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8 Q1 Local Search Developments You Need to Know About

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8 Q1 Local Search Developments You Need to Know About


The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

A constant stream of developments and issues are the simple building blocks that shape our dynamic local search environment but the task of keeping up with the ongoing news can be complex when you’ve already got plenty to do. The first quarter of 2022 brought us some new opportunities (and a few problems) which you might have missed due to general busy-ness. Today’s column is a quick roundup of interesting happenings that merit your awareness for the sake of the local businesses you market.

1. Google really wants local businesses to discover Pointy

Colan Nielsen spotted Google advertising free access to Pointy, right in the Google Business Profile dashboard. The time is right to get clients thinking about multiple ways to vend, and the Pointy system couldn’t be easier for retailers to use. The bigger picture, though, is whether Google’s efforts to promote their shopping functions can compete with Amazon for control of online transactions and how that may impact local business owners. Here’s how the experts at Near Media explain Google’s bet that inventory + local can help them win:

“Local inventory (online) can help divert consumers away from Amazon. But it’s not inventory alone; it’s inventory + convenience…. stores able to offer real-time inventory and multiple convenience options can win.”

2. Google emphasizes recency of business status to bolster consumer trust

Barry Schwartz came across this notification on GBPs stating that business hours were confirmed via phone call, and other labels we’ve discovered have included “Confirmed by this business” and the somewhat mysterious “Confirmed by others”. I take this as evidence that Google knows if searchers are getting inaccurate data from listings that then misdirects and inconveniences them, it will erode trust in the product. It’s an awareness local SEOs have long advocated for the search engine to bring to its review corpus. On that note, the end of 2021 saw the rollout of an updated Chrome extension called Transparency which purports to use AI to predict whether a profile contains fake reviews. If you’ve used it, please let me know what you think.

3. Speaking of reviews, there was a big pause in them posting

If your clients were calling in fretting about missing reviews in mid-March, it was likely due to a confirmed Google bug. Hopefully, you saw resolution of this widespread issue about a week after it occurred. If not, time to review your review strategy to diagnose why feedback you’re expecting from customers isn’t showing up as there’s indication that Google’s review filters are becoming stricter. This development can seem like a big hassle to business owners, but it’s a necessary one. I’m seeing signs that consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the presence of fake local business reviews, and if Google doesn’t step up their efforts to limit review spam, customers will lose trust in their platform and your listing.

4. Review snippets can appear right on the map, and it’s pretty neat!

We already know reviews are hugely influential but just think of the impression they must make on customers when they appear right on the map, as captured by Allie Margeson. In her search for local second-hand spots, we see customers exclaiming, “Best thrift store in the area!” and “It’s the best thrift shop ever!” amid the rolling blue and green of Google’s maps. While I’m not aware of any process to prompt this special treatment, it’s just one more incentive to keep public feedback coming in with an organized reputation and reviews strategy.

5. Owner responses are finally showing on LSAs

Tom Waddington came to Twitter with the good news that Google’s Local Service Ad reviews are, at long last, displaying owner responses, though only on mobile. With the FTC’s recent accusation that HomeAdvisor misrepresented lead stats and pricing to small business owners, it’s a moment of serious opportunity for Google to treat its service providers base better. Displaying the work business owners put into writing great responses to reviews is one small step in that direction, but there’s so much more Google could do to become local business-centric. Here’s hoping!

6. GBP Insights in-SERP

Don’t be startled if you see your Google Business Profile metrics show up right in the SERPs when you’re logged in. I’d predict that what Claire Carlile captured here is one of many developments we’ll see in this direction, now that Google has determined that SMBs should manage more of their experience inside the search engine results. I find that messy, but others may like the interface. This is a good time to review what the labels in GBP insights actually represent.

7. Refine/Broaden SERP Feature Rolls Out

This feature, which allows users to access more nuanced results, was previewed at an event last fall and has now emerged in the US English-speaking market. Barry Schwartz points out that this new option could have the impact of either offering searchers more ways to discover your business or simply distracting them from it. This rollout is a perfect example of the type of test Google is always running in their quest for more relevant results, as we recently covered in-depth here at Moz in QRG Clues to How Google Evaluates Local Business Reputation. From time to time, it’s smart to ask ourselves how our own search behavior is evolving across the lengthy timeline of Google’s feature rollouts. How differently do you search in 2022 compared to your behavior a decade ago?

8. We’ve learned more about Vicinity

Consider this a topic-in-progress because local SEOs and businesses are continuing to discover and interpret the impacts of Google’s late-2021 Vicinity update. This is what we know so far:

  1. Sterling Sky reported that the update appeared to hinge on proximity (like our old friend Possum) and noted that this rollout correlated with the significant changes to pack layouts that occurred in December. Sterling Sky observed that packs were more zoomed in and featured a greater overall diversity of businesses. Their team also shared that keywords in business titles appeared to have been subject to this update.

  2. BrightLocal then published the largest study I’ve seen, to date. Their survey of nearly 400 Google Business Profiles across 5,000 keywords turned up a loss of roughly 5 – 8 places in the local SERPS for listings with stuffed titles. What is a bit stranger, however, is that brands with legitimate keywords in their titles suffered the same demotion. In other words, if a company you market is actually called Luxury Town Cars of Marin, the Vicinity update may have docked it while boosting a competitor called Jim’s Nice Rides. Meanwhile, long business titles also saw downward movement, which will be problematic for any company with a name of more than 31 characters. Such brands saw the greatest losses of an average of about a 9-spot trip down the rankings.

It’s important to know that experienced local SEOs are interpreting Vicinity in different ways, as evidenced in this valuable Twitter thread started by Darren Shaw. On the one hand, you could say that keywords in the business title have become a negative ranking factor. Or, you could see them as still being a positive factor, but one which Google has now simply dialed down, causing the losses. However you style the outcomes, I think there are two important questions involved:

  1. Will Vicinity curtail the practice of keyword stuffing business titles because it’s no longer yielding the same rewards. We can hope so, as the local SEO community has long urged Google to stop favoring this silly practice.

  2. Does Vicinity finally answer all those forum FAQs about rebranding local businesses to suit Google’s historic bias toward keywords in business titles? Companies have done so in the past, but does Vicinity make the practice not worthwhile?

Read the Twitter thread to see a variety of opinions. My own is that a) spammers will take awhile to realize what appears to have happened with Vicinity and so they will continue to stuff for some time to come and b) I’ve historically found that it’s better to do your own thing well than to worry too much about pleasing Google’s foibles. The latter take may seem antithetical to SEO, but having witnessed patterns like the rise and fall of EMDs, I tend to disfavor legitimate local businesses jumping through too many hoops in hopes of Google’s biases and weaknesses shining upon them until the next update. My advice is to keep studying emerging research on the impacts of Vicinity to arrive at your own thoughtful interpretation before changing any of your best practices.

Onward to Q2

Image credit: Ron Frazier

A pattern of significant developments in Q1 reveal a Google which is highly focused on the many aspects of reviews. Take this as a sign that local SEOs and business owners should be, as well. Meanwhile, Google’s emphasis on transactions and search quality tracks their progress in convincing consumers to shop with them, not Amazon.

While the titans fight it out, my Q2 suggestion is to help independent local businesses plan and publicize their summer strategy to keep serving the community amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Don’t buy into the market-driven hype that everything is “back to normal”. Instead, keep ideating on bringing necessities and cheer to the whole community, including the households of your many neighbors with vulnerable loved ones. This is important work, and your success will be reflected in your reviews, results, and revenue in the quarter ahead.

Need help keeping up with SEO news? Please, sign up for the Moz Top 10, effortlessly delivered to your inbox twice monthly!





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The Ultimate Guide to Product Marketing in 2023

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The Ultimate Guide to Product Marketing in 2023

Product marketing is essential, even if you only sell one or two products at your organization.

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3 email marketing shifts to make in 2023

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3 email marketing shifts to make in 2023

Whew! We made it to 2023! As we closed in on the end of the year in December, the finish line seemed awfully far away. Many marketers told me they were busier than ever. 

I myself was fielding calls for strategy help, working on business deals and managing the chaos all the way to the eve of Christmas Eve, something that rarely happens in my 20-plus-year career. 

Look back and celebrate, then move on

The first business for 2023 will be to step back, clear your head and take stock of all the great things you accomplished in 2022 despite the odds (i.e., coming out of COVID, going into a rebound and COVID round 2, moving into supply-chain shortages and other hiccups, facing down a potential recession) and how they affected the work you did to succeed.

And now it’s 2023. I hope you got your budget request approved and you’re ready to move ahead with a clean slate and new KPIs to hit. You’re probably wondering, “What can I do now to grow my program?

3 directional changes to grow your email program

Naturally, every marketer’s goals will be unique. We have different audiences, challenges, resources and goals. But I’m focusing on three major directional changes with my clients this year. Which of these could help you succeed this year?

1. Stop sending so many emails

Yeah, I know. That sounds strange coming from somebody who believes wholeheartedly in email and its power to build your business. But even I have my limits!

Email during this last holiday shopping season was insane. In my 20+ years in the email industry, I cannot remember a time, even during the lockdown days of COVID-19, when my inbox was so full. 

I’m not the only one who noticed. Your customers also perceived that their inboxes were getting blasted to the North Pole. And they complained about it, as the Washington Post reported (“Retailers fire off more emails than ever trying to get you to shop“).

I didn’t run any numbers to measure volume, isolate cadences or track frequency curves. But every time I turned around, I saw emails pouring into my inbox. 

My advice for everyone on frequency: If you throttled up during the holiday, now it’s time to throttle back.

This should be a regularly scheduled move. But it’s important to make sure your executives understand that higher email frequency, volume and cadence aren’t the new email norm. 

If you commit to this heavier schedule, you’ll drive yourself crazy and push your audience away, to other brands or social media.

If you did increase cadence, what did it do for you? You might have hit your numbers, but consider the long-term costs: 

  • More unsubscribes.
  • More spam complaints.
  • Deliverability problems.
  • Lower revenue per email. 

Take what you learned from your holiday cadence as an opportunity to discover whether it’s a workable strategy or only as a “break glass in case of emergency” move.

My advice? Slow down. Return to your regular volume, frequency and cadence. Think of your customers and their reactions to being inundated with emails over 60 days.

2. Stop spamming

In that Washington Post article I mentioned earlier, I was encouraged that it cited one of my email gripes — visiting websites and then getting emails without granting permission first. 

I could have given the Post a salty quote about my experiences with SafeOpt and predatory email experiences (“Business stress is no excuse to spam“) for visitors to its clients’ websites. 

Successful email marketers believe in the sanctity of permission. That permission-based practice is what you want to be involved in. Buying a list means you don’t hire a company to sell you one, whether it’s a data broker or a tech provider like SafeOpt. 

Spamming people doesn’t work in the long term. Sure, I’ve heard stories from people who say they use purchased lists or companies like SafeOpt and it makes them money. But that’s a singular view of the impact. 

Email is the only marketing channel where you can do it wrong but still make money. But does that make it right? 

The problem with the “it made us money” argument is that there’s nowhere to go after that. Are you measuring how many customers you lost because you spammed them or the hits your sender reputation took? 

You might hit a short-term goal but lose the long-term battle. When you become known as an unreliable sender, you risk losing access to your customers’ inboxes.

Aside from the permission violation, emailing visitors after they leave your site is a wasted effort for three reasons:

  • A visit is not the same as intent. You don’t know why they landed on your site. Maybe they typed your URL as a mistake or discovered immediately that your brand wasn’t what they wanted. Chasing them with emails won’t bring them back.
  • You aren’t measuring interest. Did they visit multiple pages or check out your “About” or FAQ pages? As with intent, just landing on a page doesn’t signal interest.
  • They didn’t give you their email address. If they had interest or intent, they would want to connect with your brand. No email address, no permission.

Good email practice holds that email performs best when it’s permission-based. Most ESPs and ISPs operate on that principle, as do many email laws and regulations.

But even in the U.S., where opt-out email is still legal, that doesn’t mean you should send an email without permission just because somebody landed on your website.

3. Do one new thing

Many email marketers will start the year with a list of 15 things they want to do over the next two months. I try to temper those exuberant visions by focusing on achievable goals with this question: 

“What one thing could you do this year that could make a great difference in your email program’s success?”

When I started a job as head of strategy for Acxiom, I wanted to come up with a long list of goals to impress my new boss. I showed it to my mentor, the great David Baker and he said, “Can you guarantee that you can do all of these things and not just do them but hit them out of the park?”

Hmmmm…

“That’s why you don’t put down that many goals,” he said. “Go in with just one. When that one is done, come up with the next one. Then do another. If you propose five projects, your boss will assume you will do five projects. If you don’t, it just means you didn’t get it done.”

That was some of the best advice I’ve ever received and I pass it on to you. 

Come up with one goal, project or change that will drive your program forward. Take it to your boss and say, “Here’s what I’m going to do this year.”

To find that one project, look at your martech and then review MarTech’s six most popular articles from 2022 for expert advice.

You’ll find plenty of ideas and tips to help you nail down your one big idea to drive growth and bring success. But be realistic. You don’t know what events could affect your operations. 

Drive your email program forward in 2023

The new year has barely begun, but I had a little trouble getting motivated to take on what’s shaping up to be a beast of a year. You, too?

I enjoyed my time off over the holidays. Got in some golf with my dad and his buddies, ate great food and took time to step back and appreciate the phenomenal people I work with and our amazing industry. 

What gets me going at last? Reaching out to my team, friends and you. Much of my motivation comes from fellow marketers — what you need, what you worry about and what I can do to help you succeed. 

If you’re on the struggle bus with me, borrow some motivation from your coworkers and teammates, so we can gather together 12 months from now and toast each other for making it through another year. 

It’s time to strap on your marketer helmet and hit the starter. Here’s to another great year together. Let’s get the job done!


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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


About the author

Ryan Phelan

As the co-founder of RPEOrigin.com, Ryan Phelan’s two decades of global marketing leadership has resulted in innovative strategies for high-growth SaaS and Fortune 250 companies. His experience and history in digital marketing have shaped his perspective on creating innovative orchestrations of data, technology and customer activation for Adestra, Acxiom, Responsys, Sears & Kmart, BlueHornet and infoUSA. Working with peers to advance digital marketing and mentoring young marketers and entrepreneurs are two of Ryan’s passions. Ryan is the Chairman Emeritus of the Email Experience Council Advisory Board and a member of numerous business community groups. He is also an in-demand keynote speaker and thought leader on digital marketing.

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Promote | DigitalMarketer

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Promote | DigitalMarketer

Up until now, any “promotion” your customers have done has been passive. But in the promotion stage, your customers actively spread the word about your brands, products, and services. They tell stories, make recommendations, and share your offers because they truly believe in them.

Active promotion may be an affiliate or commission relationship—or just a free offer for sending some new customers your way. The point is, it’s a win-win for both of you.

One thing worth mentioning before we dive in; Happy customers don’t promote, SUCCESSFUL customers do. 

Our biggest question in the Promote stage is: How are you going to turn your BEST customers into your marketing partners? 

If you don’t have a referral program, an affiliate program, or a valued reseller program … who is willing to drive your message to the organization you need to build out these programs? This is word of mouth marketing, and it is very important so start thinking about how you want to build this. 

Look to your most successful customers, they’re going to be the people who actively promote for you. But then, let’s think about our customers who already have our prospects but are offering a different product or service. 

At DigitalMarketer we are a training and certification company, we are not a services based company. What that means is we don’t compete with agencies or consultants. This also means that there is an opportunity for us to work with agencies and consultants. 

When we realized this we decided to launch our Certified Partner Program, which you can learn more about at DigitalMarketer.Com/Partner. This program lets us work with the largest segments of our customer base, who have customers that we want but they’re providing a solution that we’re not providing. 

When we train our customers, they are able to use our company frameworks to work with their clients. If their clients want to learn to do their marketing themselves? We’re the first education company they see.

So who is that for you? Remember, it’s not the happy clients that refer, it’s the successful clients. If you want to create more promoters, make sure that you’re doing everything that you can as a marketer to ensure that you’re marketing great products so you can see great results. 

How can our example companies accomplish this?

For Hazel & Hems, they can add an ambassador program to grow their instagram following and increase credibility with viral posts. 

Ambassadors can earn affiliate commissions, additional boutique reward points, and get the chance to build a greater following by leveraging the Hazel & Hems brand.

For Cyrus & Clark, they can offer discounted rates to their existing clients if those clients are willing to refer them to their strategic partners. 

For construction companies, this could be a home builder recommending Cyrus & Clark services to the landscapers, real estate developers, and interior designers that they work with to serve their customers.



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