana DiTomaso. I am President and partner at Kick Point, which is a digital marketing agency based in Edmonton, Alberta. Today I’m going to be talking to you about Google Tag Manager and what your default container in Google Tag Manager should contain. I think if you’re in SEO, there are certainly a lot of things Google Tag Manager can do for you.

But if you’ve kind of said to yourself, “You know, Google Tag Manager is not the easiest thing to work with,” which is fair, it is not, and it used to be a lot worse, but the newer versions are pretty good, then you might have been a little intimidated by going in there and doing stuff. But I really recommend that you include these things by default because later you is going to be really happy that current you put this stuff in. So I’m going to go through what’s in Kick Point’s default Google Tag Manager container, and then hopefully you can take some of this and apply it to your own stuff.

Agencies, if you are watching, you are going to want to create a default container and use it again and again, trust me. 

Tags

So we’re going to start with how this stuff is laid out. So what we have are tags and then triggers. The way that this works is the tag is sort of the thing that’s going to happen when a trigger occurs. 

Conversion linker

So tags that we have in our default container are the conversion linker, which is used to help conversions with Safari.

If you don’t know a lot about this, I recommend looking up some of the restrictions with Safari tracking and ITP. I think they’re at 2.2 at the time I’m recording this. So I recommend checking that out. But this conversion linker will help you get around that. It’s a default tag in Tag Manager, so you just add the conversion linker. There’s a nice article on Google about what it does and how it all works. 

Events

Then we need to track a number of events. You can certainly track these things as custom dimensions or custom metrics if that floats your boat. I mean that’s up to you. If you are familiar with using custom dimensions and custom metrics, then I assume you probably know how to do this. But if you’re just getting started with Tag Manager, just start with events and then you can roll your way up to being an expert after a while. 

External links

So under events, we always track external links, so anything that points out to a domain that isn’t yours.

The way that we track this is we’re looking at every single link that’s clicked and if it does not contain our client’s domain name, then we record it as an external link, and that’s an event that we record. Now remember, and I’ve seen accidents with this where someone doesn’t put in your client’s domain and then it tracks every single click to a different page on your client’s website as an external link. That’s bad.

When you transfer from HTTP to HTTPS, if you don’t update Google Tag Manager, it will start recording links incorrectly. Also bad. But what this is really useful for are things like when you link out to other websites, as you should when you’re writing articles, telling people to find out more information. Or you can track clicks out to your different social properties and see if people are actually clicking on that Facebook icon that you stuck in the header of your website. 

PDF downloads

The next thing to track are PDF downloads.

Now there’s a limitation to this, of course, in that if people google something and your PDF comes out and then they click on it directly from Google, of course that’s not going to show up in your Analytics. That can show up in Search Console, but you’re not going to get it in Analytics. So just keep that in mind. This is if someone clicks to your PDF from a specific page on your website. Again, you’re decorating the link to say if this link contains a PDF, then I want to have this.

Scroll tracking

Then we also track scroll tracking. Now scroll tracking is when people scroll down the site, you can track and fire an event at say 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100% of the way down the page. Now the thing is with this is that your mileage is going to vary. You will probably pick different percentages. By default, in all of our containers we put 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100%. Based on the client, we might change this.

An advanced, sort of level up tactic would be to pick specific elements and then when they enter the viewport, then you can fire an event. So let’s say, for example, you have a really important call to action and because different devices are different sizes, it’s going to be a different percentage of the way down the page when it shows up, but you want to see if people got to that main CTA. Then you would want to add an event that would show whether or not that CTA was shown in the viewport.

If you google Google Tag Manager and tracking things in the viewport, there are some great articles out there on how to do it. It’s not that difficult to set up. 

Form submits

Then also form submits. Of course, you’re going to want to customize this. But by default put form submits in your container, because I guarantee that when someone is making your container let’s say for a brand-new website, they will forget about tracking form submits unless you put it in your default container and they look at it and say, “Oh, right, I have to edit that.” So always put form submits in there. 

Tel: & mailto: links

Of course you want to track telephone links and mailto: links. Telephone links should always, always be tappable, and that’s something that I see a lot of mistakes. Particularly in local SEO, when we’re dealing with really small business websites, they don’t make the telephone links tappable. It’s probably because people don’t know how. In case you don’t know how, you just telephone and then a colon and then the telephone number.

<a href="tel:+5555555555">(555) 555-5555</a>

That’s it. That’s all you need to do. Just like a link, except rather than going out to an HTTPS://, you’re going out to a telephone number. That is going to make your visitors’ lives so much easier, particularly on mobile devices. You always want to have those be tappable. So then you can track the number of people who tap on telephone links and people who tap on mailto: links exactly the same way. Now something that I do have to say, though, is that if you are using a call tracking provider, like CallRail for example, which is one that we use, then you’re going to want to shut this off, because then you could end up in double counting.

Particularly if you’re tracking every call made out from your website, then CallRail would have an Analytics integration, and then you would be tracking taps and you might also be tracking telephone clicks. So you can track it if you want to see how many people tap versus picking up the phone and calling the old-fashioned way with landlines. You can also do that, but that’s entirely up to you. But just keep that in mind if you are going to track telephone links.

All pages tracking

Then, of course, all pages tracking. Make sure you’re tracking all of the pages on your website through Google Analytics. So those are the tags. 

Triggers

Next up are the triggers. So I have a tag of external links. Then I need a trigger for external links. The trigger says when somebody clicks an external link, then I want this event to happen.

Clicks

So the event is where you structure the category and then the action and the label. 

External links

The way that we would structure external links, for example, we would say that the category for it is an external link, the action is click, and then the label is the actual link that was clicked for example. You can see you can go through each of these and see where this is happening.

Form submits

Then on things like form submit, for example, our label could be the specific form. 

Tel: & mailto:

On telephone and mailto:, we might track the phone number. 

PDFs

On other things, like PDFs, we might track like the page that this happened on. 

Page scroll

For scroll tracking, for example, we would want to track the page that someone scrolled down on. What I recommend when you’re setting up the event tracking for page scroll, the category should be page scroll, the action should be the percentage of which people scroll down, and then the label should be the URL.

Really think of it in terms of events, where you’ve got the category, which is what happened, the action, which is what did the person do, and the label is telling me more information about this. So actions are typically things like scroll, click, and tap if you’re going to be fancy and track mobile versus desktop. It could be things like form submit, for example, or just submit. Just really basic stuff. So really the two things that are going to tell you the difference are things like categories and labels, and the action is just the action that happened.

I’m really pedantic when it comes to setting up events, but I think in the long term, again, future you is going to thank you if you set this stuff up properly from the beginning. So you can really see that the tag goes to this trigger. Tag to trigger, tag to trigger, etc. So really think about making sure that every one of your tags has a corresponding trigger if it makes sense. So now we’re going to leave you with some tips on how to set up your Tag Manager account.

Tips

1. Use a Google Analytics ID variable

So the first tip is use a Google Analytics ID variable. It’s one of the built-in variables. When you go into Tag Manager and you click on Variables, it’s one of the built-in variables in there. I really recommend using that, because if you hardcode in the GA ID and something happens and you have to change it in the future or you copy that for someone else or whatever it might be, you’re going to forget.

I guarantee you you will forget. So you’re going to want to put that variable in there so you change it once and it’s everywhere. You’re saving yourself so much time and suffering. Just use a Google Analytics ID variable. If you have a really old container, maybe the variable wasn’t a thing when you first set it up. So one of the things I would recommend is go check and make sure you’re using a variable. If you’re not, then make a to-do for yourself to rip out all the hardcoded instances of your GA ID and instead replace it with a variable.

It will save you so much headaches. 

2. Create a default container to import

So the next thing — agencies, this is for you — create a default container to import. Obviously, if you’re working in-house, you’re probably not making Google Tag Manager containers all that often, unless you work at say a homebuilder and you’re making microsites for every new home development. Then you might want to create a default container for yourself. But agency side for sure, you want have a default container that you make so every cool idea that you think of, you think, oh, we need to track this, just put it all in your default container, and then when you’re grabbing it to make one for a client, you can decide, oh, we don’t need this, or yes, we need this.

It’s going to save you a ton of time when you’re setting up containers, because I find that that’s the most labor-intensive part of working with a new Tag Manager container is thinking about, “What is all the stuff I want to include?” So you want to make sure that your default container has all your little tips and tricks that you’ve accumulated over the years in there and documented of course, and then decide on a client-by-client basis what you’re going to leave and what you’re going to keep.

3. Use a naming scheme and folders

Also use a naming scheme and folders, again because you may not be working there forever, and somebody in the future is going to want to look at this and think, “Why did they set it up like this? What does this word mean? Why is this variable called foo?” You know, things that have annoyed me about developers for years and years and years, developers I love you, but please stop naming things foo. It makes no sense to anyone other than you. So our naming scheme, and you can totally steal this if you want, is we go product, result, and then what.

So, for example, we would have our tag for Google Analytics page download. So it would say Google Analytics. This is the product that the thing is going to go to. Event is what is the result of this thing existing. Then what is the PDF download. Then it’s really clear, okay, I need to fix this thing with PDF download. Something is wrong.

It’s kind of weird. Now I know exactly where to go. Again, with folders as well, so let’s say you’ve implemented something such as content consumption, which is a Google Tag Manager recipe that you can grab on our website at Kickpoint.ca, and I’ll make sure to link to it in the transcript. Let’s say you grab that. Then you’re going to want to take all the different tags and triggers that come along with content consumption and toss that into its own folder and then separate it out from all of your basic stuff.

Even if you have everything to start in a folder called Basics or Events or Analytics versus Call Tracking versus any of the other billion different tracking pixels that you have on your website, it’s a good idea to just keep it all organized. I know it’s two minutes now. It is saving you a lifetime of suffering in the future, and the future you, whether it’s you working there or somebody who ends up taking your job five years from now, just make it easier on them.

Especially too, when you think back to say Google Analytics has been around for a long time now. When I go back and look at some of my very, very first analytics that I set up, I might look at it and think, “Why was I doing that?” But if you have documentation, at least you’re going to know why you did that really weird thing back in 2008. Or when you’re looking at this in 2029 and you’re thinking, “Why did I do this thing in 2019?” you’re going to have documentation for it. So just really keep that in mind. 

4. Audit regularly!

Then the last thing is auditing regularly, and that means once every 3, 6, or 12 months. Pick a time period that makes sense for how often you’re going into the container. You go in and you take a look at every single tag, every single trigger, and every single variable. Simo Ahava has a really nice Google Tag Manager sort of auditing tool.

I’ll make sure to link to that in the transcript as well. You can use that to just go through your container and see what’s up. Let’s say you tested out some sort of screen recording, like you installed Hotjar six months ago and you ended up deciding on say another product instead, like FullStory, so then you want to make sure you remove the Hotjar. How many times have you found that you look at a new website and you’re like, “Why is this on here?”

No one at the client can tell you. They’re like, “I don’t know where that code came from.” So this is where auditing can be really handy, because remember, over time, each one of those funny little pixels that you tested out some product and then you ended up not going with it is weighing down your page and maybe it’s just a couple of microseconds, but that stuff adds up. So you really do want to go in and audit regularly and remove anything you’re not using anymore. Keep your Google Tag Manager container clean.

A lot of this is focused on obviously making future you very happy. Auditing will also make future you very happy. So hopefully, out of this, you can create a Google Tag Manager default container that’s going to work for you. I’m going to make sure as well, when the transcript is out for this, that I’m going to include some of the links that I talked about as well as a link to some more tips on how to add in things like conversion linker and make sure I’m updating it for when this video is published.

Thanks so much.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Reblogged 2 months ago from tracking.feedpress.it

How Often Does Google Update Its Algorithm?

Posted by Dr-Pete

In 2018, Google reported an incredible 3,234 improvements to search. That’s more than 8 times the number of updates they reported in 2009 — less than a decade ago — and an average of almost 9 per day. How have algorithm updates evolved over the past decade, and how can we possibly keep tabs on all of them? Should we even try?

To kick this off, here’s a list of every confirmed count we have (sources at end of post):

  • 2018 – 3,234 “improvements”
  • 2017 – 2,453 “changes”
  • 2016 – 1,653 “improvements”
  • 2013 – 890 “improvements”
  • 2012 – 665 “launches”
  • 2011 – 538 “launches”
  • 2010 – 516 “changes”
  • 2009 – 350–400 “changes”

Unfortunately, we don’t have confirmed data for 2014-2015 (if you know differently, please let me know in the comments).

A brief history of update counts

Our first peek into this data came in spring of 2010, when Google’s Matt Cutts revealed that “on average, [Google] tends to roll out 350–400 things per year.” It wasn’t an exact number, but given that SEOs at the time (and to this day) were tracking at most dozens of algorithm changes, the idea of roughly one change per day was eye-opening.

In fall of 2011, Eric Schmidt was called to testify before Congress, and revealed our first precise update count and an even more shocking scope of testing and changes:

“To give you a sense of the scale of the changes that Google considers, in 2010 we conducted 13,311 precision evaluations to see whether proposed algorithm changes improved the quality of its search results, 8,157 side-by-side experiments where it presented two sets of search results to a panel of human testers and had the evaluators rank which set of results was better, and 2,800 click evaluations to see how a small sample of real-life Google users responded to the change. Ultimately, the process resulted in 516 changes that were determined to be useful to users based on the data and, therefore, were made to Google’s algorithm.”

Later, Google would reveal similar data in an online feature called “How Search Works.” Unfortunately, some of the earlier years are only available via the Internet Archive, but here’s a screenshot from 2012:

Note that Google uses “launches” and “improvements” somewhat interchangeably. This diagram provided a fascinating peek into Google’s process, and also revealed a startling jump from 13,311 precisions evaluations (changes that were shown to human evaluators) to 118,812 in just two years.

Is the Google algorithm heating up?

Since MozCast has kept the same keyword set since almost the beginning of data collection, we’re able to make some long-term comparisons. The graph below represents five years of temperatures. Note that the system was originally tuned (in early 2012) to an average temperature of 70°F. The redder the bar, the hotter the temperature …

Click to open a high-resolution version in a new tab

You’ll notice that the temperature ranges aren’t fixed — instead, I’ve split the label into eight roughly equal buckets (i.e. they represent the same number of days). This gives us a little more sensitivity in the more common ranges.

The trend is pretty clear. The latter half of this 5-year timeframe has clearly been hotter than the first half. While warming trend is evident, though, it’s not a steady increase over time like Google’s update counts might suggest. Instead, we see a stark shift in the fall of 2016 and a very hot summer of 2017. More recently, we’ve actually seen signs of cooling. Below are the means and medians for each year (note that 2014 and 2019 are partial years):

  • 2019 – 83.7° /82.0°
  • 2018 – 89.9° /88.0°
  • 2017 – 94.0° /93.7°
  • 2016 – 75.1° / 73.7°
  • 2015 – 62.9° / 60.3°
  • 2014 – 65.8° / 65.9°

Note that search engine rankings are naturally noisy, and our error measurements tend to be large (making day-to-day changes hard to interpret). The difference from 2015 to 2017, however, is clearly significant.

Are there really 9 updates per day?

No, there are only 8.86 – feel better? Ok, that’s probably not what you meant. Even back in 2009, Matt Cutts said something pretty interesting that seems to have been lost in the mists of time…

“We might batch [algorithm changes] up and go to a meeting once a week where we talk about 8 or 10 or 12 or 6 different things that we would want to launch, but then after those get approved … those will roll out as we can get them into production.”

In 2016, I did a study of algorithm flux that demonstrated a weekly pattern evident during clearer episodes of ranking changes. From a software engineering standpoint, this just makes sense — updates have to be approved and tend to be rolled out in batches. So, while measuring a daily average may help illustrate the rate of change, it probably has very little basis in the reality of how Google handles algorithm updates.

Do all of these algo updates matter?

Some changes are small. Many improvements are likely not even things we in the SEO industry would consider “algorithm updates” — they could be new features, for example, or UI changes.

As SERP verticals and features evolve, and new elements are added, there are also more moving parts subject to being fixed and improved. Local SEO, for example, has clearly seen an accelerated rate of change over the past 2-3 years. So, we’d naturally expect the overall rate of change to increase.

A lot of this is also in the eye of the beholder. Let’s say Google makes an update to how they handle misspelled words in Korean. For most of us in the United States, that change isn’t going to be actionable. If you’re a Korean brand trying to rank for a commonly misspelled, high-volume term, this change could be huge. Some changes also are vertical-specific, representing radical change for one industry and little or no impact outside that niche.

On the other hand, you’ll hear comments in the industry along the lines of “There are 3,000 changes per year; stop worrying about it!” To me that’s like saying “The weather changes every day; stop worrying about it!” Yes, not every weather report is interesting, but I still want to know when it’s going to snow or if there’s a tornado coming my way. Recognizing that most updates won’t affect you is fine, but it’s a fallacy to stretch that into saying that no updates matter or that SEOs shouldn’t care about algorithm changes.

Ultimately, I believe it helps to know when major changes happen, if only to understand whether rankings shifted due something we did or something Google did. It’s also clear that the rate of change has accelerated, no matter how you measure it, and there’s no evidence to suggest that Google is slowing down.


Appendix A: Update count sources

2009 – Google’s Matt Cutts, video (Search Engine Land)
2010 – Google’s Eric Schmidt, testifying before Congress (Search Engine Land)
2012 – Google’s “How Search Works” page (Internet Archive)
2013 – Google’s Amit Singhal, Google+ (Search Engine Land)
2016 – Google’s “How Search Works” page (Internet Archive)
2017 – Unnamed Google employees (CNBC)
2018 – Google’s “How Search Works” page (Google.com)

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 3 months ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Restaurant Local SEO: The Google Characteristics of America&rsquo;s Top-Ranked Eateries

Posted by MiriamEllis

“A good chef has to be a manager, a businessman and a great cook. To marry all three together is sometimes difficult.”
– Wolfgang Puck

I like this quote. It makes me hear phones ringing at your local search marketing agency, with aspiring chefs and restaurateurs on the other end of the line, ready to bring experts aboard in the “sometimes difficult” quest for online visibility.

Is your team ready for these clients? How comfortable do you feel talking restaurant Local SEO when such calls come in? When was the last time you took a broad survey of what’s really ranking in this specialized industry?

Allow me to be your prep cook today, and I’ll dice up “best restaurant” local packs for major cities in all 50 US states. We’ll julienne Google Posts usage, rough chop DA, make chiffonade of reviews, owner responses, categories, and a host of other ingredients to determine which characteristics are shared by establishments winning this most superlative of local search phrases.

The finished dish should make us conversant with what it takes these days to be deemed “best” by diners and by Google, empowering your agency to answer those phones with all the breezy confidence of Julia Child.

Methodology

I looked at the 3 businesses in the local pack for “best restaurants (city)” in a major city in each of the 50 states, examining 11 elements for each entry, yielding 4,950 data points. I set aside the food processor for this one and did everything manually. I wanted to avoid the influence of proximity, so I didn’t search for any city in which I was physically located. The results, then, are what a traveler would see when searching for top restaurants in destination cities.

Restaurant results

Now, let’s look at each of the 11 data points together and see what we learn. Take a seat at the table!

Categories prove no barrier to entry

Which restaurant categories make up the dominant percentage of local pack entries for our search?

You might think that a business trying to rank locally for “best restaurants” would want to choose just “restaurant” as their primary Google category as a close match. Or, you might think that since we’re looking at best restaurants, something like “fine dining restaurants” or the historically popular “French restaurants” might top the charts.

Instead, what we’ve discovered is that restaurants of every category can make it into the top 3. Fifty-one percent of the ranking restaurants hailed from highly diverse categories, including Pacific Northwest Restaurant, Pacific Rim Restaurant, Organic, Southern, Polish, Lebanese, Eclectic and just about every imaginable designation. American Restaurant is winning out in bulk with 26 percent of the take, and an additional 7 percent for New American Restaurant. I find this an interesting commentary on the nation’s present gustatory aesthetic as it may indicate a shift away from what might be deemed fancy fare to familiar, homier plates.

Overall, though, we see the celebrated American “melting pot” perfectly represented when searchers seek the best restaurant in any given city. Your client’s food niche, however specialized, should prove no barrier to entry in the local packs.

High prices don’t automatically equal “best”

Do Google’s picks for “best restaurants” share a pricing structure?

It will cost you more than $1000 per head to dine at Urasawa, the nation’s most expensive eatery, and one study estimates that the average cost of a restaurant meal in the US is $12.75. When we look at the price attribute on Google listings, we find that the designation “best” is most common for establishments with charges that fall somewhere in between the economical and the extravagant.

Fifty-eight percent of the top ranked restaurants for our search have the $$ designation and another 25 percent have the $$$. We don’t know Google’s exact monetary value behind these symbols, but for context, a Taco Bell with its $1–$2 entrees would typically be marked as $, while the fabled French Laundry gets $$$$ with its $400–$500 plates. In our study, the cheapest and the costliest restaurants make up only a small percentage of what gets deemed “best.”

There isn’t much information out there about Google’s pricing designations, but it’s generally believed that they stem at least in part from the attribute questions Google sends to searchers. So, this element of your clients’ listings is likely to be influenced by subjective public sentiment. For instance, Californians’ conceptions of priciness may be quite different from North Dakotans’. Nevertheless, on the national average, mid-priced restaurants are most likely to be deemed “best.”

Of anecdotal interest: The only locale in which all 3 top-ranked restaurants were designated at $$$$ was NYC, while in Trenton, NJ, the #1 spot in the local pack belongs to Rozmaryn, serving Polish cuisine at $ prices. It’s interesting to consider how regional economics may contribute to expectations, and your smartest restaurant clients will carefully study what their local market can bear. Meanwhile, 7 of the 150 restaurants we surveyed had no pricing information at all, indicating that Google’s lack of adequate information about this element doesn’t bar an establishment from ranking.

Less than 5 stars is no reason to despair

Is perfection a prerequisite for “best”?

Negative reviews are the stuff of indigestion for restaurateurs, and I’m sincerely hoping this study will provide some welcome relief. The average star rating of the 150 “best” restaurants we surveyed is 4.5. Read that again: 4.5. And the number of perfect 5-star joints in our study? Exactly zero. Time for your agency to spend a moment doing deep breathing with clients.

The highest rating for any restaurant in our data set is 4.8, and only three establishments rated so highly. The lowest is sitting at 4.1. Every other business falls somewhere in-between. These ratings stem from customer reviews, and the 4.5 average proves that perfection is simply not necessary to be “best.”

Breaking down a single dining spot with 73 reviews, a 4.6 star rating was achieved with fifty-six 5-star reviews, four 4-star reviews, three 3-star reviews, two 2-star reviews, and three 1-star reviews. 23 percent of diners in this small review set had a less-than-ideal experience, but the restaurant is still achieving top rankings. Practically speaking for your clients, the odd night when the pho was gummy and the paella was burnt can be tossed onto the compost heap of forgivable mistakes.

Review counts matter, but differ significantly

How many reviews do the best restaurants have?

It’s folk wisdom that any business looking to win local rankings needs to compete on native Google review counts. I agree with that, but was struck by the great variation in review counts across the nation and within given packs. Consider:

  • The greatest number of reviews in our study was earned by Hattie B’s Hot Chicken in Nashville, TN, coming in at a whopping 4,537!
  • Meanwhile, Park Heights Restaurant in Tupelo, MS is managing a 3-pack ranking with just 72 reviews, the lowest in our data set.
  • 35 percent of “best”-ranked restaurants have between 100–499 reviews and another 31 percent have between 500–999 reviews. Taken together that’s 66 percent of contenders having yet to break 1,000 reviews.
  • A restaurant with less than 100 reviews has only a 1 percent chance of ranking for this type of search.

Anecdotally, I don’t know how much data you would have to analyze to be able to find a truly reliable pattern regarding winning review counts. Consider the city of Dallas, where the #1 spot has 3,365 review, but spots #2 and #3 each have just over 300. Compare that to Tallahassee, where a business with 590 reviews is coming in at #1 above a competitor with twice that many. Everybody ranking in Boise has well over 1,000 reviews, but nobody in Bangor is even breaking into the 200s.

The takeaways from this data point is that the national average review count is 893 for our “best” search, but that there is no average magic threshold you can tell a restaurant client they need to cross to get into the pack. Totals vary so much from city to city that your best plan of action is to study the client’s market and strongly urge full review management without making any promise that hitting 1,000 reviews will ensure them beating out that mysterious competitor who is sweeping up with just 400 pieces of consumer sentiment. Remember, no local ranking factor stands in isolation.

Best restaurants aren’t best at owner responses

How many of America’s top chophouses have replied to reviews in the last 60 days?

With a hat tip to Jason Brown at the Local Search Forum for this example of a memorable owner response to a negative review, I’m sorry to say I have some disappointing news. Only 29 percent of the restaurants ranked best in all 50 states had responded to their reviews in the 60 days leading up to my study. There were tributes of lavish praise, cries for understanding, and seething remarks from diners, but less than one-third of owners appeared to be paying the slightest bit of attention.

On the one hand, this indicates that review responsiveness is not a prerequisite for ranking for our desirable search term, but let’s go a step further. In my view, whatever time restaurant owners may be gaining back via unresponsiveness is utterly offset by what they stand to lose if they make a habit of overlooking complaints. Review neglect has been cited as a possible cause of business closure. As my friends David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal always say:“Your brand is its reviews” and mastering the customer service ecosystem is your surest way to build a restaurant brand that lasts.

For your clients, I would look at any local pack with neglected reviews as representative of a weakness. Algorithmically, your client’s active management of the owner response function could become a strength others lack. But I’ll even go beyond that: Restaurants ignoring how large segments of customer service have moved onto the web are showing a deficit of commitment to the long haul. It’s true that some eateries are famous for thriving despite offhand treatment of patrons, but in the average city, a superior commitment to responsiveness could increase many restaurants’ repeat business, revenue and rankings.

Critic reviews nice but not essential

I’ve always wanted to investigate critic reviews for restaurants, as Google gives them a great deal of screen space in the listings:

How many times were critic reviews cited in the Google listings of America’s best restaurants and how does an establishment earn this type of publicity?

With 57 appearances, Lonely Planet is the leading source of professional reviews for our search term, with Zagat and 10Best making strong showings, too. It’s worth noting that 70/150 businesses I investigated surfaced no critic reviews at all. They’re clearly not a requirement for being considered “best”, but most restaurants will benefit from the press. Unfortunately, there are few options for prompting a professional review. To wit:

Lonely Planet — Founded in 1972, Lonely Planet is a travel guide publisher headquartered in Australia. Critic reviews like this one are written for their website and guidebooks simultaneously. You can submit a business for review consideration via this form, but the company makes no guarantees about inclusion.

Zagat — Founded in 1979, Zagat began as a vehicle for aggregating diner reviews. It was purchased by Google in 2011 and sold off to The Infatuation in 2018. Restaurants can’t request Zagat reviews. Instead, the company conducts its own surveys and selects businesses to be rated and reviewed, like this.

10Best — Owned by USA Today Travel Media Group, 10Best employs local writers/travelers to review restaurants and other destinations. Restaurants cannot request a review.

The Infatuation — Founded in 2009 and headquartered in NY, The Infatuation employs diner-writers to create reviews like this one based on multiple anonymous dining experiences that are then published via their app. The also have a SMS-based restaurant recommendation system. They do not accept request from restaurants hoping to be reviewed.

AFAR — Founded in 2009, AFAR is a travel publication with a website, magazine, and app which publishes reviews like this one. There is no form for requesting a review.

Michelin — Founded as a tire company in 1889 in France, Michelin’s subsidiary ViaMichelin is a digital mapping service that houses the reviews Google is pulling. In my study, Chicago, NYC and San Francisco were the only three cities that yielded Michelin reviews like this one and one article states that only 165 US restaurants have qualified for a coveted star rating. The company offers this guide to dining establishments.

As you can see, the surest way to earn a professional review is to become notable enough on the dining scene to gain the unsolicited notice of a critic. 

Google Posts hardly get a seat at best restaurant tables

How many picks for best restaurants are using the Google Posts microblogging feature?

As it turns out, only a meager 16 percent of America’s “best” restaurants in my survey have made any use of Google Posts. In fact, most of the usage I saw wasn’t even current. I had to click the “view previous posts on Google” link to surface past efforts. This statistic is much worse than what Ben Fisher found when he took a broader look at Google Posts utilization and found that 42 percent of local businesses had at least experimented with the feature at some point.

For whatever reason, the eateries in my study are largely neglecting this influential feature, and this knowledge could encompass a competitive advantage for your restaurant clients.

Do you have a restaurateur who is trying to move up the ranks? There is some evidence that devoting a few minutes a week to this form of microblogging could help them get a leg up on lazier competitors.

Google Posts are a natural match for restaurants because they always have something to tout, some appetizing food shot to share, some new menu item to celebrate. As the local SEO on the job, you should be recommending an embrace of this element for its valuable screen real estate in the Google Business Profile, local finder, and maybe even in local packs.

Waiter, there’s some Q&A in my soup

What is the average number of questions top restaurants are receiving on their Google Business Profiles?

Commander’s Palace in New Orleans is absolutely stealing the show in my survey with 56 questions asked via the Q&A feature of the Google Business Profile. Only four restaurants had zero questions. The average number of questions across the board was eight.

As I began looking at the data, I decided not to re-do this earlier study of mine to find out how many questions were actually receiving responses from owners, because I was winding up with the same story. Time and again, answers were being left up to the public, resulting in consumer relations like these:

Takeaway: As I mentioned in a previous post, Greg Gifford found that 40 percent of his clients’ Google Questions were leads. To leave those leads up to the vagaries of the public, including a variety of wags and jokesters, is to leave money on the table. If a potential guest is asking about dietary restrictions, dress codes, gift cards, average prices, parking availability, or ADA compliance, can your restaurant clients really afford to allow a public “maybe” to be the only answer given?

I’d suggest that a dedication to answering questions promptly could increase bookings, cumulatively build the kind of reputation that builds rankings, and possibly even directly impact rankings as a result of being a signal of activity.

A moderate PA & DA gets you into the game

What is the average Page Authority and Domain Authority of restaurants ranking as “best’?

Looking at both the landing page that Google listings are pointing to and the overall authority of each restaurant’s domain, I found that:

  • The average PA is 36, with a high of 56 and a low of zero being represented by one restaurant with no website link and one restaurant appearing to have no website at all.
  • The average DA is 41, with a high of 88, one business lacking a website link while actually having a DA of 56 and another one having no apparent website at all. The lowest linked DA I saw was 6.
  • PA/DA do not = rankings. Within the 50 local packs I surveyed, 32 of them exhibited the #1 restaurant having a lower DA than the establishments sitting at #2 or #3. In one extreme case, a restaurant with a DA of 7 was outranking a website with a DA of 32, and there were the two businesses with the missing website link or missing website. But, for the most part, knowing the range of PA/DA in a pack you are targeting will help you create a baseline for competing.

While pack DA/PA differs significantly from city to city, the average numbers we’ve discovered shouldn’t be out-of-reach for established businesses. If your client’s restaurant is brand new, it’s going to take some serious work to get up market averages, of course.

Local Search Ranking Factors 2019 found that DA was the 9th most important local pack ranking signal, with PA sitting at factor #20. Once you’ve established a range of DA/PA for a local SERP you are trying to move a client up into, your best bet for making improvements will include improving content so that it earns links and powering up your outreach for local links and linktations.

Google’s Local Finder “web results” show where to focus management

Which websites does Google trust enough to cite as references for restaurants?

As it turns out, that trust is limited to a handful of sources:

As the above pie chart shows:

  • The restaurant’s website was listed as a reference for 99 percent of the candidates in our survey. More proof that you still need a website in 2019, for the very good reason that it feeds data to Google.
  • Yelp is highly trusted at 76 percent and TripAdvisor is going strong at 43 percent. Your client is likely already aware of the need to manage their reviews on these two platforms. Be sure you’re also checking them for basic data accuracy.
  • OpenTable and Facebook are each getting a small slice of Google trust, too.

Not shown in the above chart are 13 restaurants that had a web reference from a one-off source, like the Des Moines Register or Dallas Eater. A few very famous establishments, like Brennan’s in New Orleans, surfaced their Wikipedia page, although they didn’t do so consistently. I noticed Wikipedia pages appearing one day as a reference and then disappearing the next day. I was left wondering why.

For me, the core takeaway from this factor is that if Google is highlighting your client’s listing on a given platform as a trusted web result, your agency should go over those pages with a fine-toothed comb, checking for accuracy, activity, and completeness. These are citations Google is telling you are of vital importance.

A few other random ingredients

As I was undertaking this study, there were a few things I noted down but didn’t formally analyze, so consider this as mixed tapas:

  • Menu implementation is all over the place. While many restaurants are linking directly to their own website via Google’s offered menu link, some are using other services like Single Platform, and far too many have no menu link at all.
  • Reservation platforms like Open Table are making a strong showing, but many restaurants are drawing a blank on this Google listing field, too. Many, but far from all, of the restaurants designated “best” feature Google’s “reserve a table” function which stems from partnerships with platforms like Open Table and RESY.
  • Order links are pointing to multiple sources including DoorDash, Postmates, GrubHub, Seamless, and in some cases, the restaurant’s own website (smart!). But, in many cases, no use is being made of this function.
  • Photos were present for every single best-ranked restaurant. Their quality varied, but they are clearly a “given” in this industry.
  • Independently-owned restaurants are the clear winners for my search term. With the notable exception of an Olive Garden branch in Parkersburg, WV, and a Cracker Barrel in Bismarck, ND, the top competitors were either single-location or small multi-location brands. For the most part, neither Google nor the dining public associate large chains with “best”.
  • Honorable mentions go to Bida Manda Laotian Bar & Grill for what looks like a gorgeous and unusual restaurant ranking #1 in Raleigh, NC and to Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen of Tupelo, MS for the most memorable name in my data set. You can get a lot of creative inspiration from just spending time with restaurant data.

A final garnish to our understanding of this data

I want to note two things as we near the end of our study:

  1. Local rankings emerge from the dynamic scenario of Google’s opinionated algorithms + public opinion and behavior. Doing Local SEO for restaurants means managing a ton of different ingredients: website SEO, link building, review management, GBP signals, etc. We can’t offer clients a generic “formula” for winning across the board. This study has helped us understand national averages so that we can walk into the restaurant space feeling conversant with the industry. In practice, we’ll need to discover the true competitors in each market to shape our strategy for each unique client. And that brings us to some good news.
  2. As I mentioned at the outset of this survey, I specifically avoided proximity as an influence by searching as a traveler to other destinations would. I investigated one local pack for each major city I “visited”. The glad tidings are that, for many of your restaurant clients, there is going to be more than one chance to rank for a search like “best restaurants (city)”. Unless the eatery is in a very small town, Google is going to whip up a variety of local packs based on the searcher’s location. So, that’s something hopeful to share.

What have we learned about restaurant local SEO?

A brief TL;DR you can share easily with your clients:

  • While the US shows a predictable leaning towards American restaurants, any category can be a contender. So, be bold!
  • Mid-priced restaurants are considered “best” to a greater degree than the cheapest or most expensive options. Price for your market.
  • While you’ll likely need at least 100 native Google reviews to break into these packs, well over half of competitors have yet to break the 1,000 mark.
  • An average 71 percent of competitors are revealing a glaring weakness by neglecting to respond to reviews – so get in there and start embracing customer service to distinguish your restaurant!
  • A little over half of your competitors have earned critic reviews. If you don’t yet have any, there’s little you can do to earn them beyond becoming well enough known for anonymous professional reviewers to visit you. In the meantime, don’t sweat it.
  • About three-quarters of your competitors are completely ignoring Google Posts; gain the advantage by getting active.
  • Potential guests are asking nearly every competitor questions, and so many restaurants are leaving leads on the table by allowing random people to answer. Embrace fast responses to Q&A to stand out from the crowd.
  • With few exceptions, devotion to authentic link earning efforts can build up your PA/DA to competitive levels.
  • Pay attention to any platform Google is citing as a resource to be sure the information published there is a complete and accurate.
  • The current management of other Google Business Profile features like Menus, Reservations and Ordering paints a veritable smorgasbord of providers and a picture of prevalent neglect. If you need to improve visibility, explore every profile field that Google is giving you.

A question for you: Do you market restaurants? Would you be willing to share a cool local SEO tactic with our community? We’d love to hear about your special sauce in the comments below.

Wishing you bon appétit for working in the restaurant local SEO space, with delicious wins ahead!

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Reblogged 4 months ago from tracking.feedpress.it

5 Google Business Profile Tweaks To Improve Foot Traffic

Posted by MiriamEllis

Your agency recommends all kinds of useful tactics to help improve the local SEO for your local business clients, but how many of those techniques are leveraging Google Business Profile (GBP) to attract as many walk-ins as possible?

Today, I’m sharing five GBP tweaks worthy of implementation to help turn digital traffic into foot traffic. I’ve ordered them from easiest to hardest, but as you’ll see, even the more difficult ones aren’t actually very daunting — all the more reason to try them out!

1) Answer Google Q&A quickly (they might be leads)

Difficulty level: Easy

If you have automotive industry clients, chances you’re familiar with Greg Gifford from DealerOn. At a recent local search conference, Greg shared that 40 percent of the Google Q&A questions his clients receive are actually leads

40 percent!

Here’s what that looks like in Google’s Q&A:

It looks like Coast Nissan has a customer who is ready to walk through the door if they receive an answer. But as you can see, the question has gone unanswered. Note, too, that four people have thumbed the question up, which signifies a shared interest in a potential answer, but it’s still not making it onto the radar of this particular dealership.

Nearly all verticals could have overlooked leads sitting in their GBPs — from questions about dietary options at a restaurant, to whether a retailer stocks a product, to queries about ADA compliance or available parking. Every ask represents a possible lead, and in a competitive retail landscape, who can afford to ignore such an opportunity?

The easiest way for Google My Business (GMB) listing owners and managers to get notified of new questions is via the Google Maps App, as notifications are not yet part of the main GMB dashboard. This will help you catch questions as they arise. The faster your client responds to incoming queries, the better their chances of winning the foot traffic.

2) Post about your proximity to nearby major attractions

Difficulty level: Easy

Imagine someone has just spent the morning at a museum, a landmark, park, or theatre. After exploring, perhaps they want to go to lunch, go apparel shopping, find a gas station, or a bookstore near them. A well-positioned Google Post, like the one below, can guide them right to your client’s door:

This could become an especially strong draw for foot traffic if Google expands its experiment of showing Posts’ snippets not just in the Business Profile and Local Finder, but within local packs:

Posting is so easy — there’s no reason not to give it a try. Need help getting your client started? Here’s Google’s intro and here’s an interview I did last year with Joel Headley on using Google Posts to boost bookings and conversions.

3) Turn GBPs into storefronts

Difficulty level: Easy for retailers

With a little help from SWIS and Pointy, your retail clients’ GBPs can become the storefront window that beckons in highly-converting foot traffic. Your client’s “See What’s In Store inventory” appears within the Business Profile, letting customers know the business has the exact merchandise they’re looking for:

Pointy is Google’s launch partner for this game-changing GBP feature. I recently interviewed CEO Mark Cummins regarding the ultra-simple Pointy device which makes it a snap for nearly all retailers to instantly bring their inventory online — without the fuss of traditional e-commerce systems and at a truly nominal cost.

I’ll reiterate my prediction that SWIS is the “next big thing” in local, and when last I spoke with Mark, one percent of all US retailers had already adopted his product. Encourage your retail clients to sign up and give them an amazing competitive edge on driving foot traffic!

4) Make your profile pic a selfie hotspot

Difficulty level: Medium (feasible for many storefronts)

When a client has a physical premise (and community ordinances permit it), an exterior mural can turn through traffic into foot traffic — it also helps to convert Instagram selfie-takers into customers. As I mentioned in a recent blog post, a modest investment in this strategy could appeal to the 43–58 percent of survey respondents who are swayed to shop in locations that are visually appealing.

If a large outdoor mural isn’t possible, there’s plenty of inspiration for smaller indoor murals, here

Once the client has made the investment in providing a cultural experience for the community, they can try experimenting with getting the artwork placed as the cover photo on their GBP — anyone looking at a set of competitors in a given area will see this appealing, extra reason to choose their business over others.

Mark my words, local search marketers: We are on the verge of seeing Americans reject the constricted label of “consumer” in a quest for a more holistic view of themselves as whole persons. Local businesses that integrate art, culture, and community life into their business models will be well-placed to answer what, in my view, is a growing desire for authentic human experiences. As a local search marketer, myself, this is a topic I plan to explore further this year.

5) Putting time on your side

Difficulty level: Medium (feasible for willing clients)

Here’s a pet peeve of mine: businesses that serve working people but are only open 9–5. How can your client’s foot traffic achieve optimum levels if their doors are only open when everybody is at work?

So, here’s the task: Do a quick audit of the hours posted on the GBPs of your client’s direct competitors. For example, I found three craft shops in one small city with these hours:

Guess which competitor is getting all of the business after 6 PM every day of the week, when most people are off work and able to shop?

Now, it may well be that some of your smaller clients are already working as many hours as they can, but have they explored whether their hours are actually ideal for their customers’ needs and whether any time slots aren’t being filled in the community by their competitors? What if, instead of operating under the traditional 9–5, your client switched to 11–7, since no other competitor in town is open after 5 PM? It’s the same number of hours and your client would benefit from getting all the foot traffic of the 9–5-ers.

Alternatively, instead of closing on Saturdays, the business closed on Mondays — perhaps this is the slowest of their weekdays? Being open on the weekend could mean that the average worker can now access said business and become a customer.

It will take some openness to change, but if a business agrees to implementation, don’t forget to update the GMB hours and push out the new hours to the major citation platforms via a service like Moz Local

Your turn to add your best GMB moves

I hope you’ll take some of these simple GBP tips to an upcoming client meeting. And if they decide to forge ahead with your tips, be sure to monitor the outcomes! How great if a simple audit of hours turned into a foot traffic win for your client? 

 In the meantime, if you have any favorite techniques, hacks, or easy GMB wins to share with our community, I’d love to read your comments!

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Reblogged 5 months ago from tracking.feedpress.it