Is there ever such a thing as a quiet year in local SEO? Well, let’s hope not, as we’d all be out of a job, but you understand the expression.
2022 has been awry with increases in fraudulent Google Business Profile and review activity, and retaliations coming thick and fast from Google. Which, as we know, has led to some, uh, chaos in the form of profile suspensions and even disappearing Google reviews.
With those most recent bugs in mind, it can skew your perspective of all the other things that have happened in local search this year and, hey, we’ve seen a lot of positives—Google Maps has even helped fight crime, for goodness sake! Plus, all of the new attributes added to Google Business Profile that makes it—and its local businesses—that little bit more helpful every day, often without users even realizing.
So in true end-of-year style, we’re taking a moment to look back at 2022. Although, before we delve into that, you might be interested to see what New York’s top trending recipe was this year… wait—actually, no, that’s kind of disappointing, New York.
Local Year in Search 2022, Google
Kicking off a new year with no messing around, Google confirmed its first big vicinity update since 2016, which local SEOs had been reporting on just before Christmas. Honing in on proximity more than ever, this key change explained some significant fluctuations in visibility for local businesses.
Next, the welcome news for local businesses that Google Business Profile verification could now be carried out by video call. Shortening the verification by as much as two weeks, this was a great move by Google to encourage better engagement from business owners and managers by simply making things easier for them.
And of course, BrightLocal’s own highly anticipated Local Consumer Review Survey 2022 was published, in which we found that more consumers were reading online reviews than ever before.
As anti-tech legislation was proposed in the US, Google controversially moved to lobby local businesses on the negative impacts that limiting consumer data could have on business profiles, Google ad products, and synchronization with other core Google tools. As of yet, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act has not been passed into US law.
Towards the end of February, interactive elements were introduced to the local pack, enabling users to zoom, drag and hover on map elements and open the local finder to search for local businesses. Following January’s proximity focus within the vicinity update, this change would give users more control over the way they discover local businesses.
Global focus in March turned, of course, to Europe, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. BrightLocal customers and friends will be aware that a huge part of our team has long been based in Kyiv, so naturally, we rallied to support our BrightLocal family. You can read the message from our CEO and founder, Myles, here.
Google introduced several new attributes for businesses in Ukraine and its surrounding areas, including “emergency help” attributes to signal organizations that offered free services or support or accepted donations and volunteers in humanitarian efforts. Hotel listings were able to display free or significantly discounted accommodation options for those displaced in Ukraine.
Following a couple of months of local SEOs scratching their heads over ranking fluctuations, Joy Hawkins reported a suspected ‘correction’ to the aforementioned vicinity update. Since the rollout in December, keyword-rich business names had been—potentially unfairly—filtered out of results. Although, there has been debate over the practice of using keywords within business names.
And, after reports that further verification requirements for Google Business Profiles may be needed, trust signals were spotted appearing for confirmed business information, such as opening hours and contact details. As our very own Claire Carlile highlighted at the time, this appeared to come as another move from Google to reinforce consumer confidence in local search results.
They're like a series of "trust" signals you think @rustybrick ? Has the state of the GBP ecosystem in terms of accuracy become so bad that Google needs to add these to show consumers they can be confident in the panel details? 🧐 https://t.co/yPjrzFmfIm pic.twitter.com/1Byf5ZgJyr
— Claire Carlile🕊️ 🌊 🥑 🦥 (@clairecarlile) March 3, 2022
A flurry of local changes trickled into April, first with the announcement that the Google My Business app would be finally going away. Aside from the rebrand, this decision reflects changes to how profile managers interact with and edit Google Business Profiles.
We saw more new attributes added to Google Business Profile, helping local businesses to promote their sustainability and be found by more eco-conscious audiences with ‘recycling’ attributes.
Product searches also got the local treatment, with results displaying options for ‘in-store’ products that could be browsed by product or by store. This update should be seen as a big hint from Google that product-focused businesses should be synchronizing products from Google Merchant Center to their Google Business Profiles—or setting this up to list your products altogether, if you haven’t already.
A new results overlay was tested for businesses in Google Maps which, as you can see below, rolled out and still stands. This change allows users to open results for a local business, whilst continuing to scroll the list and compare additional businesses. Though some weren’t keen on its introduction, I have to say I rather like it!
May was a huge month for BrightLocal as our team, supported by friends and experts within the local SEO community, was busy behind the scenes organizing the incredible Local SEO for Ukraine event. Six hours of exciting talks, Q&As, and expert panels took place in one day, as part of our fundraising efforts to buy urgent aid and supplies for the people of Ukraine. More on that later!
Big news came for ‘virtual’ and delivery-only food brands, as Google finally enabled them to have listings within Google Business Profile (subject to conditions). Following the rise of delivery-only food businesses and pick-up-only locations since the pandemic, this welcome change would substantially increase visibility for these types of local businesses, beyond the work of social media, word of mouth, and (often non-existent) organic search.
New features for hotel results were also spotted, highlighting another example of how Google likes to use review content in different ways. Expandable ‘top things to know’ options, using snippets of local reviews, provide at-a-glance information to support users in their browsing and decision-making.
As the travel industry continues to bounce back, Google introduced updates to travel listings that would streamline the booking process for prospective customers, while also making it easier for profile managers to stay on top of their business listings. Most notably, it enables advertisers to activate ads faster and for hotel rates to be inputted directly into their Google Business Profile.
June saw a new attribute in the form of ‘LGBTQ+ Owned’ joining some of the other community-focused attributes such as ‘Women-owned’ and ‘Black-owned’. This is a nice nod to helping customers support small and local businesses that are part of communities they care about.
Instagram threw its hat back into the local ring with the launch of an immersive local maps feature. Although it has played with map features over the years, this feature shows a big move towards local business discovery and even has its own local pack of sorts! Business information, such as opening hours, an indicator of price, and number of Instagram posts can be seen at a glance, while continuing to showcase user-generated content. It’s a nice touch to give more of a platform to small businesses and creators, although as we know, Instagram is a busy and competitive space to keep up with.
Back to Google, an announcement came that Google Posts would now expire after six months. It comes as a very non-subtle encouragement for business owners and managers to stay on top of their GBPs, keep information up-to-date and post relevant, timely updates to attract customers.
By this time, BrightLocal was gearing up for a four-day drive from the UK to Ukraine, packing up and driving three vans of supplies over 1,600 miles across Europe. A huge thank you again to all of those who were able to donate to or support our cause, as well as the generous contributions we received to get us there! We are incredibly proud to have raised our goal of $100,000 across the months.
View this post on Instagram
As our team continued the long drive across European borders, August proved to be quite a bumper month for local.
TikTok, never one to be ignored, partnered with Ticketmaster to wade into the world of local events and reinforce its power as a discovery platform. Incentivizing content creators to promote events and include links through contextually relevant content, while providing Ticketmaster with a new sales platform, is quite frankly, genius.
Local businesses such as restaurants and attractions got the opportunity for a visibility boost as Google tested a new photo browsing feature within mobile search results. Swipeable cards allow users to browse images associated with the business, which is particularly important for hospitality brands. So remember, presentation is key—because you don’t know who might be snapping away!
At the end of August, we reported on Google’s Helpful Content Update and, at first, not a lot changed. But, as some local SEOs predicted, the update was just getting started. Since then, there has been evidence of sites with quality and authoritative content (including ours, hooray!) being rewarded, whilst Lily Ray spotted a trend in which sites using duplicate or near duplicate content, were impacted negatively.
Danny Sullivan confirmed that this update would be constantly refined, but left us with the reminder that “if you have good content, you’re generally fine”. It makes sense.
Update isn’t done. It’s also part of a continuing effort, as we’ve explained. We’ll keep refining how it works. Directionally, the guidance we’ve given is what SEOs and creators should be considering.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) August 31, 2022
Continuing the helpful theme, we also saw prompts for ‘sub-reviews’ being introduced within Google Reviews. You may have spotted that some reviews now have additional information attached to them, such as facilities and amenities. If you’re a Local Guide, you might have even been prompted yourself!
Barely a week later, came the September 2022 Core Algorithm Update, which unsurprisingly sent plenty of local marketers into a small panic. Unfortunately, this was shortly followed by a bug that saw dramatic local ranking changes and drop-offs. As it happens, it was unrelated to the updates and didn’t affect all businesses.
So what did September’s core update impact? Not a lot apparently, and Google didn’t provide many hints on what to do if you were hit.
Meanwhile, Google’s much anticipated virtual Search On event announced some major updates coming to local search, some of which we’ll cover later. Some of the most intriguing, we thought, was the potential rise of social media and ‘local influencers’ in defining neighborhood vibes, and some very interesting comments about the future of reviews and ratings.
If you’re visiting a new place, it can be hard to figure out what's worth exploring. Soon on @GoogleMaps, you’ll be able to get the vibe of a neighborhood at a glance with photos and videos of the most popular spots coming to life on your map. #SearchOn pic.twitter.com/jr7UogG7hB
— Google (@Google) September 28, 2022
On the subject of review trustworthiness, Google continued its tirade against unethical incentivizing practices. Updating its guidelines, it’s now strictly prohibited to incentivize customers to leave reviews and feedback. While it’s never exactly been seen as the “right” way of encouraging reviews, plenty of local businesses have relied on tactics such as free goods and discounts—and likely still do—so, this one will catch businesses out if Google is as serious about its crackdown as we think.
How to Spot Fake Reviews: Check out our tips for how to spot fake reviews and what you can do about them.
We kicked off October with the launch of our Resource Hubs and two days of fun, learning, and BrightLocal Bingo at BrightonSEO! As always, it was great to see so many faces, hear from some very insightful speakers, and of course, bag some of that sweet, sweet merchandise.
Continuing the theme of photos and discovery through visuals, Mike Blumenthal covered the importance of businesses upgrading the quality of their photos and ensuring they reflect products and services visually. At the same time, Tricia Clements noted the addition of keywords to business photos being tested, as well as reviews with photos placing near the top:
Google keeps updating and testing new features with photos! 🔥 They're highlighting pics, adding a keyword and #. When I click on it, it takes me to the 4 reviews in the profile that mention "bathroom". Reviews with pics are at the top. 🔥 #LocalSEO #IsItNew pic.twitter.com/BZ3BWzCIqz
— Tricia Clements (@yourbizwatchdog) October 19, 2022
And then, when it was all going so well, there was the Google Business Profile suspensions bug. All of a sudden, simply editing key business information could result in a profile suspension—which, of course, didn’t look great for us local SEOs banging on about the importance of up-to-date business profiles! It turned out to be a bug that affected a significant number of profiles, and the reinstatement periods were taking up to three weeks. The lesson there: proceed with caution when making multiple edits to your profiles and always make a note of the changes you make.
The chaos didn’t quite slow down in November. Some unpopular changes to Google Business Profile came at the start of the month, as the option to edit profiles within the traditional dashboard was removed. Although to be expected within the rollout of the New Merchant Experience (NMX), many local marketers noted some editing options were frustratingly hidden, and some features were removed altogether. That meant goodbye to photo insights, the ‘how customers search for your business’ statistics, and ‘requests for directions’.
🧐 Don't forget to click the three little dots for even MORE options! Such a bad interface for regular users!
If only there was a dashboard where all of this was in one place 😏 #localseo #smallbiz https://t.co/aX69CBQImq pic.twitter.com/9nnGngCImN
— Andy Simpson 🇬🇧 (@ndyjsimpson) October 27, 2022
Then, following the profile suspensions bug, some business profiles saw their Google reviews disappearing entirely around the middle of the month—big gulp. Although some suspected it may have been Google going into overdrive on the spam-fighting front, it was confirmed as a bug that caused profile CID numbers to change.
Update: The saga continues
Found more cases of lost Google GPB reviews:
'They had shortened the business name…& changed my website information to a different link that also went to my website. I realized all 105 of the reviews had VANISHED!'https://t.co/ClRqEpUOwp
— Mike Blumenthal (@mblumenthal) November 13, 2022
And yet, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Some of the more exciting local search features that had been announced in September’s Search On conference began rolling out. Useful search features and attributes, such as searching for local restaurants by dish, finding wheelchair-accessible businesses across more countries, and searching with Live View in some key cities became official.
You didn’t think that things would start to wind down, just because we’re in December, did you? As we know, Google loves to keep us on our toes and this month has been no different.
Google has now introduced the concept of E-E-A-T and no, that’s not a typo. The new ‘E’ stands for experience, referring to the first-hand experience and reputation of content creators, as well as the overall reputation of a website. Signaling another key indicator of trustworthiness, local marketers should take the opportunity to review how they demonstrate expertise on topics across their websites.
Meanwhile, back on the spam-busting front, a December 2022 link spam update is rolling out. So, if you notice your rankings begin to fluctuate, you’ll want to review your links to ensure they are natural.
Learnings from 2022
2022 really has been the year that Google showed us it’s not messing around when it comes to spam and fraud, and that quality content remains the jewel in the crown.
As we know, local search is constantly evolving and new features are constantly coming our way or being tested. So, don’t feel bad if you don’t spot them! Keep up to date with our insights and keep your eye on our Twitter feed to see everything in local marketing as it happens.
That’s a wrap from us, for now. Thank you again to everyone who has supported BrightLocal throughout 2022 and, most importantly, our family in Ukraine.
While we know updates and changes can come at any time, we sincerely hope that you can enjoy a break over this holiday period, however you may observe it. Look out for our upcoming 2023 predictions piece, coming at the start of January.