12 Local Search Developments You Need to Know About from Q3 2023

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The author’s views are entirely their own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

The previous quarter in local search has felt slightly more mellow than the first two of this year, but industry experts have definitely made some noteworthy discoveries, and Google has made one major move.

With the holiday shopping season up next, now is the time to examine any emerging opportunities or learn about new rules, before things get too busy for the local businesses you market. Let’s hop right in!

1. No second reinstatement chances from Google

    Screenshot of appeals process in Google

    Ben Fisher wins the quarter with his detailed breakdown of the biggest Google local news. Already launched in the EU and coming to us all globally at an unspecified date is a set of changes to the Google Business Profile reinstatement process.

    The main improvement Ben highlights is somewhat more transparency in the process, offering some clues as to why your listing was suspended. The biggest fly in the ointment is that you have just one chance to make this application for reinstatement. Ben shares these two useful links:

    Google may continue to tweak this process in the coming months. In the meantime, if a listing you’re managing gets suspended, you’ll be better equipped to handle reinstatement if you’ve bookmarked Ben’s article.

    2. Try out “&near=[ZIP]” remote location emulation

    Tweet of adding & near = zip code to query string to emulate local results

    Take 60 seconds to watch Chris Long’s useful video on emulating zip code location by editing the URL of your query. Chris offers this process:

    1. Copy the ZIP code of the geography you want to emulate

    2. Search for your target query (e.g.. “fence repair near me”)

    3. At the end of the URL, append “&near=[ZIP]”

    4. Click enter and analyze the local search results

    While it’s important to remember that Google’s results can be hyperlocal to the searcher, meaning that any emulation tool or tactic may not exactly represent what a unique searcher sees as they move about town, try Chris’ tip next time you want a general idea of what rankings look like in a remote location. Fast and quite fun!

    3. Review tests, spam, and warnings

    We’ve got three different items of note in this category this quarter.

    1. Inline reviews test

      Google listing with third party reviews

      Mike Blumenthal has captured this interesting test in which reviews do not stem from individual reviewers but from third parties like Best Company and Home Advisor. Historically, Google has sometimes showcased third-party reviews in sections labeled “Reviews from the web” or similar lingo. But, this test mixes platform reviews right in with customer’s direct reviews. Keep your eye out for this test in your area.

      2. No lasting consequences for Google review spam

        Tweet in which Joy Hawkins explained that spam reviewers experienced no lasting consequences despite being reported three times.

        To understand why Joy Hawkins calls reporting review spam to Google “as about as effective as trying to teach a goldfish to play piano,” watch her video on the frustration she experienced in repeatedly reporting purchased reviews. Joy documents how each report resulted in some reviews being removed from the errant company’s listings, but then they simply bought more, creating an endless cycle of tomfoolery. If Google doesn’t ban brands that violate guidelines by buying reviews, consumers will continue to be taken in by unearned high-star ratings, and the local search results will remain untrustworthy. On that note…

        3. Spammers, en garde in France!

        Warning to reviewer whose review isn't being posted due to potential guideline violations.

        We take our hats off again to Mike Blumenthal for sharing this screenshot of a French reviewer being warned that their review isn’t being posted because it may violate Google’s policies. It remains to be seen whether this is EU-wide (if you know, please @ me), but it certainly doesn’t seem to be the case yet in the US, where we’ve gotten into a sad pattern of lagging behind Europe in anything regulatory-related. Wouldn’t it be fantastique if Google would roll this out globally, and publish such warnings not just to the reviewer, but on the profiles of brands that have been repeatedly caught violating review guidelines?

        4. Interesting GBP Developments

        We’ve got several wondrous things to ponder in the world of Google listings this past quarter, including:

        1. Footnotes in overviews?

          A local listing overview description contains mysterious footnotes that don't link to anything.

          I don’t often feature myself in these quarterly roundups, but look at this weird thing I came across in the local packs! My Twitter (ugh, ‘X’) thread compiles a bunch of instances I saw of what appear to be numbered footnotes within overview descriptions within the local pack. Look at this example, where the numbers go as high as 9:

          A screenshot showing a number of footnotes within a local pack

          And here’s another curious one on GBP that claims to be linking to a menu:

          A mysterious foot note claims to be a menu link but doesn't click to anything

          The trouble is, none of these footnotes are actionable. They don’t link to anything, and they aren’t explained. There appears to be no point to them, so they almost feel like a bug. But… they do have a familiar tone. Don’t these sound rather like AI of the kind we’ve been previewing in experiments like SGE? I’m wondering now if what I spotted presages an AI/local mashup ahead. Keep watching!

          2. You can’t list services as GBP products anymore

            Google now rejects services from being uploaded as products and gives an unsupported content message.

            I think we all share Claire Carlile’s disappointment that you can apparently no longer add services as GBP products. Until recently, it appeared fine to do so, but that’s Google local search for you: a dynamic environment in which today’s best practice is tomorrow’s bad hair day (which is why reading columns like this one becomes necessary just to keep up with the changes). I wish Google would reverse course on this. For SABs, their services are what they sell; they are their products.

            3. Getting the “Provides” local justification to show on your listing

              One type of local justification is the

              Speaking of SABs, who wouldn’t want this awesome Provides local justification to appear on their local pack listings, catching the eyes of potential customers? I don’t know what wizardly work my friend Colan Nielsen has been up to lately in the deep recesses of GBP, but when a Local Search Forum member asked why she couldn’t get this justification to show up on her listing, his reply got my attention. Colan indicated that if you want that justification to appear, you need to contact Google support to ask them to completely remove the “on-site services” attribute from your profile and that this can help you get the Provides option, instead. That was news to me, and I’d love to hear more stories like this.

              4. New Google policies bring some transparency to formerly-secret processes

              Screenshot of Google's updated policies page

              This document makes public Google’s formerly secret policies on why and when they might suspend an account, and I highly recommend watching Near Media’s full commentary on what we’ve learned from this disclosure. I quote:

              Google rolled out a number of new policy statements regarding the rules guiding suspensions and content takedowns affecting Google Business Profiles (GBP). These guidelines, long the working rules that affected listings and listing content, now make explicit how user accounts, and abuses affect whether a business continues to have access to any given listing or whether that listing will be removed from Google. While this increased clarity is welcome, the devil is in the details.

              Local search depends on authenticity, and I warmly welcome any public declarations of this kind by Google.

              4. Grab bag ‘o other local finds

              1. What’s your blue zone?

                A blue zone overlay on the Google Map indicates walking or driving radius

                Check out what Andy Simpson noticed when looking at the map for “nearby searches”: an unusual blue zone none of us seem to have seen before. It indicates both a walking and driving distance, and as Andy said, could be useful in helping you choose a new location for a business, given Google’s penchant for user-to-business proximity. How great to be running a business that customers can walk to.

                2. What are you mentioned in?

                  A rich result in the organic SERPs shows several external sources that mention the listed organization.

                  While not specifically local, getting this “Mentioned in” treatment captured by Brodie Clark could be good for any local business, especially if the recent loss of FAQ-rich results impacted you. Google appears to be testing different versions of this result, and it strikes me as a reminder of how the Authoritativeness signal of E-E-A-T works in action. Who is mentioning your brand, and how can you get more mentions from top sources?

                  3. Is your Performance data spooky enough for Hallowe’en?

                  A screenshot shows a storage business being shown in response to restaurant-related searches

                  We’re finishing up with a notable case study from Joy Hawkins that was kicked off when an attendee of a LocalU event asked why his storage client’s GBP Performance section was showing him ranking for restaurant queries. Dismissing the notion that people safeguard leftover meatloaf in storage units, and getting no insight directly from Google on the mystery, Joy posited and confirmed a theory: the client was participating in the paid Performance Max Google Ads program, which gives you a little branded pin on Google Maps… often for queries that are totally unrelated to your business.

                  As Joy explains, this Performance Max data then transfers over to your GBP Performance stats, convoluting paid with organic info. Joy was able to confirm that a branch of this business not participating in the Performance Max program was not getting this weird data, giving good credence to her theory. She also offers a warning that you shouldn’t immediately blame SEO if you see performance drops being reported to you by Google – it could be coming from your paid ads.

                  And that’s it for Q3 in local search marketing. Now we’re headed for the wild and wonderful holiday shopping season, my friends. Please, come back in January to see how it all played out!



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