Google My Business: New Features, Updates and Tests Roundup

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As we approach Christmas, there seems to be no let-up in the fast pace of updates and tests in Google My Business. At BrightLocal, we may have been busy releasing a detailed piece of research, a complete guide to local SEO and an entire learning Academy, but that won’t stop us catching you up on the goings-on around Google My Business over the past month.

Between official updates, rumored tests and new features, there’s a lot to cover, so strap in!

Google launches Small Business Advisors program

In Mid-November, Google served up a new program designed to assist small businesses in the United States with their online marketing (using Google tools throughout, naturally). 

For $39.99 per session, a small business owner can discuss a maximum of two Google tools with an official advisor, and get the tips they need to perform better online using those tools.

Wondering who’s eligible for the SBA program? Google says it’s specifically designed for business owners who:

Feel overwhelmed or uncertain about their business’s online presence Have advanced product questions Don’t have an online marketing specialist or outside marketing agency Have never used Google products

The appointments last 50 minutes, are performed over screen-sharing, and are staffed by Google personnel who will perform pre-appointment research on your business. Users are encouraged to “share their goals” with Google in advance so that both parties can make the most of the session.

Why is this important? While the program is not open for use by agencies, if your preferred client type is the very small business owner with limited marketing experience, there’s a chance they might be a little more informed the next time you speak to one.

‘Google Guaranteed’ badge comes to some Google Maps listings in new “experiment”

Back in July, we reported that Google was testing an upgraded Google My Business profile for $50 per month. What these fifty bucks got you was a GMB profile that was verified by Google and included a ‘Google Guaranteed’ badge (previously only seen on Local Services Ads).

According to Tom Waddington, who originally spotted that upgraded profiles were being offered to those outside the LSA program, those badges are now being seen out in the wild, in the local pack and in Google Maps listings, though Google has labeled this an “experiment.”

Google-Guaranteed

Source: Tom Waddington

In the test that Tom spotted, above the badge (and mention of Google screening) appeared in the Google Maps listing but not in the local pack or in the business’s LSA listings. Google appears to be A/B testing this placement, in the hope that more visibility will equal more adoption.

Why is this important? Local Services Ads are a highly disruptive, and potentially very lucrative, listing type for Google – and one which has more recently hit the shores of the UK (see Tim Capper’s excellent guide on getting started). The fact that Google is testing more visibility of their Google Guaranteed badges suggests that the pay-to-play avenue, widely discussed this year and last, is one Google has no intention of turning off from.

Google Local Packs show ‘X Years in Business’ label

Initially reported as a test in September by Search Engine Roundtable, the inclusion of an ‘X Years in Business’ label on Google My Business profiles seems to have more recently started properly rolling out to local packs.

X years in business

Source: Search Engine Roundtable

As SER’s own Barry Schwartz himself showed above, the ‘opening date’ you set in your Google My Business has a chance of showing in the Google local pack. Others across Twitter soon started seeing these labels appearing for their clients and other businesses in the local pack, ranging from ‘<1 year in business’ right up to ’50+ years in business’.

Why is this important? Business longevity is a big factor in consumer trust and reputation, and showcasing this as one of the few things you get to show potential customers in the local pack could be a big win for longstanding businesses. On the other hand, those fresh on the block might find themselves struggling without other strong signals such as average review rating.

Google Maps launches ‘Community Feed’

One of the biggest official announcements from Google over the last month was the launch of what it calls the ‘Community Feed’, ostensibly the next step in Google’s continuing attempt to socialise the local experience for businesses and users alike.

Community Feed

Source: Google

The new feed, available only in the Google Maps app, contains reviews and updates from users and businesses you follow, as well as reviews from Local Guides and posts from select local news sources and Google News. Google says that the feed is initially focused on highlighting posts from food and drink businesses, but wider usage could see this expand to live venues, community centers, and beyond, providing they’re using Google Posts to update followers and searchers on activities and promotions.

Why is it important? While much of what’s available in the community feed already appears in Google Maps in some form or another, what should really stand out for local SEO agencies and local businesses is the potential much wider visibility of Google Posts, previously only visible on the business’s own profile. This new feed provides a very strong argument for investment in, and focus on, this part of the GMB experience.

Google launches expanded messaging features

Hot on the heels of the Community Feed launch, Google provided details of an expansion to where you can respond to customer messages. Previously only available via the Google My Business app, the new functionality brings messaging to Google Maps (and, according to Google, soon to Google Search), provided you have the messaging functionality switched on in Google My Business.

Google have been monitoring how consumers get in touch with businesses and say that, with the current pandemic, they’ve seen more people reaching out to businesses before making a trip outside:

As more people try to make more informed decisions before leaving the house, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of messages sent to businesses. Since the beginning of this year, people have initiated more than twice as many messages to merchants right from Business Profiles on Search and Maps.

Google, ‘New ways to connect with and understand your customers

It’s interesting to see Google think outside the app with this update, particularly in light of their move to bring more functionality to Google Search with the recent upgrades to the direct edit experience. It’s clear that there’s an intention to make Google Search the only place business owners (and consumers) need to go for all their online needs, particularly when coupled with the introduction of passage indexing and the rise of the zero-click search.

Why is this important? Whereas before businesses could only to respond to messages via the Google My Business app, now anyone logged into the right Google My Business account can see and respond to messages in Google Maps and search. This brings added visibility on customer service performance for agencies, and could provide the opportunity to improve interactions with consultation, or even take over the role entirely.

“Suggest an edit” process for Google My Business adds new options

After moving the placement of “Suggest an edit” in Google My Business profiles a couple of times this year, Google has introduced a range of new options to this critical tool for spamfighters.

First seen by Amy Toman in early December, this update makes it easier to select a reason for your edit, allows you to add photos to back up your case, and even does editors the courtesy of explaining that these photos will be posted “publicly under your name” as well as providing explanatory information that makes the process easier for first-timers, according to Amy.

Seen! New screens for GMB flagging. Clicking “suggest an edit” brings up screen 1 with new layout, which then leads to an explanation screen that also allows you to add photos. #LocalSEO #GMB pic.twitter.com/NAWTurq1vg

— Amy Toman 😎 (@BubblesUp) December 2, 2020

Best part is that there’s now a warning in the photo upload area that warns you that the photos will be shown publicly with your account name. (a tough lesson many of us have already learned about). #LocalSEO #GMB pic.twitter.com/AVTes1Dv4S

— Amy Toman 😎 (@BubblesUp) December 2, 2020

Is this new also? Option to enter new address… pic.twitter.com/QrlGcErV9I

— Amy Toman 😎 (@BubblesUp) December 2, 2020

Why is this important? Anyone who’s had to manage spamfighting for a client will know how critical the “Suggest an edit” feature is, and this new update makes the process a lot more user-friendly, hopefully allowing vigilant Google users to more easily set the record straight on those breaking Google’s business guidelines. On the other hand, though, this does make it easier for the same people to make malicious edits to your own page, so it’s critical that you get on top of these suggested edits as soon as they come in.

Google Reviews test label highlighting reviews as “NEW”

In a move that’s set to delight anyone trying to convince potential clients of the importance of online reviews, Google is testing the placement of a prominent label stating that a review is “NEW” in the reviews section of a GMB profile.

This label is visible to searchers, and is not designed specifically to provide information to business owners.

New Review Label

Source: Darcy Burk / Search Engine Roundtable

It’s not known precisely what the cutoff point for recency is, but Darcy’s followup research strongly suggests that it’s around the 4-week mark.

Looks like under 4 weeks is a cap. Here is another listing, which I manage. 3 weeks flagged as new. 4 weeks not. pic.twitter.com/QiwjDDYVdt

— Darcy (@darcyburk) December 6, 2020

At present this seems to be a test, but its rollout would make sense, given the importance of reviews to local search rankings. Let us know in the comments below if you start seeing this test in your reviews or reviews you manage!

Why is this important? Our Local Consumer Review Survey this year showed that recency was the third most important factor of reviews for consumers (above even sentiment and quantity), and that 50% of consumers only pay attention to reviews left within the past two weeks. This new label test only reinforces that importance for both Google and consumers. It’s always been important to build a steady pipeline of good reviews, but this test really hammers that point home.

Review Recency

Google My Business phone support returns

Finally, in a move that will be most welcome to businesses and agencies struggling with Google My Business during the pandemic (particularly in light of a spate of profile hijacking and an increase in suspensions), Google has reinstated its popular phone support option.

Phone support was switched off early during the pandemic, and for quite some time users had to deal with using just email and social support (with differing levels of success). Now, as spotted by Ben Fisher, phone support has been reinstated.

Why is this important? While social and email support have their ups and downs, and allow for easy sharing of screenshots, phone support is just far quicker and easier to use, and has long been missing from the Google My Business experience. This is the Christmas miracle many have been waiting for!

Spotted a test? Have news of your own?

If you’ve spotted something odd in the waters of Google My Business, Yelp, or anything else locally-focused, get in touch!

We’re significantly upping our news game in 2021 and want you to be the focus when we report your discoveries to the world. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

In the meantime, if you’ve spotted any of the above tests in the wild, or have been using or affected by the above updates, drop a comment in the box below!

Jamie Pitman

Jamie heads up BrightLocal's content team, ensuring we produce insightful articles, research and resources that enable businesses and SEOs to get even better results in local search.

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