Where Is Google Business Profile Heading?

With the recent demise of Google Business Profile (GBP) Websites and the sale of Google Domains, it raises once again the question of exactly what Google plans for the free, marketing suite of products offered under the GBP umbrella. Historically, GBP – previously Local Business Center, Places, Google+ Local & Google My Business/GMB – promised to be a center for small business activity. In 2012, the product map was ambitiously referred to as "The Business Builder" and intended to offer the best of local and social as well as self-provisioned and easy to use couponing, Adwords, offers and other paid options. In 2013, it appeared GMB would build a pathway to an integrated SMB product. That was waylaid by the failure of Google+ and the need for GMB to start over. By the end of 2016, however, Google Local had fully separated from G+ and was starting to roll out a number of new features into the dashboard. In 2017, Posts, Websites and Messaging arrived, and the dashboard continued to improve. As recently as 2020, Google acquired Pointy, an SMB inventory platform, and The Ordering App for small restaurants, and was making them available via GBP. But with the rebranding of Google My Business as Google Business Profile, in late 2021, and the rollout of web-based business listings editing (NMX), we have seen few new features within GBP. The multi-location dashboard was left to decay, GBP forum support has declined and few new capabilities have been introduced.

Ambitious G+Local roadmap from an WSJ article in 2013

Our take:

  • Google has de-emphasized Local as a forward facing brand; now it seems they are de-emphasizing the local product suite as well.
  • Once one of the most ambitious areas within the company, Google Local has become a shadow of itself.
  • Google seems to be putting their local eggs more aggressively into the LSA and Merchant Center baskets even though LSAs are rife with fraud and much of the Merchant Center rollout has been lame.

FTC Moves Slowly, Review Fraud Doesn't

On February 13th, the FTC is holding an informal hearing on the proposed rule banning fake reviews and testimonials. Once implemented, it will largely hold the creators of the fake reviews responsible and largely give the platforms, including Google, a pass on any responsibility. It has taken almost three years for these rules to come into existence. Meanwhile, we are seeing new forms of review fraud: part and parcel of the ongoing Local Service Ad (LSA) Google Guarantee scams. The LSA review scam involves businesses attaching different GBP profiles, with thousands of reviews, to their LSA listings. Here's how a writer from the UK explained it: "[Spammers] use the same address of the business who the reviews belong to. Google's automated system then pulls in the reviews in and attaches them to the LSA listing. So for the parks, they have used the parks address as their location and took out an insurance under the parks address. So manual approval is bypassed." When asked on LinkedIn exactly what the solution was, I responded with the following:

  1. Google needs to make sure that the program lives up to the standards promised. How are fake listings and reviews getting in? Google should figure it out and seal the cracks.
  2. Google should respond with speed and responsiveness to reports of abuse. Reports should not go into a deep dark hole; and there should be a reporting process and visibility into status. (And fraud should be dealt with quickly.)
  3. The FTC needs to provide and reinforce guidance and rules on this product – so someone is looking over Google's shoulder.
  4. We also need to hold local and state authorities responsible when licensing abuses occur.

For those who want a concise summary of the scam and its impact, watch this new 8 minute video summarizing what is happening:

Our take:

  • FTC oversight of reviews is critical. However the speed of rule-making is slow; changes in the ecosystem are not.
  • The FTC, by exempting the platforms from liability, are giving the likes of Google a pass when new forms of review fraud materialize.
  • Google has known about the LSA scam for the past 6 months and done nothing. They should not only be acting decisively – removing fake reviews and listings and fixing flaws in the LSA product – they should be creating transparent mechanisms to easily report and nuke this sort of fraud.
  • Government oversight is the only way for that to happen.

Yahoo Local Now Thryv Lead-Gen

Yahoo has long been a problem when managing local citations. Either you had to pay or you had to deal with Yext to get your listing changed. It was a crapshoot. I saw Yahoo Local mentioned on Twitter late last week as having changed so I thought I would give it a try. It turns out that Yahoo Local is now very easy to update your listing on. It's essentially being run by Thryv, the SMB SaaS-focused successor to directory publisher Dex Media, which basically consolidated the yellow pages industry's remaining players. The day after filling out the listing update form on Yahoo, I was called by a Thryv telemarketer to "help me with my listing" – and qualify me for additional upsells. It was a smooth and pleasant call, although it occurred at 8:15 am. As part of its "digital transformation," Thryv had the difficult task of converting one of the legendary local sales forces into an online entity during the years-long decline of the yellow pages market. Every year, on my blog, I would recount the excruciating page count decline in my local yellow pages. This past June I did a count for old times' sake. The last time I seriously addressed YPs was in a 2018 article with David Mihm. We discussed the difficult transition from print to digital and that success prospects were bleak, despite a huge customer base and on-the-ground sales force.

Source: Yahoo

Our take:

  • Thryv is still here, as are the yellow pages, but their financials aren't looking very healthy.
  • Directory publishers were local powerhouses in the early 2000s. But like newspapers, they offer an object lesson in not dealing fast enough with the massive digital transition in advertising and sales.
  • Years ago, Verizon saddled its yellow pages spinoff with huge debt. Dex (now Thryv) ultimately inherited that outstanding debt. The fact that Thryv is still here, albeit limping along, is impressive.

Recent Analysis

Short Takes

  • Moz: what to do with aging local business content.
  • An advanced guide to Google Search Console for local search.
  • Tip for easily adding video to your GBP listing.
  • The GBP "Small Business" attribute is being shown more widely; no one has any idea whether it has any impact.
  • Consumer reports study: who's sending your online activity to Facebook? On average, 2,230 companies.
  • The Census Bureau says new business formations still exceed pre-Covid levels by a large margin, good news for B2B businesses and marketers.
  • Google added new GBP categories, including for business, environmental and estate litigation attorneys.
  • Google is laying off more people. CEO Pichai noted, "The reality is that to create the capacity for this investment, we have to make tough choices."
  • Is Bard going to become the new brand designation for the Google Assistant as it gains image generation capabilities?
  • Kevin Indig notes, the final death blow for 3rd-party cookies might bring more value to SEO.
  • Amazon's launch of a review-powered AI tool to answer shoppers’ questions is a good example of generative AI in e-commerce.

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