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A new case study from SEO researcher Joy Hawkins at Sterling Sky seems to finally debunk a myth that has lingered around Google reviews – that keyword-rich reviews could help a site’s ranking in search results.

The idea does make a certain amount of sense. Reviews can help spotlight specialties or unique services that companies offer and could provide a valuable signal to determine the most relevant results for specific searches.

Based on their findings, however, Sterling Sky says having customers put] keywords into local reviews on a business listing “does not improve rankings.”

It is important to note that the test is definitely limited. 

For the study, the team gradually added product ratings including the phrases “fresh cut Christmas trees” and “Christmas trees” for a small Christmas tree seller with minimal online presence, rankings, or SEO efforts.

The Results

Sterling Sky says that the new keyword-rich reviews did not improve the company’s keyword rankings, even after six months.

The graphics below illustrate that the rankings did not improve for either keyword. In the case of the first phrase, rankings actually got worse by the end of the study, while rankings for the second keyword phrase remained approximately the same.

Hawkins concludes that there is no need for brands “to include certain words in their reviews.”

“First of all, this is hard to do and you often come across as weird or odd. And secondly, and most importantly, this case study shows that it does not improve rankings!

At the end of the day, Google probably focuses more on contextual information within reviews to help rank local businesses, rather than looking for exact keyword matches. Not only is this harder to abuse, it provides a more rich and more detailed understanding of a local business listing than a single keyword.

Instagram is making it easier to find nearby businesses and places using its interactive maps.

The feature was revealed by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a post showcasing the new maps features:

In the past. Instagram’s maps were limited to strictly showing popular posts from users nearby. With this new update though, users can search or filter the maps to find local businesses similar to how Google Maps lets users search for local businesses.

What sets Instagram’s map features apart is how they function. 

Firstly, only businesses with a professional Instagram account are eligible to be included in Instagram’s maps, unlike the automatically populated maps found on Google.

Secondly, the feature is still focused on the social experience. Rather than giving users a wealth of contact information like Google Maps or Google Business Profiles, when users tap on a business they are given the option to visit the associated page. save the company’s page for later or immediately start following the brand’s Instagram account. 

Why Is Instagram Getting Into Local Search?

It might seem odd for a social network to be essentially establishing a local search engine, but trends indicate many are already using social media for this purpose. In fact, just recently Google Senior Vice President Prabhakar Raghavan addressed this exact trend at a conference, saying:

“In our studies, something like almost 40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search. They go to TikTok or Instagram.”

With this in mind, it is clear Instagram is simply making it easier for users to do this with the introduction of its new map features.

Google My Business has officially launched a new label that highlights the number of years you’ve been in business within local search results.

The “years in business” label has been in testing over the past few years, and was quietly launched officially on February 9th, 2021.

While it is just a small label added to your listing, this could prove to be a significant way to differentiate yourself in the crowded “local pack” search results.

As Google put it in the announcement, you can now “add an opening date to your Business Profile to tell customers when your business first opened, or will open, and its address.”

To get an idea of what the label looks like, Barry Schwartz from RustyBrick (and who first noticed the launch of the label) took a screenshot of his own business listing with the new tag.

Source: Barry Scwhartz/RustyBrick, Inc.

How To Get The ‘Years in Business’ Tag

Adding this label to your own Google My Business listing is relatively simple. All you have to do is add the open date of your business within your GMB profile. 

To do this, just sign into your GMB account, click the location you want to update, then select the “info” option in the menu. From there, click “add opening date”, update with your own date you opened up shop, and voila. The label should be added to your local listing within the next few days.

“I’ve Been Seeing This Label For Months”

Many might have noticed that Google has been slowly adding this label to many of the listings which are eligible over the past year. Users first spotted the tag way back in September of 2020, with a larger roll out done in November.

Still, this week marks the official launch of the feature for all Google My Business listings.

How This Helps You

Thanks to bad actors listing non-existent or questionable businesses within Google My Business, it has become more important than ever to visibly show that you are a real, active, and trustworthy business within your listing.

This feature allows you to quickly do this by showing you have been a part of your community for years – if not decades – and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

Google My Business is an essential tool for any local business trying to spread their name online. It is also deceptively complicated. 

At first glance, GMB seems very simple and easy to set up. You just fill out a few forms, answer a few questions, upload a couple of pictures,, and presto! You’ve got a GMB listing. 

Actually optimizing that listing to ensure it appears in nearby customers’ searches, however, is where things get complicated. 

As usual, Google is remarkably non-transparent about how it ranks local searches.There are a few things that have become very apparent over the years. It is pretty much undeniable that having a lot of 5 star reviews will help you rank better. On the other hand, there is reason to believe some sections have absolutely no impact on your local rankings. To get to the truth of how the algorithm works, we have to look at data from tests.

Recently, MozCon speaker Joy Hawkins shared some findings her and her team have made from their own tests and data about what GMB sections help you rank better.

Which Google My Business Sections Affect Rankings

1) Business Name

Sometimes the simplest things can become unbelievably complicated. You almost certainly chose your business name well before making a listing, and you can’t exactly change it now. 

Unfortunately, this puts some businesses at a disadvantage while others get a natural step up. 

According to Hawkins, businesses with a keyword in their name get a boost in local rankings. There is one things you can do though.

As she explains:

“The real action item would be to kind of look to see if your competitors are taking advantage of this by adding descriptive words into their business name and then submitting corrections to Google for it, because it is against the guidelines.”

2) Categories

This is another section that seems like it should be very simple. You can check up to 10 boxes that match your business, including everything from Aboriginal Art Gallery to Zoo. Where this becomes tricky is ensuring the categories you choose remains the most accurate for your business. 

Hawkins’ team found that Google is updating it’s list of categories between 2 to 10 times each month on average. In some cases, they are adding new categories that may be a more specific match for your business. Other times, they may entirely remove categories they feel are irrelevant or unnecessary. 

Either way, it is up to you to keep your business categorized properly to protect your ranking.

3) Website

The vast majority of listings use the homepage of their website as their primary website listing on everything, including Google My Business. It makes sense, and it works perfectly fine. 

What Hawkins’ found, though, is that some businesses actually benefit from choosing a more specific page of their site. For example, businesses with multiple locations can link to a specific location page to specify exactly which store you are directing them to. 

In this section, there is no agreed upon best practice. Instead, Hawkins says to test several pages over time to ensure you are maximizing your exposure. 

4) Reviews

I mentioned it up above but it bears repeating. The number of positive reviews absolutely affects your ranking in local search results. 

There is a small catch, however. According to the what Hawkins’ team has seen, increasing the number of reviews on your listing may have diminishing returns.

“So for example, if you’re a business and you go from having no reviews to, let’s say, 20 or 30 reviews, you might start to see your business rank further away from your office, which is great. But if you go from, let’s say, 30 to 70, you may not see the same lift. So that’s something to kind of keep in mind.”

Still, reviews have consistently been shown to be a major ranking factor AND they improve the click-through-rate of listings. This is obviously an area you will want to invest some energy in. 

If you want to learn a little more about how these sections impact your rankings or you want to see which fields have absolutely no effect, you can read Joy Hawkins’ original post here.

Google appears to be testing the idea of “upgrading” Google My Business profiles with a special “Google Guaranteed” badge for a $50 monthly fee.

Twitter user Tom Waddington shared a screenshot for a promotional page within the GMB dashboard offering the profile upgrade.

What Is Google Guaranteed?

The search engine has been playing with the “Google Guaranteed” badge since last year, though it has typically been used in Local Service Ads for home services businesses. 

To be eligible for the badge, businesses must meet a number of criteria including certification, licensing, and background checks. 

The idea appears to be to inspire more confidence in brands listed in Google’s local results by highlighting those who have been vetted. 

Why Would Anyone Pay For This?

On its face, the idea of paying $50 a month for what amounts to a stamp of approval sounds a little silly. However, the badge comes with some backing which may help customers feel more at ease.

Along with the Google Guarantee badge, businesses which pass the screening process are also backed with a customer satisfaction guarantee. If a customer finds your business through the search engine and is not satisfied with the results, Google will refund the amount paid up to $2,000.

Along with this aspect, there is always the issue of getting ahead of your competition. Any little advantage can be the key to standing apart from your competitors.

Just an “Experiment” … For Now

When asked about the program via email, a Google spokesperson told Search Engine Journal:

“We’re always testing new ways to improve our experience for our advertisers, merchants, and users. This experiment will show the Google Guaranteed badge on the business profile. We don’t have anything additional to announce right now.”

Google has started automatically adding a large “Request a Quote” button to eligible business listings in its local search results.

The button appears to be limited to just businesses who have opted into the Google My Business messaging feature, which would allow customers to directly message a company representative. However, it is unclear what specific industries the button is being added to.

With the new feature, users can now immediately request a quote from your company directly from the local search results – without ever visiting your website. 

While that means less traffic to your website – and potentially less informed leads – it also makes it more convenient than ever for potential customers to initiate the sales process.

While we can’t guarantee your listing will be given the “Request a Quote” button, we do know that being signed up for GMB’s messaging feature is a requirement for the new feature. 

To turn on messaging for your own listing, just follow these steps:

  • Download and open the Google My Business app
  • Log in with the credentials for the account associated with the listing
  • Open the location you’d like to manage
  • Tap Customers
  • Tap Messages
  • Tap Turn on

Once this is done, you will be able to receive messages from customers within the app. Users will receive their responses through their Google Maps app.

Google My Business is updating Google Posts to allow brands to highlight glowing reviews from customers.

With the new update, you can feature 4 to 5 star reviews that have been left on your listing.

As Google said in the announcement on Twitter:

“In some countries, Google My Business now provides suggested posts to help you showcase positive reviews. These posts are automatically suggested based on 4 or 5-star reviews recently left for your business”

“You may get suggestions for new testimonials to post when you sign in to Google My Business, or via email notifications. These posts are automatically suggested based on 4 or 5-star reviews recently left for your business. You’ll be able to review and edit the post before publishing it.”

You can see a few examples of what the new post format looks like from Twitter user Andy Simpson below:

While it is unclear exactly which countries aside from the US have access to the feature, the update brings yet another way to make your local search listing more visible and engaging for users.

As always, Google Posts showcasing your reviews remain visible for one week unless you manually remove or edit the post.

Google is testing making Posts from Google My Business listings more prominent in search engines, with a unique tab that can appear directly within local search results.

The tab will appear when you either search for a specific business or keyword that includes businesses that have created Google Posts.

As many smaller businesses with Google My Business have yet to take advantage of Google Posts, the new tab gives those who are sharing Posts a spotlight to shine with engaging content and high-quality images.

Likewise, I expect Google is hoping for the inclusion of Posts within the search results will boost the number of listings who are creating and sharing posts through GMB.

The feature is obviously in early testing as some have noticed changes to how the Posts can appear within the tab.

While Matt Southern from Search Engine Journal was able to view two separate carousels (one horizontal and one vertical) of images when viewing the Post tab, others (including myself) are only being shown a single vertical feed of Posts.

The tab is also currently limited to mobile searches and does not show up on desktop versions of Google.

After a few weeks of testing, Google My Business has officially announced that all business owners can now upload videos to their Google My Business listings.

Business owners can “view videos added by customers and upload videos about their business for customers to view,” said Google’s Allyson Wright.

Videos can be up to 30 seconds in length and may take up to 24 hours to become visible on the business listing in Google Maps and local search results.

Because others like Google’s “Local Guides” can also upload videos to business listings, GMB will also soon give businesses the ability to mark offensive or inappropriate videos on their listings.

To get started adding videos to your own listings, open your Google My Business Dashboard and click “photos,” followed by the “video” tab at the top of the page. From there, select the option to “Post Videos.”

Just drag and drop your video to the box.

Let it upload.

And wait for it to appear. Within about a day, the video should become visible for you and anyone who sees your listing.

Wright also provided these notes about the new feature:

  • Videos will appear in the overview tab of the Google My Business Dashboard.
  • Customer uploaded videos can be found in the “customer” tab.
  • Merchant uploaded videos can be found in the “by owner” tab.
  • All videos can be viewed together in the “videos” tab.
  • After upload, it could take up to 24 hours for the videos to appear. Once live, they will display where local photos do.

As Google has continuously demoted their organic listings for search results, local SEO has risen in prominence. Instead of aiming for the top search spot, more and more businesses are prioritizing claiming the top place in Google’s local search results – which typically appear before any organic listings.

Of course, getting the top spot in the local results isn’t much easier than typical SEO work. However, it is a bit different. Google prioritizes different search signals to make sure they are delivering the most valuable businesses for your searches.

To figure out exactly what search signals matter to Google the most when sorting local results, LocalSEO Guide recently completed an in-depth review of over 200 ranking factors and 100,000 local businesses across 150 cities.

What they found shows that while organic ranking factors like links, keywords, and anchor text are important, rankings reign supreme in local search.

Specifically, “having a keyword you are trying to rank for, and a mention of the city you are working to rank in, in reviews, has a high correlation with high ranking in Google My Business results.”

The findings also indicate that engagement, such as adding photos and hours to your listing, serves as a significant ranking factor. Additionally, “responding to reviews and claiming your profiles are ways to engage with your potential customers and Google’s platform to show then you are invested.”

Elsewhere, the report suggests that traditional SEO factors such as links and on-site optimization still play a significant role in rankings. However, some off-page signals like citations and reviews on third-party sites, are declining in relevance compared to past research.

The full report details more findings and statistics to indicate exactly how those who are crushing local search are doing it. However, it is important to note that these types of studies are based entirely on correlation. We can’t say for sure exactly how Google’s systems rank local results – partially because they won’t tell and partially because they are always changing.