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Protect the Hours of Operation on Your GBP from Unwanted Google Edits

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Protect the Hours of Operation on Your GBP from Unwanted Google Edits

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.

Image credit: Bart Maguire

Over the next six months, Google is going to employ machine learning and AI to alter the hours of operation on twenty million Google Business Profiles as part of their project of creating a “self-updating map”. Some experts estimate that this is roughly one-fifth to one-sixth of all GBP listings, meaning the chances are strong that you or one or more of your clients could experience these edits.

Google has good reason for pursuing accuracy in their local index, but local business owners have even better reason to be on top of this announcement and proactively safeguard the validity of their own data. Today, we’ll show you what to do to take charge on these vital listings which, while they belong to Google, represent your business.

Why is this happening and is this new?

Google is right in observing that the chaos of COVID-19 has affected the accuracy of their local business index. Updating GBP hours to reflect changes may not be at the top of the to-do lists of business owners struggling with so many challenges.

However, Google’s description of how they plan to alter business hours is raising some alarm, due to the peculiarity of their disclosed methods. Some processes are sound. For example, Google mentions use of Duplex to actually phone business owners directly to ask what their current open hours are, which makes excellent horse sense. Additionally, asking Local Guides to validate this information could also help if an owner is unreachable, for some reason, and the guides being tapped are civic-minded instead of just playing for points. All fine and good.

Where we get into murkier waters is in Google saying they will use the hours of other related local businesses to “predict” what the hours should be for the business you are marketing. The example they use is determining what the hours of Liam’s Lemonade Shop should be by looking at the hours of other nearby lemonade shops. In other words, if Larry’s Lemonade Emporium is open from 9-5, Google assumes that Liam’s Lemonade Shop shop should be, too, which will come as a surprise to him if he runs a late night citrus spot. I’m not the only one finding Google’s logic less than exemplary on this.

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Another process Google mentions is that of deriving information from Street View, which I am dubious about, given that many places I visit via this service have not been updated in more than a year, and in some cases, in more than a decade:

If Google’s thinking is that harried business owners have not had the free time necessary to keep their hours updated throughout the past two years, then trying to glean this information from random snapshots in time of whenever a Google vehicle last passed through town seems like a rather fuzzy solution. The hours of your business in 2022 may be quite different from what they were a year ago, or five years ago.

If some of Google’s ways and means accompanying this big announcement have a familiar ring to them, it’s because what they are describing is not, in fact, totally new. Since the beginning of local search history, Google has crowdsourced information and implemented it in their listings, and all of that time, local SEOs and local business owners have been suggesting that this is not a good substitute for getting information directly from the companies Google is representing and monetizing via their system. We basically have to view this development from Google as an acknowledgement of three things:

  1. Your listings belong to Google.

  2. Google has never reached the level of direct local business owner engagement they actually need to maintain the quality of their index.

  3. In the absence of this, they substitute crowdsourcing and technology in hopes of achieving enough accuracy to maintain a certain degree of public trust necessary to be able to keep monetizing SERPs and having them seen and used.

So, take a deep breath. This is the Google we already know, putting a high tech spin on a historic communications failure, but don’t overlook this announcement. It’s a strong message from the search engine that you have to stay on top of your own listings if you don’t want Google to completely take over and edit your data based on random information. Fortunately, there are specific things you can do to take charge!

How to proactively protect your GBP hours

Here’s a short list of your five best options for signaling to Google that, yes, you are staying on top of your own hours and don’t require assistance.

  1. Be sure the hours of operation on your website are accurate. Google says this is one of the places they investigate.

  2. Sorry for the pain-in-the-neck, but if you manage your listings manually, you now need to regularly check all of them to see if Google has altered their hours. I’d recommend checking at least every month (as if you don’t already have enough to do). Moz Local customers have a much easier option. Just check the Profile Suggestions section of your dashboard to see, at a glance, whether Google or anyone else is trying to edit your hours, even if you have hundreds of listings. Being alerted when data changes are suggested should provide so much peace of mind, and you can accept or reject edit suggestions. Whew!

  3. Thirdly, take some time this week to edit your hours, even if the edit is small. For example, you could go into your listings today to set special hours for the winter holidays in advance, proving to Google that you are well aware of your own schedule and that your hours of operation are not neglected.

  4. Remember our recent discussion of the QRG and how Google employs human quality raters to get a sense of your business from what others are saying about it? Be sure all of your local business listings across your local search ecosystem are up-to-date with correct hours (another thing Moz Local makes so much easier!) so that quality raters aren’t encountering complaints from customers who came to your business and found it closed when it was listed online as being open for business.

  5. Finally, for brick-and-mortar brands, do step outside today and be sure the hours displayed on your windows, doors, and street level signage are accurate, just in case a Google Maps Car or a local guide is heading your way.

Google is telling us, yet again, that local business listings aren’t a set-and-forget asset

A local SEO myth that I see surfacing frequently is that you can build out your listings and then forget about them. This is simply not true! Ongoing, active management of all of your listings has always been essential for three core reasons:

  1. Incorrect information on neglected listings has been proven to lead to negative reviews from inconvenienced customers, and negative reviews undermine conversions/transactions. If your real-world hours change and you don’t update your online listings across the local search ecosystem, customers will complain in reviews and the low-star rating they assign you will influence the impressions and actions of other potential customers. Meanwhile, remember that wrong hours in one place can then be distributed to multiple local business listing platforms and apps in the absence of active management. Customer care is the number one reason why you can’t neglect your listings.

  2. It isn’t just Google which can decide they know better than you about key fields of your listing. Any member of the public, including competitors and spammers, can suggest edits to your profiles that you will be unaware of if you are not paying attention.

  3. It’s an outdated perspective to view local business listings as static entities. Year-over-year, Google Business Profiles, in particular, are becoming increasingly interactive and transactional. Competitive local businesses must have a solid strategy for continuous management of photos, reviews, Q&A, messaging, bookings, shopping and more. Far from being a one-and-done scenario, listings management is central to local business operations.

Given that Google shows no signs of ceding total control of listings to business owners, your best strategy is to take as much charge as you can and be as proactive as possible in publishing dynamic information to your listings. With Google’s latest announcement fresh in all our minds, today might be a good day to check out Moz Local to simplify your local to-do list.

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MARKETING

Follow This Purpose-Driven Path to Greater SEO Success

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Follow This Purpose-Driven Path to Greater SEO Success

Historically, getting content to reach the top of a search engine results page usually hinged on your team’s ability to fulfill the rules of Google’s algorithm – no matter how complex, obscure, and sometimes unwritten.

However, that picture is changing now that AI has arrived behind the scenes of the top search engine, says Dale Bertrand, Fire and Spark’s content and SEO strategist. Its machine learning delivers more precise, adaptive, and contextual search results. It also gives marketers another approach to search result success – a purpose-driven strategy.

Develop a purpose-driven #SEO strategy that would please @Google’s #AI algorithm, says @joderama via @CMIContent @pageonepower. Click To Tweet

At the 2022 ContentTECH Summit and a recent Ask the CMWorld Community interview, Dale discussed what Google’s heavier reliance on an AI-controlled algorithm means and how a purpose-driven approach can help your brand compete with – and even beat – bigger fish in the SEO sea.

Search for greater SEO intelligence

In the early days of digital search, Google’s founders used the web’s link structure to rank the most relevant page results. “Basically, if you had the right links to your website and the right keywords on your pages, you would rank well,” Dale says.

But now, it’s more important to understand how that AI engine gets trained than to follow technical SEO rules. Dale says making this mindset change can help set your content on a path to increased visibility on search and stronger marketing performance overall.

It’s more important now to understand how that #AI engine gets trained than to follow technical #SEO rules, says Dale Bertrand of @Fire_and_Spark via @joderama @CMIContent @pageonepower. Click To Tweet

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Engineers set the technical quality guidelines

Human engineers are still involved in ranking content relevance. But instead of programming the algorithm, their role is to rate a site’s trustworthiness, content accuracy, authoritativeness, and connection to other relevant content providers on the topic at hand.

“That quality information is collected as a big dataset from websites that have been graded, which is part of what they feed into Google’s algorithm to train the AI,” says Dale. There’s a big, long document out there – the web quality raters guide. Any marketer can read it to see what the raters look for when building the training dataset for Google’s AI.”


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AI adds behavioral signals

From that point, Google’s AI engine takes over, tracking search behaviors, analyzing signals of intent, and correlating those insights with the quality rating data to determine the most relevant content to a search query.

But, Dale says, keep in mind: “Google’s AI engine doesn’t care about your content – it only cares about its own performance.” It’s looking for confirmation that the content it selects will deliver a satisfying experience for searchers. Your job is to make sure it sees your brand’s content as a likely win.

Prove your #content has what it takes for better search results. Build momentum through community and demonstrate multifactor authority, says Dale Bertrand of @Fire_and_Spark via @joderama @CMIContent @pageonepower. Click To Tweet

Shared purpose promotes multifactor authority

Dale discusses two ways brands can prove that their content has what it takes to deliver the AI’s desired results:

  • Build momentum through community. A community behind your brand frequently visits, engages with, and links to your website. They recommend your products and services and amplify your site. Dale says these actions demonstrate a high level of customer intimacy. Google’s AI uses the artifacts of success from this content – high engagement, low bounce rate, and a high click-through rate – to confirm your site and content are loved.
  • Demonstrate multifactor authority. Part of AI’s investigation of brands that resonate with online consumers is the company you keep, Dale says. Authoritative individuals, organizations, and influencers can contribute to your brand’s authority by linking to, citing, and amplifying your content across their channels and platforms.

Prove your #content has what it takes for better search results. Build momentum through community and demonstrate multifactor authority, says Dale Bertrand of @Fire_and_Spark via @joderama @CMIContent @pageonepower. Click To Tweet

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How to use purpose to build SEO power

Dale describes an SEO strategy that can help build authority and momentum by focusing on a purpose your brand believes in: “Hopefully, your brand stands for something. But [for SEO], it’s even better if your brand is actively promoting a change that you want to see in your industry.”

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By using your content to build valuable conversations around that change, you give the tools to those with an established interest to spread your brand messages. This data around this reciprocal relationship demonstrates the brand traction Google’s AI sees as proof your content is a solid search bet.

Dale shares a client example:

I worked with one brand that was selling handmade children’s products. The US government was about to pass a law that would have made it so [small businesses like this] would have had to do $100,000 worth of testing before being allowed to sell a single product. We were able to lead the movement against that law and turn that into an SEO campaign that generated authority, backlinks, and website engagement – all the things that Google’s AI is looking for.

He explains the process he used to achieve those results:

Step 1: Find high-profile groups and learn about the causes they support

Find potential partners – influencers, non-profits, advocacy organizations, and others who are working towards a purpose in which your business might have a stake. It could be an organization that’s written about helping previously incarcerated people find jobs, influencers promoting veteran-run businesses, or an event that supports disadvantaged youth in your local community.

When you’ve identified viable candidates, research their positions and how they communicate about them in their online conversations. “You need to understand what issues these influencers care about, what they’re writing about, what’s going on in their social conversations. All of those things are targets for your purpose-driven SEO campaign,” Dale says.

Step 2: Choose a mission your content will support

Once you find an area with enough grassroots supporters, craft a mission statement around it for your brand’s SEO campaign. It should be something your brand can speak to authentically; otherwise, audiences will see right through it. “It has to be based on your organization’s values because you’re going to get behind it. At the end of the day, if you don’t care about feeding hungry children, that just can’t be the mission,” Dale says.

If you’re on the B2B side or operate in a crowded market, it may be worthwhile to adopt a unique or even slightly controversial mission to differentiate your brand. “[You might think] sustainability is a good [purpose to build on], but so many companies have taken this topic on that it doesn’t move the needle from a search marketing perspective,” Dale says.

Rather than just choosing a hot topic, he suggests looking for a niche, such as a critical change affecting the supply chain for your industry or a regulatory issue that impacts product costs, to rally around. Doing so can help insert your brand name into relevant conversations that your bigger, higher-profile competitors may not be associated with.

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Step 3: Create “citable” content aligned with your mission

The goal isn’t to promote your brand’s involvement with the chosen cause; it’s to create content your partner organizations can cite when making their case for the cause. “The content is fuel for their advocacy – it gives them credible, authoritative information they can use in their arguments,” Dale says.

For example, Dale says, interview someone personally affected by the mission, write an opinion piece about the change your business is advocating, or publish an original research report. “This is the type of content that [they] would organically mention and link to while trying to get their point across in their own content conversations. That’s how you’re going to get the deeper engagement and increased backlinks that Google’s AI can see,” says Dale.

Step 4: Reach out to other like-minded influencers

With a body of purpose-focused content cited and linked to, you can increase your content’s authority and reach by sharing the outcomes with other influencers who care about the topic. But rather than conducting a blast email campaign, contact them individually by email or personal message on social channels.

In this outreach, focus your messages on furthering the mission. “We’re not promoting our business, our products, and services, or our content. We’re saying, ‘Hey, I saw that you’re a big advocate for helping previously incarcerated youth find jobs. We’ve got an interview your audience would be interested in … would you help us promote it?’” Dale explains.

Not only are influencers more likely to respond to this type of outreach, but they may be more willing to promote your content without compensation because it helps them create content in an area that they’re passionate about, Dale says.

Fuel a shared purpose and find greater search success

In a crowded landscape, where reaching a top spot on SERPs is harder to achieve than ever, it’s time for marketers to stop trying to outsmart the search algorithm. By putting a shared human purpose at the center of your SEO strategy, your content will broadcast all the signals of authority, relevance, and value Google’s AI is looking for.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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