Ep 53: For sale: Yelp reviews, Core Web Vitals & Local Rank, Google’s SEO training, Google in 10 years

Yelp Elite reviews for sale; Core Web Vitals: No impact on Local ranking, Google offering SEO training, What will Google be in 10 years?

Ep 53: For sale: Yelp reviews,  Core Web Vitals & Local Rank, Google’s SEO training, Google in 10 years
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon / Unsplash

Part 1 Video start 0:13 - Yelp Elite reviews for sale

Part 2 Video start 7:45 - Core Web Vitals: No impact on Local ranking, Google offering SEO training

Part 3 Video start 15:29 - Where will Google search be in 10 years?

Reference Articles

  1. Yelp Elites Bribed
  2. Yelp Elites and Others Paid for Fake Reviews in Plain Sight
  3. Core Web Vitals Impact on Google Business Profile Landing Pages
  4. Drive Traffic to Your Website with SEO
  5. Google Search is Dying
  6. What's After Google?

Transcript Ep 53:

Greg: Hey, welcome back everybody. We are here again. David, Mike, and Greg for Episode 53 of the Near Memo, where we talk about search social media, commerce, and other things that are on our minds. And obviously on everybody's mind, this week is the invasion of Ukraine and the tragedy that that represents and many people, no, no colleagues or have colleagues that work in Ukraine or no, no people in, in that country.

You know, we hope that this can all be resolved with as little loss of life as possible.  and it's kind of hard to talk about ranking factors in the context of something like that, but that's what we're going to do today. Cause that's what we do every week. But before we get to some interesting stuff about,  ranking factors and Google, I wanted to bring.

a couple of things that happened earlier in the week, which was,  you know, Amazon made another sort of splashy, play, lawsuit against a couple of review brokers,  that were, you know, running these sort of schemes, free products for positive reviews that are pretty widespread on Amazon, but also in that,  item was a discussion about Yelp beliefs.

Who are being bribed to write positive reviews or to post reviews written by, other, other people review, brokers and the quote. This is based on a local NBC affiliate that did a kind of an investigation.  and the quote that was striking was one, this is a Yelp elite squad member. speaking to NBC one, former Yelp elite told us,  he was part of an invitation only online chat that included. few thousand members, Yelp elite members who were paid 25 to $50 per fake review to post fake reviews, created by third party brokers and, you know, Yelp, as we discussed before filters out about 29% of its reviews as untrustworthy in attempt to kind of capture these fraudulent reviews.

But it's obviously being unsuccessful in this context. And I don't know how widespread the, the, the elite fraud problem is. But a few thousand people is a pretty ominous suggestion that there, there are a lot of people on Yelp who are trying to cash in on their status.

Mike: I had a couple of thoughts about it. One is that Yelp, while they claim they filter these reviews in an effort to filter out bad reviews, what they really are doing is attempting to make it more expensive for spammers to leave reviews by taking the low hanging fruit of newbies out of that picture,

Greg: which is what seems to be happening. The cost is 25 to 50 bucks, a positive.

Mike: Exactly. Which is the other point is that that has in fact driven up the cost to $30.

Whereas a Google review is probably $3 to $5 to buy. So it is an issue, but also interesting to me is that the practice of filtering out positive reviews, just because their positive reviews is in violation of the FTC new guidelines of treating all reviews equally. Yeah. So that'd be curious to see, and they were one of the 700 companies that received.

Notice that they have to behave by certain standards. It'll be interesting to see if the FTC examines that sort of arbitrary cost-saving measure because I don't believe it's the only way to moderate a deceptive

Greg: reviews. Well, what's interesting is what's interesting about that is that I think there are a number of cases that California cases and cases and other jurisdictions, both dealing with search algorithms and.

Yelp in particular with, with its filter, filtering of reviews, where the courts have basically said, these companies can do whatever they want. This is their speech rights here. an algorithm is tantamount to speech and you can manipulate it and arrange it in whatever way you want. And so is your.

Policing of reviews, speech argument, or two 30. Are you? Well, no, it's not a two 30 argument. It's a, it's a moderate anyway. It's a, it's a, it's a speech argument, as I recall. I mean, I, I, that just came into my brain. So I haven't had time to look at the specifics of the case, which I'll go and do after we get off.

But, but I think there's some case law that the short version is there's some case law in conflict with the FTCs, directive. Now that you have to be even handed.

Mike: When I spoke to the FTC, they, they expressed some likely concern that they would be unable to have any regulatory control over situations that fell under Sec 230 or other higher rulings.

and certainly Yelp and Google and Amazon all fall under two

Greg: 30 in that regard. Yeah. So they're, they're completely immune from any liability for the content of those reviews. Right.

David: Yeah, I was going to say just before we move on to the next, next item that this, this story is interesting for a number of reasons and many of which you already highlighted.

But the thing that that struck me is that is just the, you know, it, it puts another nail in the coffin of Yelp's argument that they are represent. They are representing the most accurate picture of local businesses.  when they're there review,  again, as we said on a previous near memo there, their review filtering mechanism is simply different than other sites.

doesn't mean it's better or worse. and in fact, if you're, if you are accepting reviews from a very small subset of users,  basically carte blanche, I think once you're in a Yelp review, Yelp elite status, you probably almost never get a review filtered if ever well, that's usually CDL release that.

Right. It'd be interesting to see Yelp release that data. If there are any Yelp elite reviews that are filtered.  but secondly, just the fact that,  their algorithm is every bit as, as likely to be manipulated fallible. Thank you. Like they've been manipulated as Google's, and, and Amazon's and any anyone else's.

And so I just think that they're,  it certainly hurts their PR. Trust and safety, which they branded their white paper report on this topic a couple of weeks ago.

Greg: Well, I definitely think that they have to go now much more. They have to do much more now to police reviews. If they're serious about it, Mike, you were gonna say something.

Mike: Oh, well, I just, I had an experience with a friend who was dealing with some gated reviews and I went to Yelp. Because he was both, this business was soliciting out reviews and gating them. And I searched for this business, found it, but it was literally two screens down after ads. It was like six ads because it was in the roofing industry before, even though I searched for the brand company.

It was still well below the fold on a very large screen. So Yelp's argument about Google doing that is interesting as well. also suspect because their behavior is actually margaritas or equally agree.

Greg: Well, speaking of Google, of course, there were two, two items that you're you're, you're focusing on today, David,  some SEO course courses that Google seems to be starting to offer.

And then also the white spark study about the impact of cordwood vitals

David: on local rankings. As I did last week, I'm copping out on my single item by combining two it's

Greg: creative. It's a creative effort.

David: So I would actually sort of reverse the reason that this is all interesting to me.  so that, for those who haven't seen white spark, came out with a, a pretty comprehensive study.

I think they looked at something like 4,500 businesses across 15 categories and 15 markets, United States, everything from, you know, massage therapy to HVAC technicians. It was a pretty, pretty wide range of Canada.  and they analyze the top 20 results for each of these searches in each of these markets,  for the performance on Google's core web vitals,  scoring mechanism, which they have said actually, influences ranking in organic results.

Mike: And they've saved page experience as which is combination of core vitals, plus interstate gels plus good mobile experience.

David: Yeah. I mean, this is as good as a proxy for that ranking factor that they've explicitly set us as exists. So,  so D so Darren Shaw and his team, I think Thomas Akuna was actually the one who published the study,  analyze these results and, and found that only 3% of these, top 20 Google local finder results across all of these keywords and markets.

Only 3% of. G GBP landing pages performed well in Google's core web vitals. And so,  it, this was interesting for a couple of reasons. Number one, sort of reemphasizes the fact that the local pack algorithm and the map's algorithm are, is a completely different beast from the, organic algorithm, even though it's influenced by how well you do organic.

looking at a completely separate set of criteria from the, from the organic algorithm. So that was the first sort of big takeaway. Do you think it's

Mike: that? I think there just aren't very many local websites.

Greg: This is what I would say. I would agree with Mike's assessment there.

David: I don't, I don't agree. I,  I think that there, what I would say is that Google has a,  that Google has a.higher tolerance for bad websites among SMBs, but that this is such a tiny, tiny, tiny part of the overall organic. Ranking algorithm that it just doesn't, it doesn't meaningfully impact how well somebody is going to perform in a pack result is my reading,

Mike: because that could be, I mean, one of the ways to look at it is relevance is probably more important than prominence.

This contributes to prominence, but relevance is so driven by location and category that those, that value so far exceeds the value of prominence that this contributes, that it doesn't show up. Yeah, the other way to look at it,

Greg: I suppose, which would suggest what you're arguing about the distinction between the two.

David: Yeah. And so this ties in though with, with another item that I happened to get as a Zen business customer. So, near media has used Zen business for some LLC filings, historically. So I'm on their mailing list and Google is actually running at what appears to be an SEO seminar that is hosted by Zen business.

Where Google's own internal SEO team will be talking about how they optimize Google's own sites for better search performance. And it was interesting for a couple of reasons. Number one, Google being very explicit about the fact that they are giving SEO advice under someone else's label descending.  which we at local university, you know, have worked with various Googlers over the years.

And certainly all three of us have attended conferences where Google Google's has sent representatives. And I think the representatives to a person have always been very, conservative or cautious with, with respect to giving anything that could be construed as SEO advice.  and this is a very explicit hook for Google.

to try to get people to attend and business, to be able to get people to attend this webinar. So it seems like a pretty big shift in the way Google is, is sort of presenting and packaging itself.  first of all, and then my, my bigger concern though, is just that the, the audience of Zen businesses probably,  primarily small businesses given its, sort of focus of its product and product set.

and probably there are a lot of local businesses there as well. I think that the frustration for me, or, or potential frustration for me in terms of the advice that's going to be going out here is going to, is probably going to be heavy on things, like make sure your page performs really well on core web vitals and make sure you're sort of, you know, optimizing your, your meta-tags and your title tags and that, that sort of thing.

and I think it's going to miss the boat on what actually is going to be driving a lot of rankings for these.  it's probably not going to talk very much about link building. It's probably not going to talk very much about reviews.  and I don't necessarily think that it's in Google's interest to,  to, to put these seminars on where they are not,  they don't have a better sense of the audience and who, and what advice for that audience will be appropriate.

that was that sort of two things that caught my eye this week is that what we hear a lot from the sort of Google,  from Google's mouthpieces about SEO doesn't necessarily apply that well to local search. And this white spark study was, was the sort of latest example of

Mike: that. So I have one question, David, are you attending?

David: believe it or not. So. I clicked the link. As soon as I got it in my inbox. Now I might've been on the west coast and it went to the east coast people before I woke up, but the seminar was fully booked. So I mean, clearly the messaging the messaging worked for, for Zen business to get people to sign up

Greg: well, we'll, we'll never, we'll never know what the content is unless we follow up somehow, you know, I, I suspect you're right, that the, that the there'll be a bit of a mismatch between what local businesses need to focus on and what Google was offering, which may be much more technical than.

Mike: I had a client reach out to me today. They're thinking of opening a new office in a new state and wanting to understand where the location where there was the highest search volume for them with the lowest competition in their category. Right. Which is actually in local, probably the most important thing is to be where client search, right.

Where you want to be close to where the searchers are. Right. And he was in employment law and you know, it's like, dude, I want it. I'm not sure when they do they search at home or do they search when they're at work about abuses that their bosses may have, taken part in? I don't know,

David: but, and how does working from home effect that, that calculation?

Mike: Yeah, it's a complicated question. That's for sure. But there are probably some general guidelines,

Greg: but this is a good illustration of what enterprises have been doing for a while using using data location, data,  online data. Sort of being generated to, to do things like sex site selection and, and it's, it's, it's a, you know, if you have that kind of flexibility, it's, it's an interesting strategy.

but,  yes. And now the third and final item of the day, which is, about sort of the future and how prominent will. Figure in our internet lives in the future. And this was, this was based on an item that I, I wrote on Monday that, that came out of a, kind of a casual survey that I did.  let me just describe that really quickly, Mike, and then turn it over to you in 10 years, Google will, right.

So I, I put a, put a survey on, on, on Twitter and it got a little over 300 responses, about 323 response.  and, and I, this, this has been coming out of some of my reading and, and I thought, can people, you know, what do people think in 10 years will be the case? And the results are basically,  the choices where Google is still be dominant.

Google will have been replaced, or I, I don't know. I can't predict. And the books.  still be dominant about 64% and then the P the number of people that thought Google will have been replaced by something else in a decade was pretty small, 12, only 12%. And about 24% said,  I don't, I don't know. So, over to you,

Mike: well, I was, I looked at the survey and I thought, I can't really answer this because I think there's fundamentally two questions that were conflated in this whether Google's dominance in a financial sense versus their dominance as a search engine in the marketplace. And I think those are two discreet questions. And I would, I think they may have different answers. The other was that, that you postulated that people can't imagine the future.

I think people are imagining the future right now, whether any of those will become dominant metaphors is really what's to be seen. And since people can imagine the future, but they can't predict it. It's very hard for people. And it's very difficult for humans to look into the future 10 years. We can't even look into the future six months other than by extrapolating what we know.

So it's a hard question.

Greg: Yes. And I agree that there, that there are two distinct questions about search and then about Google is. But this was a Twitter poll. You know, this was some super casual thing, but let me just say one thing about this. The thing, the thing that I think is that people are having difficulty imagining what succeeds search and when they think about search, they think that Google, nobody can be Googled.

Nobody can replace. That's that's, that's my interpretation.

Mike: Right? And, and as a metaphor for finding information, Google is, are, is how we do it. Although I would posit that Apple's building search at the core level of the device and making it an available wherever you are on the device, whether you're in, in a browser or whether you're. in a screen in the finder wherever you are on the device, search is available. And I think Apple's way of looking at search it. It may or may not win. I'm just saying that it's an interesting metaphor that deprecates search from a place. You go to do something to embed it into everything you do. It's just sort of contextually aware and.

Like in the other example in apple is when you select a word, it then can define the word in context, that kind of thing. Right. So I think there are, there are visions for the future of search as a feature, as opposed to a business per se. Right. And I think that's probably in some form the biggest threat to search as a, as Google sees it.

It becomes just a thing you do as part of what you do in life. Right? A lot of times I'll be sitting at the dinner table and there's this question of fact that comes up and I'll say to Siri, what's the answer to this fast. Right where it's just contextually appropriate. I'm not going, I'm not breaking the conversation.

I'm just talking to Siri in the middle of it. It annoys the hell out of my wife, but I find it satisfying because we can at least get this fact out of the way. Right.  but so I think there are people who imagine this differently. Now that being said, you know, if you look at Google, Now 80% of it's from advertising versus which is basically search-based and 20% is from other stuff.

Whereas six years ago, 2015, it was 90%. So clearly Google is making very strong efforts to reduce their reliance on advertising, which means reducing their reliance on search. So even Google sees. This shifting, which leads me to believe that they will still be a dominant firm, regardless of what happens to search that they will find alternative ways of utilizing their massive capital to, extract information about people and profit from

Greg: at a display, just YouTube and their display network.

Just to point that.

David: Yeah, I don't know the, on a related note there, Mike, I th I think it would be hard to make them, you know, make a serious income as a publicly traded company on the questions that probably serious best at answering, which are, you know, Wolfram alpha type questions,  or, sort of functional requests that you make, like set a timer or, you know what temperatures.

John at or whatever, the

Mike: limit of voice, not a limit. Right.

David: I mean, it's no, I'm not saying it is, but, but it's in terms of it being sort of baked into the experience. Like I actually, I don't even know how to find the search bar on my iPhone.  I have to swipe each of four directions in order to pull it up.

I don't remember it. Right. It's not an Abbot swipe

Greg: left or pull it down or that. Yeah.

David: Whereas whereas opening a browser and typing, typing a keyword in. in the address bar and then hitting the Google button is a habit. That is something I know how to do. And so I would say that even if apple comes out with a set of results that is at parody with Google today, or anybody else,  that the habit of.

Anyone who's been around for the last decade of just going to Google is probably going to persist. And so I think it's, if we see a change, it will probably be some sort of generational shift. But I mean, if you think about the, the number of people who still have a Yahoo email address, cause it was what was available in the mid nineties.

Like I think that that. That is going to stick with Google for quite a while. So Greg's question about 10 years, to me, it feels like a pretty short horizon for somebody to meaningfully compete with Google on as a, as a search destination provide. And in fact,

Greg: the, th th th this, this was all prompted by this article that said, you know, Google's search results are crappy and getting worse.

Yeah. The

David: Reddit Reddit viral tweet, right?

Greg: Yeah. You know, I mean, there is some truth to that critique as Google sort of, you know, more aggressively monetizes things and puts more and more ads. And so

David: th the dude, or he might not have been a dude, the person who, the person who tweeted that though is in the 0.1% of point, 1% of 0.1% of internet users.

Right? So to me it totally missed the point

Greg: actual consumer. So there's an interesting, so I agree, Mike, that's an interesting model, sort of a contextualized search product. Sort of distributed throughout the user experience and shows different results in different contexts. And then, and then there was this idea of, you know, the voice assistant, which hasn't really taken over,  according to the data,  I, I, I tend to think, and I, and I don't think that this will overcome the Google habit as you pointed out, David, I tend to think that there's going to be more reliance on trusted.

You know, I think trust is, is a big theme for me. And I think that there's. Distrust everywhere in society, online of reviews. We're talking about it with the Yelp reviews. And I think that sort of trusted sources become more important over time, which is not, which is not a search replacement per se. You go use search to get to the trusted source.

But I think like I've talked about, you know, some, some, two Dato or three dot O version of the Yahoo directory, you know, something like that that really cuts down the web into a manager. curated sort of set of, of, listings. I don't think we'll come to see that, but

Mike: the interesting response to that, that apple is doing is within.

Browser search bar. They are intercepting some fair percentage of searches by suggesting let's, whatever you Google used to call. I feel lucky, you know, the singular answer to your query, which I find interesting as well. And that also points out that the $9 billion vulnerability of Google, if they, if apple and Google are forced to part ways, W what's going to go and Google's place below that.

I feel lucky answer both of those could lead to a lessening of the Google experience. Again, it's you know, who knows what the future is. I'm just saying there are people thinking about it. I'm confident Google will be around and be a force. Unfortunately, in our politics, you know, proclaiming that small business needs them not to be regulated or whatever their current, I know no today, yesterday it was black businessmen, Google maps to be regulated and Hispanic, whatever their crazy.

I'm sure that'll still be with us

Greg: 10 years. Well, that's a very, that's a very cynical position that comes out of their small businesses will be harmed. I mean that, I mean, that's an extreme, that's an even more sick thing. Well, it's an even more cynical position than then. Small businesses generally will be harmed.

This is like these communities, you know, we are champions. We are champions of, of communities of color and, and black and Hispanic entrepreneurs. And you're going to really damage their prospects. Yeah. If you do anything to us, I mean, that is just like the worst.

Mike: You just think they'll reach out to your rabbi.

Greg: Yeah. Yeah. The people will come knocking at the door, you know, but,

Mike: do you think that. Good. You know, the regulation of Google is going to be bad for us. Yeah. Well, two

Greg: Jews are, Jews are no longer considered a disadvantaged minority.

Mike: That's true. We don't know how desperate Google's going to get here.


Greg: LGBTQ every year. True. I don't want to go too far down that path. I was going to say, I think we should end the episode. Start getting a little too, too, too controversial.  all right. So, you know, again,  you know, Ukraine, I don't know what more to say about that. It's just a horrible situation and we hope that it improves rapidly, but we'll see.

And, everybody else have a great weekend week, evening, morning, whenever you're listening or watching. And we'll see you next week for joining us. Yeah.