By Greg Sterling
For businesses that operate in the physical world, Google My Business (GMB) has become the center of the digital universe. Google is relying increasingly on content in GMB for ranking and less on third party citations and off-page signals than in the past.
A lot happened with GMB this year, far too much to summarize in one post. (Joy Hawkins does a great job of capturing and summarizing most local SEO-related changes.) In addition to four major Google algorithm updates there was at least one major local algorithm update tied to neural matching, although BERT will affect local results as well.
Below is a summary of most (though not all) of the GMB updates and changes that happened this year, together with a few that don’t strictly belong to GMB. I’ve also tried to add some perspective at the end with an assist from local SEOs and experts Carrie Hill, Adam Dorfman, Mike Blumenthal and David Mihm.
January: Messaging, SAB flow, virtual office rules
- Google started emphasizing messaging in the GMB profile — although it compelled business owners and agencies to message exclusively through the Google My Business app — following its abandonment of SMS-based messaging.
- The company introduced a new sign-up flow for service-areas businesses. It starts with a question about whether the business has a store or office. If the answer is no, it sends the user down a SAB-specific path.
- Google also provided guidance surrounding who is eligible to create a GMB page for a virtual office. In particular, there must be on-site staffing.
February: Map reviews, AR directions, join waitlist
March: Duplex rollout, Core update and SAB addresses disappear
April: Assistant local results, GMB paid services survey
May: Popular dishes, food ordering and CallJoy
June: Mapspam and Shortnames
July: Get a quote and place topics
- A “get a quote” button started appearing in local Knowledge Panels for some businesses that opted-in to GMB messaging. It showed up in mobile and on the PC as well. (A related feature appears in December.)
- Google tested “place topics,” which are tags, themes or keywords extracted through machine learning from user reviews. They only appear when there are enough user reviews, under the reviews tab on the GMB profile.
August: Carousel pack, bulk reviews, Google Screened
September: Post highlights, food ordering opt-out
October: Search by photos, Incognito Mode for Maps
- Google showed users a new option to “search by photos” in mobile results. They appear as a module in the SERP that opens to a larger page of images with star ratings.
- Google implemented a number of promised privacy controls for users. These included Incognito Mode for Google Maps, voice control to delete Google Assistant search activity and auto-delete for YouTube history.
November: Local algo update, follow local guides, no more phone support
December: Review carousels, auto-Posts, choose area
The local SERP is evolving
Most of these changes above impact local marketers, but there are some developments that are clearly more important than others. Google is using machine learning extensively to improve relevance and auto-generate content (Posts, reviews in carousels) for uses that vary by query and context. It’s also making local-mobile search results much more visual.
Accordingly, David Mihm pointed to “image-focused packs and carousels” as a new and significant change. Mike Blumethal agreed and said, “Repurposing reviews to answer Q&A, provide more granular review understanding and answer product queries via the carousel” were key changes. Carrie Hill also emphasized the query carousel and remarked, “Surfacing review, Q&A Posts and product feed content above address and phone [information] is a big change.”
Finally, Adam Dorfman added, “The survey regarding packaging of potential products and services businesses could pay Google for was one of the larger signals of where they are likely to head.” I agree.