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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

8 Q1 Local Search Developments You Need to Know About

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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Why We Are Always ‘Clicking to Buy’, According to Psychologists

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Why We Are Always 'Clicking to Buy', According to Psychologists

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

Salesforce launched a collection of new, generative AI-related products at Connections in Chicago this week. They included new Einstein Copilots for marketers and merchants and Einstein Personalization.

To better understand, not only the potential impact of the new products, but the evolving Salesforce architecture, we sat down with Bobby Jania, CMO, Marketing Cloud.

Dig deeper: Salesforce piles on the Einstein Copilots

Salesforce’s evolving architecture

It’s hard to deny that Salesforce likes coming up with new names for platforms and products (what happened to Customer 360?) and this can sometimes make the observer wonder if something is brand new, or old but with a brand new name. In particular, what exactly is Einstein 1 and how is it related to Salesforce Data Cloud?

“Data Cloud is built on the Einstein 1 platform,” Jania explained. “The Einstein 1 platform is our entire Salesforce platform and that includes products like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud — that it includes the original idea of Salesforce not just being in the cloud, but being multi-tenancy.”

Data Cloud — not an acquisition, of course — was built natively on that platform. It was the first product built on Hyperforce, Salesforce’s new cloud infrastructure architecture. “Since Data Cloud was on what we now call the Einstein 1 platform from Day One, it has always natively connected to, and been able to read anything in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud [and so on]. On top of that, we can now bring in, not only structured but unstructured data.”

That’s a significant progression from the position, several years ago, when Salesforce had stitched together a platform around various acquisitions (ExactTarget, for example) that didn’t necessarily talk to each other.

“At times, what we would do is have a kind of behind-the-scenes flow where data from one product could be moved into another product,” said Jania, “but in many of those cases the data would then be in both, whereas now the data is in Data Cloud. Tableau will run natively off Data Cloud; Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud — they’re all going to the same operational customer profile.” They’re not copying the data from Data Cloud, Jania confirmed.

Another thing to know is tit’s possible for Salesforce customers to import their own datasets into Data Cloud. “We wanted to create a federated data model,” said Jania. “If you’re using Snowflake, for example, we more or less virtually sit on your data lake. The value we add is that we will look at all your data and help you form these operational customer profiles.”

Let’s learn more about Einstein Copilot

“Copilot means that I have an assistant with me in the tool where I need to be working that contextually knows what I am trying to do and helps me at every step of the process,” Jania said.

For marketers, this might begin with a campaign brief developed with Copilot’s assistance, the identification of an audience based on the brief, and then the development of email or other content. “What’s really cool is the idea of Einstein Studio where our customers will create actions [for Copilot] that we hadn’t even thought about.”

Here’s a key insight (back to nomenclature). We reported on Copilot for markets, Copilot for merchants, Copilot for shoppers. It turns out, however, that there is just one Copilot, Einstein Copilot, and these are use cases. “There’s just one Copilot, we just add these for a little clarity; we’re going to talk about marketing use cases, about shoppers’ use cases. These are actions for the marketing use cases we built out of the box; you can build your own.”

It’s surely going to take a little time for marketers to learn to work easily with Copilot. “There’s always time for adoption,” Jania agreed. “What is directly connected with this is, this is my ninth Connections and this one has the most hands-on training that I’ve seen since 2014 — and a lot of that is getting people using Data Cloud, using these tools rather than just being given a demo.”

What’s new about Einstein Personalization

Salesforce Einstein has been around since 2016 and many of the use cases seem to have involved personalization in various forms. What’s new?

“Einstein Personalization is a real-time decision engine and it’s going to choose next-best-action, next-best-offer. What is new is that it’s a service now that runs natively on top of Data Cloud.” A lot of real-time decision engines need their own set of data that might actually be a subset of data. “Einstein Personalization is going to look holistically at a customer and recommend a next-best-action that could be natively surfaced in Service Cloud, Sales Cloud or Marketing Cloud.”

Finally, trust

One feature of the presentations at Connections was the reassurance that, although public LLMs like ChatGPT could be selected for application to customer data, none of that data would be retained by the LLMs. Is this just a matter of written agreements? No, not just that, said Jania.

“In the Einstein Trust Layer, all of the data, when it connects to an LLM, runs through our gateway. If there was a prompt that had personally identifiable information — a credit card number, an email address — at a mimum, all that is stripped out. The LLMs do not store the output; we store the output for auditing back in Salesforce. Any output that comes back through our gateway is logged in our system; it runs through a toxicity model; and only at the end do we put PII data back into the answer. There are real pieces beyond a handshake that this data is safe.”

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

You ask the head of marketing how the team is doing and get a giant thumbs up. 👍

“Our MQLs are up!”

“Website conversion rates are at an all-time high!”

“Email click rates have never been this good!”

But when you ask the head of sales the same question, you get the response that echoes across sales desks worldwide — the leads from marketing suck. 

If you’re in this boat, you’re not alone. The issue of “leads from marketing suck” is a common situation in most organizations. In a HubSpot survey, only 9.1% of salespeople said leads they received from marketing were of very high quality.

Why do sales teams hate marketing-generated leads? And how can marketers help their sales peers fall in love with their leads? 

Let’s dive into the answers to these questions. Then, I’ll give you my secret lead gen kung-fu to ensure your sales team loves their marketing leads. 

Marketers Must Take Ownership

“I’ve hit the lead goal. If sales can’t close them, it’s their problem.”

How many times have you heard one of your marketers say something like this? When your teams are heavily siloed, it’s not hard to see how they get to this mindset — after all, if your marketing metrics look strong, they’ve done their part, right?

Not necessarily. 

The job of a marketer is not to drive traffic or even leads. The job of the marketer is to create messaging and offers that lead to revenue. Marketing is not a 100-meter sprint — it’s a relay race. The marketing team runs the first leg and hands the baton to sales to sprint to the finish.

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via GIPHY

To make leads valuable beyond the vanity metric of watching your MQLs tick up, you need to segment and nurture them. Screen the leads to see if they meet the parameters of your ideal customer profile. If yes, nurture them to find out how close their intent is to a sale. Only then should you pass the leads to sales. 

Lead Quality Control is a Bitter Pill that Works

Tighter quality control might reduce your overall MQLs. Still, it will ensure only the relevant leads go to sales, which is a win for your team and your organization.

This shift will require a mindset shift for your marketing team: instead of living and dying by the sheer number of MQLs, you need to create a collaborative culture between sales and marketing. Reinforce that “strong” marketing metrics that result in poor leads going to sales aren’t really strong at all.  

When you foster this culture of collaboration and accountability, it will be easier for the marketing team to receive feedback from sales about lead quality without getting defensive. 

Remember, the sales team is only holding marketing accountable so the entire organization can achieve the right results. It’s not sales vs marketing — it’s sales and marketing working together to get a great result. Nothing more, nothing less. 

We’ve identified the problem and where we need to go. So, how you do you get there?

Fix #1: Focus On High ROI Marketing Activities First

What is more valuable to you:

  • One more blog post for a few more views? 
  • One great review that prospective buyers strongly relate to?

Hopefully, you’ll choose the latter. After all, talking to customers and getting a solid testimonial can help your sales team close leads today.  Current customers talking about their previous issues, the other solutions they tried, why they chose you, and the results you helped them achieve is marketing gold.

On the other hand, even the best blog content will take months to gain enough traction to impact your revenue.

Still, many marketers who say they want to prioritize customer reviews focus all their efforts on blog content and other “top of the funnel” (Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation) efforts. 

The bottom half of the growth marketing funnel (Retention, Reputation, and Revenue) often gets ignored, even though it’s where you’ll find some of the highest ROI activities.

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Most marketers know retaining a customer is easier than acquiring a new one. But knowing this and working with sales on retention and account expansion are two different things. 

When you start focusing on retention, upselling, and expansion, your entire organization will feel it, from sales to customer success. These happier customers will increase your average account value and drive awareness through strong word of mouth, giving you one heck of a win/win.

Winning the Retention, Reputation, and Referral game also helps feed your Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation activities:

  • Increasing customer retention means more dollars stay within your organization to help achieve revenue goals and fund lead gen initiatives.
  • A fully functioning referral system lowers your customer acquisition cost (CAC) because these leads are already warm coming in the door.
  • Case studies and reviews are powerful marketing assets for lead gen and nurture activities as they demonstrate how you’ve solved identical issues for other companies.

Remember that the bottom half of your marketing and sales funnel is just as important as the top half. After all, there’s no point pouring leads into a leaky funnel. Instead, you want to build a frictionless, powerful growth engine that brings in the right leads, nurtures them into customers, and then delights those customers to the point that they can’t help but rave about you.

So, build a strong foundation and start from the bottom up. You’ll find a better return on your investment. 

Fix #2: Join Sales Calls to Better Understand Your Target Audience

You can’t market well what you don’t know how to sell.

Your sales team speaks directly to customers, understands their pain points, and knows the language they use to talk about those pains. Your marketing team needs this information to craft the perfect marketing messaging your target audience will identify with.

When marketers join sales calls or speak to existing customers, they get firsthand introductions to these pain points. Often, marketers realize that customers’ pain points and reservations are very different from those they address in their messaging. 

Once you understand your ideal customers’ objections, anxieties, and pressing questions, you can create content and messaging to remove some of these reservations before the sales call. This effort removes a barrier for your sales team, resulting in more SQLs.

Fix #3: Create Collateral That Closes Deals

One-pagers, landing pages, PDFs, decks — sales collateral could be anything that helps increase the chance of closing a deal. Let me share an example from Lean Labs. 

Our webinar page has a CTA form that allows visitors to talk to our team. Instead of a simple “get in touch” form, we created a drop-down segmentation based on the user’s challenge and need. This step helps the reader feel seen, gives them hope that they’ll receive real value from the interaction, and provides unique content to users based on their selection.

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So, if they select I need help with crushing it on HubSpot, they’ll get a landing page with HubSpot-specific content (including a video) and a meeting scheduler. 

Speaking directly to your audience’s needs and pain points through these steps dramatically increases the chances of them booking a call. Why? Because instead of trusting that a generic “expert” will be able to help them with their highly specific problem, they can see through our content and our form design that Lean Labs can solve their most pressing pain point. 

Fix #4: Focus On Reviews and Create an Impact Loop

A lot of people think good marketing is expensive. You know what’s even more expensive? Bad marketing

To get the best ROI on your marketing efforts, you need to create a marketing machine that pays for itself. When you create this machine, you need to think about two loops: the growth loop and the impact loop.

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  • Growth loop — Awareness ➡ Acquisition ➡ Activation ➡ Revenue ➡ Awareness: This is where most marketers start. 
  • Impact loop — Results ➡ Reviews ➡ Retention ➡ Referrals ➡ Results: This is where great marketers start. 

Most marketers start with their growth loop and then hope that traction feeds into their impact loop. However, the reality is that starting with your impact loop is going to be far more likely to set your marketing engine up for success

Let me share a client story to show you what this looks like in real life.

Client Story: 4X Website Leads In A Single Quarter

We partnered with a health tech startup looking to grow their website leads. One way to grow website leads is to boost organic traffic, of course, but any organic play is going to take time. If you’re playing the SEO game alone, quadrupling conversions can take up to a year or longer.

But we did it in a single quarter. Here’s how.

We realized that the startup’s demos were converting lower than industry standards. A little more digging showed us why: our client was new enough to the market that the average person didn’t trust them enough yet to want to invest in checking out a demo. So, what did we do?

We prioritized the last part of the funnel: reputation.

We ran a 5-star reputation campaign to collect reviews. Once we had the reviews we needed, we showcased them at critical parts of the website and then made sure those same reviews were posted and shown on other third-party review platforms. 

Remember that reputation plays are vital, and they’re one of the plays startups often neglect at best and ignore at worst. What others say about your business is ten times more important than what you say about yourself

By providing customer validation at critical points in the buyer journey, we were able to 4X the website leads in a single quarter!

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So, when you talk to customers, always look for opportunities to drive review/referral conversations and use them in marketing collateral throughout the buyer journey. 

Fix #5: Launch Phantom Offers for Higher Quality Leads 

You may be reading this post thinking, okay, my lead magnets and offers might be way off the mark, but how will I get the budget to create a new one that might not even work?

It’s an age-old issue: marketing teams invest way too much time and resources into creating lead magnets that fail to generate quality leads

One way to improve your chances of success, remain nimble, and stay aligned with your audience without breaking the bank is to create phantom offers, i.e., gauge the audience interest in your lead magnet before you create them.

For example, if you want to create a “World Security Report” for Chief Security Officers, don’t do all the research and complete the report as Step One. Instead, tease the offer to your audience before you spend time making it. Put an offer on your site asking visitors to join the waitlist for this report. Then wait and see how that phantom offer converts. 

This is precisely what we did for a report by Allied Universal that ended up generating 80 conversions before its release.

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The best thing about a phantom offer is that it’s a win/win scenario: 

  • Best case: You get conversions even before you create your lead magnet.
  • Worst case: You save resources by not creating a lead magnet no one wants.  

Remember, You’re On The Same Team 

We’ve talked a lot about the reasons your marketing leads might suck. However, remember that it’s not all on marketers, either. At the end of the day, marketing and sales professionals are on the same team. They are not in competition with each other. They are allies working together toward a common goal. 

Smaller companies — or anyone under $10M in net new revenue — shouldn’t even separate sales and marketing into different departments. These teams need to be so in sync with one another that your best bet is to align them into a single growth team, one cohesive front with a single goal: profitable customer acquisition.

Interested in learning more about the growth marketing mindset? Check out the Lean Labs Growth Playbook that’s helped 25+ B2B SaaS marketing teams plan, budget, and accelerate growth.


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