Google Maps Updates - Bloat or Value?
Last week Google announced several new features were now available in Google Maps including Immersive View, more EV charging station information, an updated Search with Live View product (now called Lens) and improved searching that offers AI image retrieval. I am not exactly sure who would search for "animal latte art" or "pumpkin patch with my dog" in Google Maps. But if you do "you’ll get photo-first results of what you’re looking for." The most salient of these new features was the release of Immersive View, a 3D navigational view first announced at I/O, that provides a way to visually preview your upcoming route, including weather details and projected traffic patterns along the route. Technically the product looks amazingly detailed. Does it have real world value, or is it technical magic for magic's sake? As James Killick (a long time digital cartographer that I respect) noted, these sorts of renderings are not useful when "you need to make on the fly decisions" and what you really need is to "filter out superfluous information" and "distill down the pertinent information."
- Google has long taken an "everything but the kitchen sink" approach to building out products. Clearly Google is taking this approach to competing with Apple Maps on the one side and AI on the other.
- While this worked well in the early days of Maps, when it was competing with both mapping and YP companies, it failed miserably with Google+.
- Maps should provide detailed real world accuracy and truth. Immersion in 3D mapping or other features isn't a better solution if the thing you need is buried in features or otherwise inaccurate.
- Google Maps seems to be heading down the path of increasing complexity without an increase in detail or accuracy. This is setting up an interesting contrast with Apple Maps and its less is more approach.
Citations Ain't What They Used to Be
SterlingSky's Joy Hawkins published several provocative screenshots on Twitter showing the dramatic decline in Google pages in the top 100 spots for assorted local directories. These lowly ranked citation pages will provide absolutely very little ranking value to a business that creates a listing there.
If you are noticing a lot less improvement from your local citation campaigns/efforts lately, this might help visually explain why. pic.twitter.com/PilWRyznT8— Joy Hawkins (@JoyanneHawkins) November 3, 2023
Over the past 10 years or so, broad citation campaigns have continually declined in value as a tactic for Local SEO for a number of reasons. In the early era of local search and Google Maps (circa 2008) "citations" (or as Google called them "web references") to a business gave Google additional content, context and ranking information for the many small business locations around the world. Many of these businesses didn't have websites, in-bound links or any reviews so Google essentially "stole" this information from directories and yellow pages sites to rank these very small businesses. As these businesses built out websites, gathered inbound links, learned the value of digital PR mentions and received reviews, Google's had much richer data to determine relevancy and prominence. As Google became the local hegemon, these directories entered a death spiral with ever declining consumer usage and decreasing reliance by Google.
- "Good" citations from sites that have traffic and unique content and web references about a business in the local press (with or without links) still have value for improving Google visibility.
- All local businesses should be thinking about digital marketing as they think about their real world presence: focus on substantial local relationships (like non-profits) and newsworthy coverage providing both visibility to clients, as well as link and reference signals to Google.
- If a business is going to pay every month for "citations" they should make sure that they are getting something with concrete value not just an entry on a third-rate directory that nobody's using anymore.
Where SMBs Go When All Else Fails – GBP Forums
Every week I spend hours helping hapless small businesses who have found their way to Google Business Profile support forum. It is a strange outcome of modern capitalism that Google support is a volunteer activity – but these businesses need help and advocacy. As part of this practice I periodically track and summarize issues that I find in the forum.
The good news:
- AI based image upload moderation rejections are way down
- There are even fewer reports of the terribly frustrating "verification video failed to upload," although there are still a few
- The GBP Update (aka Posts) bug seems to have been put to bed
The bad news:
- Verification issues remain very high largely because of totally inadequate communication about causes from Google
- Suspensions and reinstatement issues continue apace
- Fake and missing review moderation continue to be issues
But what's the really bad news? Hidden in these summaries are bugs that never get dealt with because the number of users complaining is small. And when they are escalated, repair times for the affected businesses range from very long to never. For example when an SAB moves and enters their new address and gets reverified their listing continues to show in the old location miles away. Business profiles in Europe have random mobile profile photos showing (their most important image) grabbed from around the internet. And bulk users continue to not be able to do bulk things like successfully upload a list of edits or make bulk rejections of Google updates.
- Google's "release early and fix later" ethos often results in code that never gets fixed.
- Their outsourced support leads to wrong answers or ineffective solutions to the very real problems Google itself created.
- Google only fixes problems that affect large numbers of users and then, as with video uploads, it still doesn't solve 100% of the problems.
- Near Memo episode 133: BeanBox – Lessons in Building and Marketing a Consumer Brand.
- Yelp saw a 12% net revenue increase in Q3, due to increased ad clicks and higher ad prices despite decline in paying advertisers.
- Amazon, Booking.com, Expedia Group, Tripadvisor, and Trustpilot launched a Global Coalition for Trusted Reviews (read: review trust theater).
- Google added an SMB attribute to GBP. Also: current deals, shipping policies and customer service information to the Knowledge Panels of brands.
- Brodie Clark's 10 best SEO Chrome extensions for 2023 (tried and tested).
- Detailed analysis of which link tracking parameters will be removed by iOS 17's Link Tracking Protection feature.
- How to optimize images for improved search performance.
- Sharing economy: Uber and Lyft to pay a total of $328 million to settle driver claims of wage theft (forgot to share?).
- Telling GPT-4 you're scared/under pressure improves performance. Who knows what you will need to tell to Elon Musk's "truth seeking"AI?
- Shopify reported revenue growth of 25%. In September it launched a one-page checkout which sped up transactions by 4 seconds.
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