Ep 59: Live Inventory Improves 3-Pack Rank, LocalU-Spam Study, Review takedowns & Vicinity Update, GA4 Sucks-what’s next?

Google claims Local, Real-time Inventory Improves Rank in the 3 Pack, Joy Hawkins offers LocalU Advanced highlights on Spam impact, review takedowns & and update to the Vicinity Update, GA4 Sucks, can Data Studio & analytic alternatives fill the void?

Ep 59: Live Inventory Improves 3-Pack Rank, LocalU-Spam Study, Review takedowns & Vicinity Update, GA4 Sucks-what’s next?
Photo by FrabPOS Team / Unsplash

Part 1 Video start 0:13 - Google claims local, real-time inventory improves rank in the 3 Pack

Part 2 Video start 9:19 - Joy Hawkins provides highlights from LocalU Advanced: Spam & Review takedown studies and Vicinity update rollback

Part 3 Video start 18:41 - GA4 Sucks, can Data Studio & analytic alternatives fill the void?

Reference Articles:

Google: Adding In-store Products Can Improve Local Rankings

LocalU Advanced April 5, 2022 Recordings

Transcript Ep 59:

David: Hey everyone. Welcome to Episode 59 of the Near Memo. As you can probably hear or see Greg Sterling is off this week and I am filling in David Mim as the guest host for today's events. We are pleased to be joined by. guest panelists Joy Hawkins from Sterling Sky

And your LocalU Advanced,I it happened earlier this week. I was honored to, to moderate the conference. I thought it was really fantastic. And Joy is here this week to give some of her top takeaways from the event. And actually my item of the week is also going to include a couple of takeaways from the event as well. But first, before we get into that, Mike, you wrote an epic piece yesterday.

Thursday of last week, depending on when you're listening about Google's new guidance around in-store availability and how that might impact rankings in the local pack. So why don't you take it away?

Mike: Sure. A little bit of backstory in early middle March, I did some searches and found that Google was now showing more real-time product inventory from merchant center directly in the pack, as opposed to just in the heads.

Although at the time I found that it was only around a major brands like Nike or Nikon it would do that. So this past week Damian Rollison noted that the How to Improve Your Local Ranking page on Google had been updated to include a snippet on that your business will experience increased visibility if you add real-time product inventory through one of the many - through pointy or through Shopify, and that would increase your visits.

So I went and checked and found that many more searches were now showing product inventory in the local pack. And in searches that weren't previously showing them like specific product searches or higher brand level.

Uh, for example, “Nikkor lens” showed previously, but “Nikon lens” didn't. So Nikkor is a sub-brand of Nikon and now Nikon lens shows. And then if you search on a specific lens or specific camera previously, it didn't show it. Now it does. So to me it was interesting. One that is rolling out further and two that, Google would put this on the how to improve your ranking page.

And then three, when they link to how to do it, they linked to Pointy. They don't link to general Merchant Center instructions, which I thought was particularly bold given how much talk there is about self preferencing right now. So I'm curious from Joy's point of view, this page, how to improve your is Google being disingenuous by saying you get better visibility by adding in-store products, do in-stock products actually increase rank? Do they just increase or is it just increased clickability I mean, I'm curious your opinion about, and I'm not sure I have an absolute opinion of Google saying, and I'm not even sure what Google is saying is what they believe.

Joy: I have no idea. So yeah, we haven't tested it, but I knew we were doing some searches yesterday. Cause we were reading your article and noticed like when you were searching, he was air fryer near me. And I was getting, I think, best buy Walmarts and some other big box store in Canada. It was interesting.

Walmart's the only one that didn't have the live in inventory and the way that it looks for the other ones is like literally says it was updated, you know, hours ago. Um, I could see that that would make a difference in click-through rate and. You know, if that's the case that it would definitely impact ranking, because anything that helps your click through rate would help your ranking.

Mike: And that's a secondary, we would also, from my point of view, include, increase the relevance to the query. If you're, if you're looking for a specific item and it's in stock, that, and you also are seeing it as a justified. In stock recently or in stock now kind of justification on the left. So you think it actually could go ahead.

David: I'm going to take a little higher view outs out of the weeds and say, as a consumer, as a general searcher, I think it should be a ranking factor. I want to know if I'm searching for a specific product that target or. You know, my local hardware store, whatever it is, has it in stock like that to me actually should mean that that business outranks other businesses, which don't have it available.

So I'm not saying it should be the only, or the dominant ranking factor. But I do think from just from a logic perspective, if you take the. Put yourself in the shoes of a typical searcher. It, it makes sense to me that it should be a ranking factor. Uh, now that does not get into any of the self-referencing stuff that, that Mike is bringing up.

But I think I don't have a problem with it being a ranking factor. I don't have a problem with Google sort of specifying it on their page about how to improve your rankings in local. But Mike, do you want. A little bit more about where this fits in the self preferencing context. Uh, some of the other items that we've spoken about in previous episodes.

Mike: Sure. So there's a bill in front of Congress right now that would prohibit all of the major platforms from doing what's called self preferencing, which would mean on a local search, Google showing the Pack results or showing any business profiles. And in this situation, they specifically pointed to the only solution to this being their Pointy, which is hosted on their service.

It's a product, which I think they're giving away right now, but they bought that sits between your point of sale and their webpages. And it was just fascinating to me that rather than pointing to a general page about how to get products into merchant center to flow into the Pack they have only pointed to their solution.

And I thought it was a particularly bold move. One that I called the middle finger move because they're under so much scrutiny right now, to make such a clear self preferenced action seemed stupid to me in light of all the criticism they're under, they could have played it a whole lot more subtley and said, here are three choices.

We really, you know, if you don't have a POS that integrates pick Pointy, if you pick one of these other ones or whatever, you know, but they didn't, they just went right to a Pointy page and there is no mention of Shopify or Woo on those pages, even though they had this solution long before Pointy did I think, or at least.

David: Right. And just to be clear what the solution is, is an automated feed. That's essentially, it tries to be a one-click sort of OAuth into Google merchant center from your Shopify dashboard or WooCommerce dashboard, as we've spoken about in previous near memos. It's, you know, actually considerably more cumbersome than that to set up.

But once you have it set up that your CMS will update the Google merchant center with your real time inventory. That you're, that you're tracking in your, in your CMS. So,

Mike: and it only shows availability. It doesn't show actual inventory. I went and checked what fields? It, it grabbed, it only shows whether it's available, Yes or no.

I was curious though how often did it get updated, do you know how frequently?

David: I don't know. Yeah. Yeah. That, I don't know. Uh it's you know, probably for larger stores. Pretty resource-intensive crawl. So I don't know, maybe they, maybe Shopify only pings their service on, you know, products that have changed or something like that.

But it's it definitely, there is a very robust integration and is, is sort of bizarre that given the effort. On both the business development side and certainly on the technical side that Google went to, to work with these partners, it's certainly bizarre that they're not mentioning them more prominently in, in the the integrate, the how to get your, your inventory and Google merchant center on this page.


Mike: and now we did one more thing that in the bigger picture, this is a strategic effort by Google to compete with Amazon. Historically, Google was a leader in product search, and then Amazon took over that lead, I think in  2018 and Google has been trying different ways to get back into this first with voice and other ways.

And, and local seems to me a really good strategy to do it. Um, and yet it's also one of those strategies that brings more into the mothership and might raise further antitrust actions. But I think from a competitive point of view, it's their best route to compete with Amazon. And I think it's interesting on multiple levels,

David: for sure.

I mean, it's, you know, it's the only thing that can be better than 24 hour prime delivery is the ability to show what's in a store that you can go to and pick up immediately.

Mike: So, and particularly on products where you want to make sure it fits like shoes, or you want to look at like a camera product, you don't really want to buy those.

David: Yeah,

Joy: updated. I was just gonna say I searched it today. The same search I did the other day and it's saying updated today. So it looks like they are updating it at least daily.

David: Yeah. All right. With that, we'll move on Joy to your segment here. And I was hoping just that you could give us a little bit of your sense of how LocalU Advanced went earlier this week and maybe highlight some of your favorites.

Joy: Yeah. So the event was on Tuesday and I think the on-demand videos are up now for anybody that missed it.

It was good. I'm excited that to say that it was our last virtual event for a while, because following this one, we're going to be going back to in-person events starting in July 28th. We're going to be in Denver. So that's really exciting because we all like seeing people. But as far as how the virtual event on Tuesday went, I can give you a few highlights from the presentation I did.

I talked a lot about spam and we're coming out with a study that'll be released, I think on Tuesday or Monday of next week, basically just looking at 16 different verticals over the course of the last four years to see is like Google getting any better at this, you know, is spam still a problem?

And the answer really varied a lot based on the industry. So like I highlighted a few of them like in the garage door industry, it's getting worse, not better. In the personal injury lawyer industry Google has tackled most of the spam pretty well, shockingly.

So we used to see, you know, and that there was like some graphs and stuff showing that they had like hundreds of fake listings, if you'd looked like a year or two ago. And now those are pretty much down to almost nothing. Which is. great.

And then keyword stuffing, again, varies a lot based on the industry, still a pretty big problem in some industries. But overall, the consensus is that like, if you work in Local SEO, if you are an industry that has a decent amount of spam, and it's definitely something that you still need to pay attention to,

Mike: Hold it, Google's says that’s only 1% of their list.

There was only 1% bad data in there. They just said this two weeks ago, you're telling me that. That's not the case in some verticals.

Joy: Well, the thing is, like you say this all the time, Mike, they're looking at a high level view and like there's no spam in hotels. There's no spam in restaurants. Like there's certain industries where it doesn't make any sense to spam.

But like, if you look at garage door repair over the four years that we were collecting all these listings, I think it was 87% of them were fake, like insane. So definitely not 1%. If you're in an industry like that,

Mike: Churches don't spam.

David: I thought, I thought one of the most interesting takeaways from your, your session was you know, if you are an agency who is offering spam reporting as part of your package, and I thought another interesting takeaway was that you didn't, you advise agencies not to offer it as a line item that it's sort of only on an as-needed basis, but that in some cases, if you've got a listing taken down, what Google did was actually merge it with another list that was operated by the same business or the same network. And that listing ranked better after the, after the spam down snow, it can be a bit of a double-edged sword which was fascinating.

Joy: So, yeah. Thanks. Thanks Google for that. Yeah. Um, yeah, Curtis Boyd session also, I want to say, did like phenomenal, got so many questions, so much interaction and that like even the, the survey responses we got after, like you just got stellar feedback.

Um, I think what was so cool that his study and I hope that he does publish it. Um, he looked at a thousand different review, take down requests and looked at, you know, both reporting, positive reviews, like fake reviews that are positive and along with fake negative reviews and just showed some of that data around that.

And not surprisingly, but like the one category of reviews that they had the hardest time getting rid of were like, false. experiences, you know, where somebody comes in and either exaggerates the truth or lies about their experience, like to try and, you know, coerce the business into getting something or they're, you know, trying to kind of use it as a weapon.

Those are some of the most challenging reviews to get Google, to remove. And that I would say that's true based on my experience, but thought it was interesting.

David: Yeah, I was particularly impressed when he showed a couple of screenshots of his transparency reports that are generated essentially auditing the veracity or falsity of a given businesses reviews.

And there was a lot of interest in the Q and A from agencies using that both in their day-to-day processes, as well as potentially a way to get business from MB's where they can show, Hey, your competitors are, are getting these spammy reviews and this is something that we can actually help you solve or help, you know, help you fight.

So that was, that seemed to have a lot of interest from the agencies and attendance.

Joy: Yeah. His tool is quite fantastic. We used it quite a bit and like he does a better job than Google does at detecting fake reviews. I want to say he does a better job than Yelp because I think Yelp is too aggressive.

So it's kind of fascinating. This like third party tool is doing better than some of these tech giants.

David: Which was one of my questions to him. But yeah, go ahead, Mike.

Mike: I was just going to say that there are certain things in reviews that we've identified as a group, years ago, probably five years ago, the pattern of repeating users, ABC CBD, BC E would that kind of repeating pattern over and over and over again, we told Google about five years ago, and they're only now talking about possibly maybe solving that problem, which is such a simple problem to solve that Curtis has solved. It's not a complicated problem. Um, so it's just, it, part of it Joy is that they just don't want to, clearly they don't care

Joy:. Like it's just, I mean, there's no incentive for them to write. So.

Mike: Yeah. Yeah. And

Joy: then the final session that I think I'll highlight was the vicinity panel. Um, we had a lot of questions and discussion around that as well. So something that I feel like is not well known is that there was a major role back in March.

So it was late March, I think, around the 23rd. But we did see some changes before then. So it's not like one of those updates where it says single day. Kind of rolled out, but like a lot of stuff got reverted back. Like we saw especially the, the keyword rich business name thing. So we saw these businesses that had keyword, rich business names that got just hammered by the vicinity update.

Like we actually had a client who has a really short name, three to three words, but it just so happens to include his main category. And like his leads dropped in half after the vicinity updates. Wasn't just rankings. Like it. Killed his business. And then we saw it in March, like leads basically rebound to like what they were before.

So I think that piece, a lot of people may have overlooked. Like it didn't get as much attention as the initial updated, but I was happy about it cause I thought the initial update was a little too aggressive in that nature.

Mike: So bottom line on that though, is there still some benefit? I mean, there's still some benefit, regardless of which way this is tilting to creating a business name.

That includes what you do and where you do it. Yeah.

Joy: The big thing that Colin said is the takeaway that I think like people should just keep in mind is what, what got rolled back versus what didn't we saw. There's a huge difference between like an explicit keyword where you have like personal injury lawyer, Dallas versus just personal injury.

The vicinity update kind of really went after the personal injury lawyer, the implicit version, and cut your radius a lot, like quite a bit that didn't come back at all. But what we did see was for more of the explicit terms like that, having the keywords in your name definitely is helping more than it was three weeks.

Mike: And before, even before three weeks ago, I didn't, it wasn't within whatever radius it was. It was still helping within that more limited radius. Right. So it still is a helpful thing, which is amazing to me in a Google still based on it.

Joy: There were some weird filtering going on that GaN was talking about.

So we had a theory that basically if there was too many businesses with the same name that Google is filtering based on that, and Yan was doing all kinds of testing. But that seems to have gotten rolled back as well. So whatever that was, that was going on which is probably a good thing. Cause I'm like, that's dangerous.

Um, it's kinda hard to know what to do if your business has a similar name to a competitor, like. Yeah.

David: Yeah. One thing I didn't bring up. Cause there were, as you said, Joyce, so many questions. So I didn't want to sort of take moderator privilege and eat up that time. Um, but it occurs to me that the, the impact being limited to implicit geo modifiers, as opposed to explicit, I wonder how much.

Is Google having trained all of us, that if we're actually in a city, we don't need to include the geo modifier and Google sort of knows that we're looking for something closer. Whereas the XSplit term might be done by somebody from outside the city who really does want to see the larger landscape of businesses.

Um, and I wonder, I mean, there's probably no way to really. Gate like Google obviously reports, you know, 600% increase in near me terms or whatever. We, I don't think we've seen anything, just, you know, hard data around how geo modifiers have evolved, but I would guess that they've dropped pretty significantly over time.

And maybe that is part that is part of the logic behind this update. That'd be interesting to look at. Yeah, great. Well, it was an awesome, awesome day. And I'm going to actually segue with a cup, a takeaway from a couple of sessions, just for nothing specific necessarily, but a sort of high-level takeaway.

Um, and we haven't, I don't think we've talked about the, the upcoming, I'm going to try to coin a term here. We'll see how well it goes. The G a pocket. Uh, that's coming with the transition from universal Google analytics to GA for in next July, July, 2023. Uh, so this is a huge shift from what I wouldn't say was an wonderful analytics platform before in Google universal analytics, but to one that is virtually unusable in GA four, and there's all kinds.

I mean, you can, there's a litany of issues with it beyond just the user interface, just in case. The kinds of things it's tracking and how much it samples and all of these kinds of there's just major issues with it. I don't think I've seen a single positive review of, of GA four versus universal analytics.

Um, but there were so many sessions at local U advanced that brought up Google data studio and piping data from an analytics package from search console. Uh, from Google business profiles through a third party connector into Google data studio. And it strikes me that that actually your analytics replacement might actually be Google data studio.

Um, moving forward. There's so many smart agencies out there and so many smart SEO's Amanda Jordan gave a great presentation. Uh, Noah learner, Andrew s

hot, Lynn talked about how they're piping, um data into a model to forecast how well an SEO campaign. In a given topic might, might perform and using that to sort of get buy-in from clients on what to pursue.

It just strikes me that Google data studio may be the, the savior in all of this transition. And that the biggest question is, is there a, is there a platform out. Besides Google analytics that is API forward, that will somehow be able to import historical data from, from Google universal. And I'm testing one of these right now which I got the hat tip from John Henshaw, which is called Fathom Analytics.

The interface is much, much simpler. Uh, they do seem to be very API driven. Um, and I'm, I'm just wondering if that's a potentially viable. Uh, especially for those of us who want to get out of the sort of Google ecosystem for tinfoil hat reasons or privacy reasons or whatever, fill in the blank. But I was just very impressed by the, the creativity and the depth of, of knowledge and experience around Google data studio by so many of the speakers at.

Mike: Yeah, well, I have second thoughts. I still do some consulting, mostly with lawyers and the reports they're getting from their age. I do sort of add on consulting, sort of help them set strategic goals, help them set specific goals that they can go back to their agency with and the reporting that they are getting.

From their agencies still sucks. Terrible, which is amazing to me. And, and, and what I realized in dealing with these lawyers is they, they don't need much. They need to know whether their calls are going up or going down. They need to know if they're, if they need to write a piece of content or not. If their search radius is expanding, you're checking, they don't need much, but none of the reports I've seen.

Given right. They show. And most of them show like in the law field a month over month reports pretty lame because it's a very seasonal business. None of them show year over year, for example, it was like, hello. I mean, who cares in January? What you did in December, it's a different month, really from a criminal lawyer point of view.

Right. Um, and so the problem with, with data studio is that it's still required. So much wrenching to get it into shape and then to make it useful. And, and so it requires an agency to do that. And even the ones I've seen, some of them are good and some of them aren't. So it's, it's still puts a big barrier between the small business and the numbers they need to do.

Joy: Yeah, like you said, Mike, the problem is, is conversions, right? So the only reason why I even use Google analytics is stats. That's where the conversion data lives and, and that the challenge for us is going to be okay if we like onboard, let's say a lawyer client, I really want to know year over year comparison for conversions.

And like, how are you going to do that? If you can't compare it to two years ago? Um, that's frustrating. Like I want to be able to know how January this year. From January last year. And usually you can do that with Google analytics. Cause most, most small businesses like lawyers would already have GA set up and some type of conversion tracking set up.

So you can kind of see comparisons, but that's, that's frustrating. Like that's going to be a huge problem next year, for sure. Yeah.

Mike: Do you think that most, the agencies you're working with will go to GA$ for you?

Joy: Probably, but like, I don't know. I hate it. Like I went in a few times and I'm like, I don't even know what to do in here.

Like it is so just like confusing. And like some of the reports I look at in Google analytics, I don't even know where they are. And Dana had to send me like eight replied tweet on how to get the landing page report. I'm like, it should not take eight steps. Like this is a single report right now that you can look at to see what pages are converting the best.

And like, I don't want to take eight steps to get that

Mike: information. Do you think some of this will be solved with better reporting? I mean,

Joy: maybe I think the problem is, is like, I want to ditch it, but then I'm like, great. Now I've got to somehow find a way to combine chats and calls and lead forms on your website and some other platform that will calculate it.

And then tell me which pages it's coming from. And it was just a, it's a hot mess. I'm not excited

Mike: about this at all. Yeah.

Are you muted, David?

David: Thank you. I was muted. Yeah. Try not to grace, everyone with my coughing from this cold I've still got. But I was saying if there's, if there are other API forward analytics packages that can pipe into something like data studio or pipe through another product before they get into data studio, I mean, to me that, that.

Now is the time to start investigating those options. And Greg Sterling tweeted, before he went on vacation, a really interesting survey about how many Mar what percentage of marketers were going to just go along with the forced migration? GFR is something like 60 or 65%. W what gives you any confidence?

I thought it was an April fool's joke. Uh, what gives you any confidence that GA four is going to get any better than it is now? The PR the experience of universal analytics has consistently degraded year over year, over year. And if this was the starting point for GA for just imagine how bad it's going to get in four or five years.

So to me now is the time to actively investigate other options and particularly options that are, that are API driven that can connect to a whole bunch of different. Tracking services like, you know, a call rail or a call tracking metrics to bring in call data. Maybe there's a gravity forms, connector for form conversions, those sorts of things.


Mike: do we know anybody that's done the comparison of these other?

David: No, I think it's a good, yeah, I think it's a good, good place to go. I might have to tweet John Henshaw because he's really into this stuff and is very into getting people off of GA. So we shall see to. All right. And I think we're just about out of time.

I feel like Greg has a much better way of closing our, our typical weeks, but I appreciate your time joy coming on here as a, as a guest. And it was great to see you virtually at local youth this week. Uh, hope to join you guys in Denver, in July. Um, and to those of you listening and watching. Uh, thanks so much for your time.

If you're not yet a subscriber to the near media newsletter, you can go to near media.co/subscribe, and we will be introducing some paid options coming up in the next couple of weeks. Join our subscription, our free service now to get substantial discounts. Uh, once that paid paid offering comes out.

Now's the time to go to near media.co/subscribe. Hope you all have a great weekend. Hope the weather is finally turning to spring wherever you are. Um, and we will talk to you next week on episode 60 of the near memo.