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Tag: Search

How To Manage Your Remote Job Search When You’re Unemployed


Being unemployed is tough. And it only gets tougher the longer you’re out of work. A study by the Urban Institute found that longer unemployment led to lower well-being for both the unemployed and their family. Plus, when long term unemployed re-enter the workforce, they often earn less.

We don’t want that.

As a career coach, I recommend a different plan of attack for someone who is unemployed compared to someone who is currently working but hoping to find a new job.

So, what should you do when you’re unemployed and looking for remote work?

1. Determine Your Career Ideals

Just because you’re out of work doesn’t mean you need to take any remote job. Instead, you need to determine your career ideals.

Your career ideals are the must-haves and have-nots when it comes to the way you work.

Example of career ideals include:

  • Your working hours – Do you need a steady 9 to 5 or are you a night owl?
  • Type of job responsibilities – Hate customer service but prefer data entry?
  • Pay rate – Need to earn a bare minimum of $15/hour?
  • Benefits eligibility – Is health insurance a must have through your employer?
  • Schedule – Are you only able to work certain days or times?

Only you know your career ideals. When you’re unemployed is the perfect time to reflect on them.

Think about past positions. What did you like about them? Can you remember what you hated? Name some tasks or skills you used that coworkers would compliment you on.

For example, “Ashlee is so good at making spreadsheets!” (I’m not, but it’s just an example).

Hint: It’s often easier for us to look back and remember things we hate about jobs. And that’s good to know what you dislike so you can avoid those tasks/things in the future. But it’s equally important to know what you do like. That way you can target those types of jobs in the future. It’s not always so easy to come up with tasks, skills, and responsibilities we enjoy at work.

So seriously take a few minutes right now to reflect on your past employment. Grab a pen and paper or open up a Google Docs. Jot down your haves and have-nots when it comes to remote work.

2. Determine Your Remote Work Type

I have a son. If you ask him what Mom does, he’ll say, “She works from home.” He’s not wrong. But he believes that working from home is a job in and of itself. Oddly enough, a lot of unemployed remote job seekers think this way too.

As a career coach, I ask clients, “What kind of job are you looking for?”

And, a large majority simply reply, “I want to work from home.”

The truth is, there are A LOT of work from home jobs. And as someone who is unemployed looking for remote work, you need to determine your remote work type.

Remember, not all remote jobs are created equal.

You have employee positions, freelance, and contract options to consider. Each come with their own unique pros and cons. You will use your career ideals you determined in Step 1 to help you figure out your remote work type.

Employee

Employees who work from home are just like in-office ones. The difference? Well, you don’t have to commute every day. As an employee, you are benefits eligible, have taxes withheld from your paychecks, and can count on a pretty consistent schedule and hours worked weekly.

This also means you are expected to virtually show up for work every day, be available during office hours, and maintain a consistent schedule, i.e., Monday through Friday, 9 to 5.

Employees need a quiet, distraction-free office to work from. In other words, you cannot pull double duty as a remote work employee. So, you can’t teach your kids as distance learners and work at the same time. (Seriously, don’t do it).

If your career ideals include steady schedule, set pay, and benefits, employee positions are a good fit for you.

Freelance

Freelancers are service providers. They sell their services for a set rate. Some popular types of freelance jobs include freelance writer, freelance proofreader, freelance virtual assistant, and freelance typist. This is just short list of common freelance jobs. If you can do it, chances are you can sell it as a freelance service.

Freelancers are not employees. That means taxes are not withheld from payments received and there are no benefits like PTO or health insurance.

A freelancer can work whenever and wherever they want and pick and choose the projects they take. However, freelancers are completely responsible for finding their own work and need to pitch their services to potential clients.

Many freelancers turn to LinkedIn to find clients or use popular freelance marketplace sites like Upwork to get started.

If your career ideals include flexibility, unlimited earning potential, and work from anywhere, freelance is a good fit.

You can learn more about popular freelance career paths and how to develop those skills and turn them into a business on my Resources Page under “Remote Skills & Professional Development.”

Contractor

Contractors work with companies on a 1099 basis. As a 1099 worker, you are not an employee and will not have taxes withheld from your checks. Instead, you are responsible for paying quarterly estimated taxes.

Contractors have greater schedule flexibility than employees but less flexibility than freelancers.

That’s because, as a contractor, work is provided for you (you don’t have to pitch to get it). As such, the company you contract with will expect you to have your work done during certain times and/or days.

ModSquad is a good example of a company that routinely hires contractors to work from home.

If your career ideals include flexibility but consistency, contract work is a good fit.

How to Determine Your Remote Work Type?

A lot of clients I work with get hung up on their remote work type. And this really illustrates why it is so important to determine your career ideals. They will point you in the right direction.

In the meantime, I’ve created this flowchart to help you make your decision:

It looks overwhelming, I know. But start at the top, answer the questions honestly, and it will point you (see what I did there?) in the right direction. I promise.

3. Give Yourself a Remote Work Goal

When you’re unemployed, you need a sense of purpose. There is a big link between unemployment and self-esteem. And the longer the unemployment goes on, the worse off you feel.

We want to avoid feelings of desperation and hopelessness. A great way to do that is to give yourself a remote work goal.

Goal setting is important for job seekers. According to Butler University, goal setting can help you feel better, improves focus, and promotes a sense of purpose. This sense of purpose is extremely important for job seekers.

That’s why, as a career coach, I help job seekers create SMART goals.

Grab your pen and paper again or open up that same Google Doc you used for your career ideals. Now add a goal for yourself.

Most remote job seekers simply say my goal is to “find a work from home job.” But you’re not like most remote job seekers and you can do better than that.

Remember, use your career ideals and remote work type to set a specific career goal for yourself.

For example, “I will land a remote employee role within the next six months in education that pays me $50,000 a year, offers great benefits, and steady pay.”

See how much more concrete and clear that goal is? SMART goals are more effective and work better for remote job seekers.

And make sure you write it down! I don’t care if it’s on a post-it note, in your bullet journal, or on a card in a Trello board. Studies show you are far more likely to achieve a goal just by writing it down.

4. Create a Remote Job Search Schedule

When you’re unemployed, you suddenly find yourself without a schedule. And as humans, this isn’t good. We are, after all, creatures of habit and our jobs play a big role in our daily habits.

After years of getting up, getting dressed, and getting out the door (or to your home office) you suddenly find yourself with no timeline to stick to. This can easily lead to procrastination and loss of motivation.

Before you know it, you’re not sure what day it is or when the last time you left that house was. We don’t want you to get to this point.

That’s why I recommend unemployed remote job seekers create and stick to a job search schedule.

So, what does a remote job search schedule look like? Great question.

It doesn’t have to be incredibly detailed or entirely time blocked (unless that’s your thing, then you do you). But, you should have a list of tasks to complete every day, Monday through Friday, just as if it were your job — because it is your job to find a remote job.

Sample Remote Job Search Schedule

  • Wake up at the same time every day
  • Shower and get dressed
  • Look at your written down job search SMART goal
  • Check your email for any communication from potential employers, i.e., interview requests — Look in your spam folder too
  • Hop on LinkedIn. Check out remote-friendly companies and make valuable connections. Join groups. Check for any new job leads
  • Take a lunch break and stretch your legs
  • Check your email after lunch for any job-related communication
  • Browse job boards for any new leads that interest you. Save them
  • Apply to all the jobs you found during your afternoon search
  • Make sure you optimize your resume for every single one
  • Keep track of every job you apply to including the link to the ad and contact information
  • Send follow up emails to positions you’ve applied to but haven’t heard back from yet
  • Check your email one last time before heading out for the day
  • Walk away from your job search until tomorrow

Yes, looking for a remote job is your job when you’re unemployed. But it doesn’t mean it has to be a full time job.

That’s why I created The Effortless Remote Job Search. It’s a crash course that teaches remote job seekers how to save time on the search part of their job search, so they can spend more time on job search activities that actually get results like optimizing resumes, making LinkedIn connections, and networking.

Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • How to job search effectively on LinkedIn
  • The 3 best remote job boards to avoid scams
  • Discover thousands of remote jobs with Google
  • Remote-friendly staffing agencies to supplement your search

You’ll also learn where you can automate your job search so job leads get delivered to you.

Plus, bonus content that includes:

  • LinkedIn Profile Checklist
  • Job Search Tracker
  • Now Hiring Spreadsheet
  • Scam-Guard Checklist
  • List of Hundreds of Remote-Hiring Companies

The best part? You can enroll in this time-saving, scam-protecting course for just $27.

How to Find a Remote Job When You’re Unemployed

Being unemployed is tough. It takes a toll on your mental, financial, and emotional health.

Fortunately, you can take steps to keep your job search on track so you can find a job quickly and easily.

Remember, you don’t want to find any ol’ remote job. Instead, determine your career ideals and let them guide your job search. It’s amazing how much simpler and effective your remote job search becomes when you have career clarity.

From there, determine your type and give yourself a SMART goal. Now, you can tackle each unemployed day with a sense of purpose and meaningful schedule.

And, if you need help, reach out! I’m a Certified Professional Career Coach that specializes in remote work. I have career coaching sessions available specifically for remote job seekers who need help with goal setting, identifying career paths, and jump-starting their remote job search.

Send me an email to introduce yourself and inquire about my services.

You’ve got this.

Happily,

Ashlee

P.S. This post might contain affiliate links. Check out my disclosure statement to learn more.

Odd Relationships in Local Search


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One of the first things you notice about Google Maps and the rest of the local search zoo is that usually there’s no single, isolated reason one business outranks another.  Rather, all kinds of factors come into play: some obvious, some less obvious, lots of maybes, and some that probably nobody knows about.  But I’d go a step further and say you’re in a much better position to get some solid rankings if you know how some factors tend to interact with each other, often in unpredictable ways.

You can’t look at local search ranking factors in a vacuum.  Google sure doesn’t seem to.  Now, it’s not a bad idea to work on your local SEO with a big checklist.  That can get you far, especially if you stick with it.  You only run into trouble when you seem to have done exactly what your strongest competitors have done – and maybe you even did it better – and you still come up short and have no idea why.

So the first thing to know is certain ranking factors seem to have relationships to each other.  The second thing to know is those relationships often are strange.  Not quite Hollywood strange, but counter-intuitive enough to elude most people most of the time.

Now’s probably a good time to stress that these are just my observations.  Granted, they’re based on my having gotten my local SEO overalls grimy for about 71 Internet years, and I’ve seen these phenomena pop up again and again.  I often explain these points to clients and others, and put them to the test all the time.  So I’m confident that you’ll observe at least some of the same things I’ve observed (if you haven’t already), though you may observe different things and draw different conclusions (which I’d love to hear).  In any event, it’s always possible that one phenomenon I think I understand is in reality something else.  Also, I don’t claim to be able to explain everything perfectly. I’m just sharing my lab notes, and hope you put them to use in your local market.

Anyway, here are some of the many odd relationships between ranking factors that pop up in Google’s local search results (Maps + organic):

1. The lower the density of local competitors for a search term, the more geography you can rank in.  Put another way: the more specialized your offering is, the wider service area you can realistically rank in.  That’s simply because for more-niche search terms Google needs to harder to turn up relevant results nearby, so it needs to look farther afield.  That’s true both in Google Maps and in the organic results.

2. The lower the density of local competitors, the faster you can expect to rank for a given search term.  Kind of an intuitive point – of course Google’s less picky when it’s got fewer choices – but business owners lose sight of it all the time anyway.  That’s one reason when you open a new business or a new location you should focus on smaller, more-specialized terms, and on a tighter geography rather than on your whole service area.  You’re not biting off more than you can chew, and are more likely to get some visibility / customers on the sooner side.

3. The stronger the backlinks profile a site has, the higher likelihood that new content on that site – or GMB pages pointing to that site – will rank well early on.  Why is that bigger companies can create a Google My Business page, or add an unremarkable new page, or blast out a so-so blog post, and have it outrank most competitors right out of the chute?  Not necessarily after a day, but maybe after a few weeks – and in any case way sooner than you got any good rankings.

Whenever I see a business that’s visible quickly and without spamming, I almost always find a link profile that’s better than competitors’.  If your GMB page or “service” or “city” page or blog post (or whatever) is attached to a domain with good and relevant links, especially if you’ve earned them over the course of years, you’re more likely to get some solid rankings sooner, even if that exact URL on your site doesn’t  have any links specifically pointing at it yet.

4. The more good links you have, the more forgiving Google is of bad links.  (This phenomenon isn’t specific to local SEO, but rather is omnipresent in SEO.)  Most sites that have been around for more than a couple of years have some shady-looking links, often that the owner of the site doesn’t want and had no hand in creating.  There are always ants at the picnic.  Google seems to know that and take it into account.

The bad news is that’s probably why some bigger brands and organizations often get away with schemes like buying links, setting up a network, or jamming exact-match anchor text into links whenever it can, even if a smaller or newer business would get penalized if it tried to get a foothold that way.  Often the more-established companies have enough decent links that Google looks at the big picture and concludes that the company isn’t completely reliant on the schemes.  If a new site or one without many or any good links tries some scheme and 80% of its links already look fishy to Google, then of course that plan invites trouble, because at some point it’ll just be too much.

Meanwhile, a more-established site could get away with getting the same shady links, because those links might account for 5% of its haul.  Fair?  Maybe not, but that’s how it always seems to go.

The good news is that to the extent you have some links that took a little effort to get and are from relevant sites, then you don’t need to worry much about penalty if you’ve got some junk links in the mix.

5. The more you develop your homepage – which is usually your GMB landing page URL – the greater the range of terms you can rank for on the local map.  As I’ve found for many years, not only are you most likely to rank well on the local map if you use your homepage as your GMB landing page URL, but your homepage also is most likely to rank for a big bucket of search terms.  Other pages on your site tend to rank for a smaller, more closely-related groups of terms (if you play your cards right).  For most businesses, the homepage tends to have most or all of the good links.

That means a few things.  One is that’s probably why so often your homepage will outrank other pages on your site for terms you want those pages to rank for.  The other is that your homepage tends to have just enough link oomph to rank for at least some of the terms you want for, as long as the content is relevant.  That’s where most business owners trip at the 5-yard line: their homepages are lean on info on the services and service area, and read more like brochures.

6. The better your site performs organically, the more likely your GMB page is to rank well (somewhere, for some terms you care about).  Most of local SEO is organic SEO with a few twists.  If you’ve got several sites and aren’t sure which one to glue your GMB page(s), my suggestion is to pick the one that gets the most visibility in the organic results, preferably for locally relevant terms.  (By the way, that’s why some people get mileage out of the old tactic of using a page on a BIG domain – think Facebook or Yelp or Google Sites – as their GMB landing page URL.  That GMB page piggybacks off of the prominence and link mojo of that domain, and Google’s too unsophisticated or lackadaisical to do anything about it.)

7. The more you’ve worked on your local citations, the less likely you are to see any benefit from further work.  Especially if you’ve got other factors already working in your favor, and especially if your citations are a total mess, you can see a bump your Google Maps / GMB rankings after you’ve squared away your listings on the basic sites.  Beyond that?  Not so much.  Many business owners do some work on their citations, see a little boost, and think, “Cool!  I worked on 20 listings and saw results, so I’ll crank out 200 listings on other sites and should get 10 times the results.”  It never works out that way.  There’s a point of diminishing return in citation work, and in my experience once hits it real fast.

8. The better a page performs already, the more easily you can get it to rank for a related term, or in a nearby area, or both.  I can’t explain it, but time and time again I’ve noticed a “snowball” effect in which you identify a page on your site that already ranks well for certain local search terms, you add a bit of content that’s at least loosely relevant to the terms that page ranks for, and sooner or later that page ranks for those new terms, too.

So let’s say you’re a dentist and you’ve got a page that’s mighty visible for “cosmetic dentist” or a similar term.  The chances are good you could get that same page to rank for the term “dental veneers” or “teeth whitening” (or both) with less strain than you could get separate, dedicated, more-targeted pages to rank for those terms.  I’ve found this most likely to work on pages that tend to be broad, like the homepage, “state” pages, and sometimes “service” pages.  It can help widen the variety of terms a page ranks for in the organic results, and in some cases it can widen your visibility in the 3-pack / Google Maps.  Often it’s not that hard to branch out if you attempt it on a page that already does OK.

9. The more reviews you get, the easier it is to get more reviews.  That can be a good thing or a bad thing.  When you’ve got many negative reviews, people are more likely to pig-pile you.  Or, when you’ve got many good reviews, the people who become your customers / clients / patients are more likely to have picked you because of your strong reviews, and are predisposed to write you a review when the time comes.

10. The longer Google Maps spam is around, the harder it is to get Google to correct it.  I don’t know if that’s because older spammy GMB pages tend to have piled up more reviews (which do seem to help spam stick around), or because the business is more likely to have listings on the sites that Google uses to confirm the info it has on a certain business, or because Google has enough behavioral data on the GMB page (what terms it ranks for, who clicks on it, where those people are located, etc.).  I suspect its some combination of those factors, plus some factor(s) I wouldn’t even guess.   In any event, there is a sad “fake it ‘til you make it” reality that benefits the slickest spammers and well-meaning unintentional rule-benders alike.

11. The faster you get good rankings, the more likely your rankings will swing up and down.  It’s nice if you saw a bump just from changing the name of your business and/or Google My Business page, or moving to a different address, or doing basic work on your local listings and site.  But that may also mean your competitors can knock you off with similar ease.  Or it may mean that for one reason or another you’re in one of Google’s test buckets, in which it rotates seemingly random local businesses into the results, presumably just to see who clicks.

I’m not saying that poor results mean you’ve got a brilliant long game that just hasn’t worked out yet, and I’m not saying that sometimes stubborn problems don’t  have simple solutions.  Quick wins may lead to lasting gains, and you’ll take all the good news you can get.

I’m just saying this: easy come, easy go.

To what extent have you noticed those kinds of interactions?  Do they seem to have helped or hurt you or your competitors?

Do you think something else is going on?

Any other “weird relationships” you’ve noticed between ranking factors?

Leave a comment!

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Search Scoop: Week of March 29th


Adam Henige
Adam Henige Going One Step Deeper into GA — Always love new Google Analytics hacks – this list includes some new ones to me like pulling Core Web Vitals numbers into GA. Very cool tips here. Jerod Karam
Jerod Karam Here’s how to organize your digital life before you die. — This is good advice for anyone. Personally, I use 1Password for all my passwords and other secure information. If I get run over by a bus, two of my close buddies and trusted confidants have the password and access keys to get into my password vault. I also have absolutely nothing on my computer desktop except one folder named “Open In Case Of Death.” Between that folder and the 1Password vault, I feel comfortable that the right people will be able to get into the right accounts easily. Joe Ford
Joe Ford Here’s What the ioS 14 Update Means For Your Facebook Ads — The big fight among the Big Cap tech companies that run our lives continue, as Facebook and Apple are clashing in regards to the latest iOS14 updates. Find out what this update means for pixels and your ability to run retargeting and lookalike audience campaigns. Kelli Kaufman
Kelli Kaufman 25 Clever Content Marketing Examples with Amazing Results — Need a refresh to your content marketing campaign? This article has great examples of content marketing that worked successfully. From blogging to video marketing, there is a little inspiration for everything here. Lexie Kimball
Lexie Kimball 19 Most Common SEO Errors That Hurt Your Rankings — If you have errors on your website, they might be hurting your rankings. Learn the most common SEO errors that could potentially be keeping you from beating your competition. Michael Hall
Michael Hall Local Pack-O-Meter — Created by Local SEO Guide, the Local-Pack-O-Meter uses data from 60 million US Google search queries to provide SERP stats of the queries. For example, you can see changes in SERPs that display local packs over time (which has increased in recent months).



How to Track Google Posts in Google Analytics & Search Console


https://www.sterlingsky.ca/

We have a big study on Google My Business posts that I’m presenting at LocalU on April 7th. While doing that study, there were several things we learned about Google Posts.

Clicks in Google My Business Insights Don’t Match Clicks in Google Analytics. 

If you’re looking inside Google My Business, they have data showing you how many clicks your posts received.

Google Posts Clicks

The numbers you see here will not match the numbers you see inside Google Analytics.  There are many reasons for this which I have highlighted in this post.

How to Track Google Posts in Google Analytics

In order to track the activity from Google Posts in Google Analytics, you need to use UTM codes.  After a lot of deliberation, I have decided that the formula below is the best to use:

https://website.com?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=gmbposts[listingname]&utm_content=date

You can easily create a URL just like this one by using Google’s campaign builder. I will highlight below why I believe this formula works the best.

  • Source/Medium: Most marketing companies pay really close attention to organic traffic in Google Analytics and if you use anything other than google / organic or it could actually look like you had an organic traffic drop from Google when looking inside Google Analytics.
    https://www.sterlingsky.ca/
  • Campaign:  This is where you can segment the traffic specifically from Google posts.  You want to make sure you include a unique identifier or name for the listing to differentiate it from other listings for that company.  This is especially important for multi-location businesses or businesses that have practitioner or department listings.
  •  Content: I had a hard time trying to figure out what to use for this but decided that using a date would work best.  For example, content=feb52021 or content=02052021.  The reason why a date works best here is because to track results from a specific post, you need a system that uses unique identifiers.  It’s hard to keep track of what you used before but a date will literally never get re-used unless you’re posting multiple posts on the same listing on the same day (which isn’t something I’d recommend).

How to See the Traffic inside Google Analytics

In order to see the traffic from a specific post inside Google Analytics, you want to open the Source/Medium report, use “Campaign” as the first dimension, and “Ad Content” as the secondary dimension, as illustrated in the image below.

Posts in Google Analytics

When looking in this view, you should be able to see all the traffic from Google Posts along with information you won’t get in Google My Business (conversions, time on site etc).

How to See the Traffic inside Search Console

In Search Console, you should now also be able to see the data per post.  Add a filter for the page URL containing “gmbposts” at the top and it should give you a full list of all the posts that got any impressions or clicks.

https://www.sterlingsky.ca/

 

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Is Google moving towards greater search equity?


30-second summary:

  • Search equity allows for your average business owner to compete on the SERP without being impeded by a lack of SEO-knowledge
  • A more equitable SERP is a necessity for Google from a business and overall web-health perspective
  • Google is pushing for equity on the SERP to a far greater extent
  • The democratization of the SERP represents an enormous paradigm shift that brings certain SEO skills to the fore

What would happen if instead of having to jump through hoops to rank your new website, you were given a seat at the SERP straight away? Presumably, that would cause all sorts of havoc for SEO professionals. What if I told you that there’s a strong push at Google to do just that? I call it “search equity”. It’s Google trying to remove optimization barriers so site owners (aka business owners) can focus on creating great content and reap the benefits of it. 

It’s a move that I think Google is pushing hard for and has already taken steps towards. 

What is search equity?

Search equity is the ability for a site to be able to compete at some level of significance on the SERP without being impeded by technical structures. It is the ability for a site to rank its content solely because that content is worthy of being consumed by the searcher. 

As such, search equity would mean that sites with limited resources can compete on the SERP. It means they would not need to have an overly complex understanding of SEO on a technical level and from a content structure perspective (think things like page structure and other technical SEO aspects). 

Search equity gives a business owner the ability to be visible on the SERP and in many ways helps to preserve the overall health of the web.

It’s a spectrum. It’s not even possible to have total search equity. At any given time, there could be more or less of it within the Google ecosystem. It’s not an all-or-nothing equation. It’s not even possible to have total search equity. What matters is that Google is trying to create as much search equity as it reasonably can. 

Why is search equity necessary?

The idea of search equity being highly desirable to your average site is self-evident but it also makes a lot of sense. What do I mean by that? 

Business owners are content experts. They are experts on the subject matter that is related to their business. They are the ones who should be creating content around the topics associated with their business. Not SEOs, not content marketers, and not some content agency. 

There’s a problem with this, however. That problem is the incentive. Content creation is hard and time-consuming so there has to be a reward for the efforts. Also, there needs to be a way to address the various technicalities that go into SEO, but that’s for later. This is where the current model falls into trouble. 

What happens when a business decides to dedicate the time and resources to create content? What happens when they are now faced with things like optimizing their page structure, internally linking, external linking, title-tags, canonical tags, keyword cannibalization, or whatever else floats your SEO boat? 

Do you see the problem?

SEO, as it’s often thought of, discourages the very people you want to be creating content for from creating content. Business owners don’t know anything about tags and links and structure. They know about running their businesses and creating content around that expertise. 

This is a real problem for Google. It means there is a lot of potential content out there that the current incentive structure doesn’t allow for.

If you think the notion that there’s a gap in the content generation is fantastical, it’s not. For starters, Google has often indicated such a gap exists in non-English speaking markets. Further, Google has an entire “Question Hub” to provide answers for when the “content just isn’t there”.

What I think makes this notion a contradiction and hard pill to swallow as there is an overabundance of content and a lack of it at the same time. This is because a vast amount of content being produced simply lacks substance. I’m not even referring to spam and the 25 billion+ pages of it that Google finds each day. The content bloat we experience is due to the overabundance of low to medium quality content. When was the last time you felt there was just so much really quality content on the web? Exactly. 

There is no gap in the quantitative amount of content on the web but there is in its quality. If Google’s main SEO talking point is any indicator, the gap of quality content out there might well be significant. That’s not to say that such content doesn’t exist, but it may not exist in healthy quantities. 

To fully capitalize on the content creation resources it needs to maintain a healthy web, Google needs, and has moved towards, search equity.

But not all of Google’s drive towards search equity is purely altruistic—there’s also a business interest. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, in this case, it’s quite healthy. In any event, understanding how search equity aligns with Google’s business interests is an important part of understanding the impending urgency of a more equitable SERP. 

Why Google My Business demands search equity

The prominence of Google My Business and of the local SERP, in general, has risen in recent years. No longer is local SEO relegated to the loser’s table at SEO conferences. Rather, local SEO has come front and center in many ways. 

Part of this is due to the growing importance of having a GMB profile. Local SEO isn’t getting more attention because of some internal shift in SEO, it’s because it’s becoming more important for businesses to have a GMB listing set up. 

With the plethora of options and abilities that GMB offers (think Reserve with Google or Product Carousels) having a listing has become a way for a business to showcase itself.

Look no further than GMB itself advocates setting up a profile as a way to “stand out”.

Here too, Google runs into the very same problem I mentioned earlier: incentives. If Google My Business isn’t just about “managing your listing” but is also about standing out and marketing yourself, then the environment on the SERP has to be equitable.

In other words, what would happen to GMB adoption if business owners felt that in order for them to compete on all fronts they had to jump through all sorts of hoops and/or spend a ton of money hiring an SEO on a continuing basis?

Clearly, Google is trying to grow the relevancy of GMB not just in terms of the number of businesses adopting it but in how involved the platform is in the everyday functioning of the business. This incentivizes the business to create a listing, add images, and create Google Posts. What’s lacking, however, is content. 

When it comes to the content local sites create, they have to play by the rules of every other site. There is no branded query driving users to their product carousel, Google Posts, or online menu. If Google wants businesses to feel they can thrive with GMB that success has to be across the board. This means sites have to have success within the traditional organic results for a slew of keywords (not just branded local searches).  

You can’t have the truly successful adoption of GMB if it doesn’t incorporate the business’ site itself. If a business feels that Google is making it excessively difficult to perform in one area, it will not fully adopt the other area. Meaning, if Google makes it difficult for a business to rank content, that business will not be willing to fully commit to GMB in the way that Google so desires. Businesses have to feel that Google has their backs, that Google is not an impediment before they’ll consider GMB a place to showcase themselves. It’s just common sense.  

If GMB is to continue to thrive and grow in unprecedented ways, then Google needs to make sure businesses feel that the entire Google ecosystem is a place where they can thrive. 

Search equity is the only way this can happen.

How Google has already been moving towards search equity

Truth be told, Google has been heading towards greater search equity for a while. I would argue that this movement began back in 2015 when RankBrain entered the scene. As time has gone on and as Google has introduced other machine learning properties as well as natural language processing the move towards greater search equity has followed exponentially. 

To put it simply, as Google can better understand content per se, it inherently no longer needs to rely on secondary signals to the extent it used to. This is why the debate about the importance of links and specific ranking factors has grown like a wildfire in a dry forest. 

Take headers or title-tags. Whereas at one point in time you might have had to worry about the specific keyword you put into your titles and headers, that’s not exactly the case today. Aligning your title-tags to user intent and being topically focused is more significant than a specific keyword per se (one could even argue, that while still important, the overall ranking significance of the title-tag has diminished as Google takes a broader look at a page’s content).

This is really the idea of taking a more “topical” approach than a keyword-specific approach to a page’s content (an idea that has come to the forefront of SEO in recent years). That’s search equity right there. What happens when you don’t have to rummage through a tool to find the exact keyword you need? What happens when you don’t need to place that exact keyword here, there, and everywhere in order for Google to understand your page? 

What happens is businesses can write naturally and, by default (so long as the content is good), create something that Google can more or less assimilate.

In other words, the flip side of Google’s often discussed “breakthroughs” in better understanding content is “search equity”. If Google can better understand a page’s main content without having to rely as much on peripheral elements, that inherently translates into a more equitable environment on the SERP.    

You don’t need to look any further than Google’s mantra of “write naturally for users” to see what I’m referring to. Google’s improved ability to comprehend content, via elements such as BERT and the like, allows for site/business owners to write naturally for users, as previous “impediments” that demanded a specific understanding of SEO have to an extent been removed.  

An even stronger push towards increased search equity

Advocating that Google is headed towards increased search equity by pointing to an almost ethereal element, that is, the search engine’s ability to more naturally understand content is a bit abstract. There are clearer and more concrete cases of Google’s ever-increasing push towards search equity. 

Passages ranking and the clear move towards a more equitable SERP

Passage ranking is the absolute perfect example of Google’s desire for a more equitable search environment. In fact, when discussing Passage ranking, Google’s John Muller had this to say

“In general, with a lot of these changes, one thing I would caution from is trying to jump on the train of trying to optimize for these things because a lot of the changes that we make like these are essentially changes that we make because we notice that web pages are kind of messy and unstructured.

And it’s not so much that these messy and unstructured web pages suddenly have an advantage over clean and structured pages.

It’s more, well… we can understand these messy pages more or less the same as we can understand clean pages.”

Does that not sound exactly like the concept of search equity as I have presented it here? Passage ranking further equalizes the playing field. It enables Google to understand content where the page structure is not well optimized. In real terms, it offers an opportunity to content creators who don’t understand the value of strong structure from an SEO perspective, i.e., a business owner. 

Simply, Passage Ranking is a clear and direct move towards creating a more equitable SERP.  

Discover feed could lead to more equity

This is a tricky one. On the one hand, there is a tremendous danger to the average site with auto-generated feeds, such as Google Discover. It’s easy to conceive of a person’s feed being dominated by large news publishers, YouTube, and other high authority websites. That would leave little room for the average business owner and their content. 

However, let’s take a step back here and focus on the nature of the beast and not the specific content possibly being shown. What you have with Google Discover (and personally this sort of custom feed is where things are headed in many ways), is content delivery without the ability to influence placement via direct SEO. In other words, unlike the SERP, there is far less direct influence over what you can do to optimize a specific page for Discover. There is no keyword that a user implements in Discover, so there are far fewer things SEOs can do to tilt a page in a certain and very specific direction. 

Rather, Google Discover relies on the overall relevance of the page to a user’s interests as well as the site’s general authority around the topic at hand. It’s far more a content strategy-focused endeavor that hinges on the production of highly relevant and authoritative content in the context of a site’s overall identity than it is about traditional SEO. 

Discover, as such, is inherently a far more equitable construct than the SERP itself. Does that mean that it is in actuality a more equitable environment? That all depends on how Google goes about weighing the various considerations that go into showing content in Discover. Still, as a framework, the feed is of a more equitable nature regardless. 

CMSes and their role in search equity

There’s been an interesting development in the role of CMSes for SEO, to which I have a front-row seat (as I work for Wix as their SEO liaison). CMSes, like Wix and Shopify in particular, have put a heavy emphasis on evolving their SEO offering. 

As a result, and I can tell you this first-hand as I’m often a direct participant in these conversations, Google seems to be taking a more outright welcoming approach to the closed-CMSes. The reason is that as the CMSes have evolved for SEO, they offer the ability to create an equitable experience on the SERP. 

Just look at what John Mueller had to say as part of a conversation around businesses using Wix: 

 

The evolution of some of the closed CMSes is in many ways the missing piece to Google’s search equity puzzle. If a platform like Wix or Shopify provides the defaults and out-of-the-box solutions that remove the impediments associated with the more technical side of SEO then the SERP is far closer to search equity than ever. 

This is reflected by John’s statement in the next tweet from the thread I presented just above: 

Having platforms out there that take care of the user from a technical standpoint puts businesses in the position to be able to rank content. This is search equity. 

If you combine what’s happening with the CMSes along with Google’s advances around Passages and the like and you have one massive step forward for search equity. 

This creates an environment where the average person can use a platform that handles many of the SEO issues and then rely on Google’s ability to parse unstructured content. That’s a tremendous amount of equity hitting the SERP at one time. 

What greater search equity means for SEO

When you look back and what we’ve discussed so far here, search equity is a far-reaching construct. It touches on everything from the algorithm to the CMSes supporting the web. More than that, it’s an enormous shift in the paradigm that is Google search. In a way, it’s revolutionary and has the potential to fundamentally change the search marketing landscape. I don’t mean that hyperbolically either and I’m not generally an alarmist. 

No, I’m not saying SEO is dead. No, I’m not saying technical SEO is dead (not by a long shot). What I am saying is a more even playing field for those who can’t invest heavily in traditional SEO is a major change to the SERP and potentially for our industry. 

Bringing SEO strategy into focus

The evolution of search equity might mean that it is (and will be) easier for business owners to create content that ranks. It does not mean that these businesses will have any idea of what to target and how to construct the most advantageous SEO content strategy. 

In fact, I speculate that most businesses will end up trying to target extremely competitive spaces. They will try to target top-level keywords without focusing on the elements that differentiate themselves and without creating an “organic niche” for themselves. 

The point is, search equity only makes understanding SEO at the strategic level more important than ever. Understanding the algorithm and the overall direction and “inertia” that Google is trending towards will be an extremely valuable commodity.  

The business owners who will benefit from search equity will need our help to give their content efforts direction. 

(By the way, this is not to say that ensuring these sites adhere to SEO best practices should or will fall to the wayside. Although, I do think this does widen the gap in what it means to do SEO for different kinds of sites). 

Emphasis on the site as a whole (not the page)

As mentioned, search equity takes the focus off the “page” and the explicit optimization of it and places it onto the content itself. The spotlight being moved onto content per se creates a new operating framework. Namely, the importance of the site from a holistic point of view versus the significance of a per-page outlook on SEO. 

The various pages of content on a site do not exist in isolation of each other. They’re all intricately related. Imagine a site that had pages that talked about buying car insurance and other pages on how to make chicken soup with no clear connection between the two topics. From a per page perspective, each page could offer wonderful content and be intricately optimized and therefore expected to rank. However, if you step back the lack of topical focus brings with it a slew of issues. 

Search equity is synonymous with an explicit focus on the substance of a page’s content. You cannot have search equity without Google being better able to understand and subsequently value the content on a page. Search equity is synonymous with an increased valuation of the page content as page content (as opposed to page structure, for example).  

An increased focus on the content itself, with ancillary factors having, at times, a diminished role. This means that the site itself comes into a larger focus. Once that happens, the overall purpose, identity, focus, and health of that site become more important as well. 

Great content that is out of context relative to the other content on the site is less relevant. Just think about a user who hits the page from the SERP. They finish reading a blog post only to see a carousel of related articles that are entirely irrelevant to them. Who is that good for? Or imagine the internal links in such a piece of content, how relevant would they be? How strong is the content if it intrinsically can’t have any internal links, as internal links can often help support the user’s content acquisition? 

The effectiveness of a webpage’s content does not exist in a vacuum. It gains strength and relevancy from the pages that support it. If Google is taking a more direct look at content, the pages that support a given piece of content must also come into focus. 

The advancements towards greater search equity require us to take a more holistic view of a website. Search equity and the direct content focus that Google has taken mean that the relevancy of the entire site comes into focus.

This means we need to perhaps shift our attention from the role of individual pages to consider the site’s efficacy overall. This might mean a revamping of our SEO strategies and priorities and directly speaks to the importance of having a well-thought-out SEO outlook (as I mentioned earlier).   

It’s a good thing

At the end of the day, a web that removes impediments to the creation of strong content is a good thing. Might it change the SEO landscape as time goes on? Certainly. A more equitable SERP will most likely have a major impact on SEO over time. Does that mean we shouldn’t embrace it? No. Does that mean SEO is dead? Of course not. Does it mean we shouldn’t be concerned with best SEO practices to the same extent? Clearly, doing so would be a terrible idea. 

What it does mean is that we may need to change our outlook on SEO a bit and understand where we have true value to certain types of sites. 

Search equity is a good thing.

Mordy Oberstein is Liaison to the SEO Community at Wix. Mordy can be found on Twitter @MordyOberstein.



Search Scoop: Week of March 1st


Adam Henige
Adam Henige New Google Search Console Associations — While you have some flexibility in combining properties within Google Analytics, the same can’t be said for Search Console…until now? Jerod Karam
Jerod Karam 23 Google Search Tips You’ll Want to Learn — As search professionals, I guarantee that you’ll know some of these–maybe all of them. Still, there were a couple of the more obscure Google commands that were new for me. Check ’em out. Let me know what you think. Joe Ford
Joe Ford Four common SEO problems with Shopify and How to Fix Them — As Shopify grows in popularity as an e-commerce platform, we are working with more clients utilizing it. As with every CMS and shopping cart, there are always little nuances with SEO issues. Here are some common issues and how to address them. Lexie Kimball
Lexie Kimball The Top 6 Social Media Trends of 2021 — If you haven’t firmed up your social media strategy for 2021, this infographic can help! It shows stats on what strategies are popular this year that you should take advantage of. Michael Hall
Michael Hall How To Audit Core Web Vitals — Core Web Vitals is fast approaching. You are probably aware that you can find offending pages in the CWV report in Google Search Console, however, the report only provides a sample of pages that need to be fixed. This method scans your site in great detail using Screaming Frog and the Pagespeed Insights API.



How To Track Passage Ranking SEO Performance in Google Search Console (And Why You Might Want To)


UPDATE

So I may have jumped the gun on the “passage ranking” thing, but even though this may be old news, these URLs started showing up in a lot of GSC accounts over the past week so I wouldn’t be surprised if these are related to passage ranking. And I do think the idea of using the slugs for content research is a good one – Ed

*********

Google just announced that “passage ranking” is now live in the SERPs:

I think it actually launched about a week ago as that’s when I noticed that odd-looking URLs were showing up in the Search Performance Report in Google Search Console like:
Google Passage Ranking URL

It’s possible, these may not be actual “passage ranking” URLs, and are just some other flotsam Google has launched. I am seeing them popping up over the past week on several client sites. But for the sake of this post, let’s assume these are passage ranking URLs. It’s an SEO blog post so cut me some slack.

If you want to track the performance of your content with passage ranking, all you have to do is filter the GSC Search Performance Report by Page containing “/#:~:text” and you get a nice little graph like:
Google Search Console Passage Ranking Report

Looks like we need to do some work on getting some actual clicks from these though….

Why should you track passage ranking URLs in Google for SEO? (yes I am trying to rank this passage)

Based on what I am seeing so far, the URL slug displayed in GSC provides some pretty interesting clues as to what content on the page Google matched with the query. For example, according to GSC https://www.localseoguide.com/#:~:text=Obligatory%20Impressive%20Client%20Logos%20%26%20Case%20Studies appeared for searches for “local seo” and “local seo expert.” This may be a signal that “case studies” are important to searchers when they are looking for local SEO help.

Hell, even if these aren’t passage ranking URLs, this is still a good technique for figuring out what content on your page Google is prioritizing for certain queries.

 

 



Search Scoop: Week of February 15th


Adam Henige
Adam Henige Google Algo Update? Yay or Nay? — This may be a first. Search Engine Roundtable shows some numbers that scream, “There was an algorithm update!” Meanwhile, I ask our staff, “Anybody see any big swings in rankings?” Everyone shrugs. I guess our clients were immune to this one? Or…maybe it wasn’t a thing? Jerod KaramJerod Karam Can’t Find the Name of a Song? Just Hum or Whistle the Melody to Google — Fresh from the “What Will They Think of Next” Department… Apparently, you have to have the Google search app installed. If you’re on Android you’re in luck. You have to download the specific app if you want to test it on iPhone. I’m too lazy. Tell me how well it works. Joe Ford
Joe Ford Google Search dark theme mode expands but search ads are hard to distinguish — In today’s version of news that surprises no one… Google has just released a dark mode version of its SERP. On this, ads are even harder to determine against organic results. Shocking. Kelli KaufmanKelli Kaufman What Are Traffic Bots? How Traffic Bots Are Causing Havoc Online — Have you ever had a huge spike in your website’s traffic in the matter of a single day? It could be likely that bot traffic is to thank for the spike. This article details what bot traffic is and the difference between good and bad traffic from bots. Lexie Kimball
Lexie Kimball How to Find Related Keywords and How to Use Them — If you’re finding yourself with a short keyword list that you want to expand, use this article to help you find more target keywords. Then learn how to implement them into your site’s content. Michael Hall
Michael Hall The B2B Content Marketing Report — Some interesting numbers from this study. One that stands out in particular to me is that there’s a huge variance in organic traffic levels for B2B blogs. The median visits from organic traffic are 280, but the top 10% recieve 22,000. If you’re a B2B and are not utilizing your blog, you may be missing out on a large number of visits from your target audience.



The future of Google and what it means for search


30-second summary:

  • Something that all of us in the search industry are guilty of is our over-reliance on Google telling us what is coming next.
  • Understanding Google’s considerations as a business, provide context to many of its recent decisions and provides a sense of what is coming down the road.
  • Global digital agency Croud’s Organic Strategy Director discusses the future of Google, right from Google’s antitrust lawsuit to Apple as a future rival, and more.

It occurs to me that I am part of a cult.

Or at least, something that displays the hallmarks of one. An unchallenged authoritarian leadership, prophets and oracles who deign to share only select information from a mysterious entity, who engage in coercive behaviors, who punish for non-compliance, and followership who are indoctrinated into special teachings and practices and whom parrot back the mantras and sayings of the leaders. Yes, I of course refer to the SEO industry and yes, you may take a small pause here to go through the above statement to see if it works. It does.

Something that all of us in the search industry are guilty of is our over-reliance on Google telling us what is coming next. Whether through announcing prescriptive updates on Google Search Central or retrospectively announcing algorithm updates on Twitter – we rely too heavily on the limited information Google shares with us and, as such, only get a very short-sighted view on the future of our industry.

This needs to change, and in order for that to happen, we need to stop thinking of Google as a search engine.

Google is first and foremost a business, and as such has a responsibility to its shareholders to continue to defend and grow its market capitalization. Understanding Google’s considerations as a business provides context to many of its recent decisions and gives a sense of what is coming down the road.

Section 230 in the spotlight – Google to factor truth in determining search results

The Storming of the US Capitol came as the culmination of a five-year disinformation campaign that went unchallenged and unadulterated by big tech. They cited concerns over the First Amendment, freedom of speech, and public interest as the reasons for a lack of intervention on even the most palpable mistruths, but the events at the Capitol prompted a shift change. Twitter and Facebook de-platformed Donald Trump, Google removed dangerous channels that called for violence from YouTube, and Apple, Google, and Amazon joined forces to take down Parler.

Though the events at the Capitol provoked big tech into action, the shadow of the incoming Biden-Harris administration had already moved them into action (Twitter flagging Trump’s tweets, for instance). As part of the ongoing swathe of antitrust cases against big-tech, protections currently available for platforms under Section 230 will be thrust into the spotlight for review. The crux of it is whether or not platforms are treated as the publisher of third-party content. Currently, platforms are not treated as the publisher and therefore resign any responsibility for the content that appears on their platforms.

Biden, during his election campaign, said,

“The idea that it’s a tech company is that Section 230 should be revoked, immediately should be revoked, number one. For Zuckerberg and other platforms.” He added, “It should be revoked because it is not merely an internet company. It is propagating falsehoods they know to be false.”

His recent appointee, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, has told lawmakers that she will pursue changes to Section 230.

If – and it seems likely – Section 230 is at least amended, this evidently raises issues for big tech. It is unlikely that it will be completely revoked – such a decision would likely have a net negative effect. It is more likely that Google will need to demonstrate efforts to moderate content at scale, and have a mechanism by which content flagged by users or other parties. Such mechanisms already exist – such as the ‘Right to be Forgotten’ (in the EU) or DMCA takedown requests for copyright infringements. In these cases, individual URLs can be flagged by users and organizations. Though a much bigger undertaking, in this case, it is likely that such a process will be used to deal with issues of veracity, libel, incitement to violence, and so on. The difficulties here will be firstly manpower to deal with these requests, and secondly the criteria by which these complaints are assessed.

What does this mean for search?

Websites that produce editorial and opinion-based content will need to be confident that what they produce will not contravene guidelines agreed by big tech and governments. Individual infringements might see de-indexing of individual URLs, but continued and flagrant non-conformity could see full domains removed from search results entirely (as is the case with DMCA takedowns).

Antitrust – Google loses market share in search

There are numerous antitrust lawsuits currently filed against Google, which examine its monopoly status in the search market. Google has an estimated almost 90% share of the search market in the US, and this is the foundation upon which its gargantuan online advertising business rests. Its path to monopoly may have seemed organic to most, but the tactics the company used to secure such dominance are now under scrutiny. The purchase of DoubleClick in 2007 gave Google end-to-end ownership of the process of matching advertisers to users, which many at the time raised as a concern, in that it would give Google too much power in this space. The purchase of the Android operating system also allowed Google to push its apps, such as Google Search, YouTube, Gmail, Maps, and more onto nine out of 10 mobile devices sold globally each year.

All of the above, and more, will be considered in the DoJ’s case against Google. The precedent for such a case was set by the EU Commission where it determined that Google had broken antitrust laws by abusing its market dominance with Android and had to pay a fine of five billion dollars. Included within the decision, was a ruling that for all new Android devices, Google must offer users a choice in their default search engine. Google created an auction system for rival search engines to appear in the “choice screen”, leading many to once again accuse it of abusing its market dominance for profit, and placing barriers to entry for smaller players that cannot compete. DuckDuckGo wrote a blog post that stated, “This EU antitrust remedy is only serving to further strengthen Google’s dominance in mobile search by boxing out alternative search engines that consumers want to use and, for those search engines that remain, taking most of their profits from the preference menu.”

There is precedent for such an approach to introduce competition, with a similar case launched by Russia’s competition watchdog, and Yandex growing market share by 20% in the years post its introduction. However, it seems to have had little impact in the EU thus far, with smaller search engines either unable to afford to compete in the auction or, even when doing so, getting little traction from it. This could be because the choice screen is only displayed on new Android devices, and, according to the rather cumbersomely named Executive Vice President of the European Commission for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age, Margrethe Vestager,

“very few Android phones have been shipped due to the Covid crisis.”

In this case, it may be too early to make a strong conclusion as to the effectiveness of measures.

Watching this all from across the Atlantic, the DoJ has slowly collected and built evidence to take on Google. There are a number of different cases, some looking over the aforementioned issues and some looking at new potential avenues to introduce competition to the search industry. The Justice Department has cast its net wide and spoken to third parties within the advertising industry, as well as search competitors as to their thoughts on how to reduce Google’s market share. One such line of enquiry was around which parts of Google’s vast ecosystem it could be forced to sell off. One leading suggestion; Chrome.

Now, they didn’t ask me but had they, I would have said why not force them to spin off the second biggest search engine – YouTube.

Apple – A future rival to Google Search?

Another big investigation point is Google’s continued payments to Apple to remain the default search engine on its devices. It pays $12 billion to do so and has said that if this were ever challenged, it would amount to a code red scenario for the business. However, as an active part of the antitrust lawsuits, this could be something that becomes a reality for Google. In such a scenario, would Apple open up a bidding war for the opportunity, or would it do something fairly shocking… create its own search engine.

Apple has already begun to tantalize the market with a couple of nods in this direction. First, in 2018 it hired the former Head of Search from Google, John Giannandrea. Second, it is hiring a huge amount of search engineers. Third, Applebot has significantly increased its crawling activity recently. Fourth, in the iOS 14 update, Apple has started showing its own search results when a search is made from the home screen. Fifth, it updated its Applebot guidelines last year in a way that is remarkably similar to guidelines in Google’s Developer Blog. Included are guidance for webmasters around the robots.txt and noindex tags and even what it takes into account for ‘Search Rankings’.

If Apple were to enter the space, it would be the first true contender for Google from a search perspective. Although Google’s years of development and investment into its search ecosystem would certainly be a high barrier to entry, Apple’s massive user base and commitment to privacy would certainly capture a significant portion of market share. In such an event, how would this impact the web? If Google and Apple deviated from each other in search ranking factors – could SEOs be in the position where we have to dance different dances for different masters. Even if Apple does not enter the market, effective antitrust legislation would open up the market for new compelling offerings such as Neeva, You, and Mojeek, as well as existing search engines – such as DuckDuckGo, Ecosia, Baidu, and Bing – attracting more market share. Many of these offer Privacy as a major selling point – and as these issues become more evident in the public consciousness, there will likely be a gradual ebb of users to these other engines. There is a greater risk, however, that in the very public antitrust case, if any major news breaks around how Google uses data collected in search engines, that it could see a max exodus of its user base, as happened recently with WhatsApp and the flocking to Telegram and Signal

What does this mean for search?

  • If Google loses dominance in search, SEOs will need to be fluent in multiple search engines’ best practices. Though likely to be similar in some regards, other search engines may not use, or weight, ranking factors in the same way. They might also have different features in their search results. Consider how different Google and Baidu search results are for instance.
  • Adoption of different search engines could vary across markets, demographics and audiences, and therefore specific verticals may align their websites more to the best practices of one rather than another.
  • Reporting and analysis of the ‘Organic’ channel will become more complex and have a higher cost base.

The battle for ecommerce heats up

Covid has created many new trends and behaviors but has just as importantly served as a catalyst for many pre-existing trends. The penetration of ecommerce as a percentage of total retail sales skyrocketed during the early stages of the global pandemic and has remained high ever since. Amazon was the largest beneficiary of this trend, with its share of ecommerce sales in the US at a whopping 47%. This statistic, and the fact that more product searches begin on Amazon than any other platform, spurred Google into action.

In 2019, Google made clear its intent to recapture market share in this space, with a somewhat understated relaunch of its Shopping platform. It seemed the plan was to slowly capture market share with a gradual introduction of new features across its platform. With the arrival of Covid, however, it began to release features rapidly. Free organic shopping listings came out of nowhere, and the new Google Pay app, which allows retailers to offer targeted coupons and deals to users, is a bold offering.

One of Google’s more unique offerings in this space is enabling and facilitating ROPO (research online, purchase offline) behavior. Its acquisition of Pointy, a software allowing local retailers to list their inventory online and appear in local results, will greatly increase the importance of listing optimization for products and services. Product searches already have a filter for nearby – which will certainly abet impulsive purchases.

Additionally, local has already slowly been building up its integration services with booking engines to allow users to book or buy directly through local listings. 

Google will continue this process of “ecommercification” of its ecosystem. With the likes of Instagram and Pinterest looking to commercialize their content by allowing people to buy products directly from their platform, Google has been fairly transparent about its intentions to do the same with YouTube in the near future. The role of video has largely been seen as an awareness medium up until now, but changes here could very quickly see the video platform having a much more immediate relationship to conversion.

What does this mean for search?

  • Local search becomes far more important as both an awareness and conversion channel – especially for brands that invest in joined-up experiences across online and offline.
  • The value of video and YouTube content is made clearer, playing an increasingly important role in both awareness and conversion for brands. Image search too.
  • Augmented Reality features may be integrated into search results. This has already been tested with Dogs and Dinosaurs, but the early adopters’ program documentation demonstrates this is clearly to be used for ecommerce.
  • Expect further opportunities for brands listing their product inventory on Google and a more advanced version of the fairly rudimentary analytics product currently on offer. 

An ever-changing landscape

The above outlines just a few examples of the challenges facing Google as a business, which will likely have a tangible impact on search.  Here are a few other areas we’ll be keeping a close eye on in the coming months:

  • Google’s acquisition of Fitbit and how this might be used in its Google Health arm
  • Drone delivery legislation, which could enable Alphabet’s drone delivery company Wing to enter the fulfillment space
  • Australia’s new law forcing Google to pay news publishers for the right to link to their content, and the way News might appear in search results
  • Android being installed as a leading main operating system in driverless cars, and the potential impact on search

Pete Eckersley is an Organic Strategy Director at global digital agency Croud, where he oversees organic strategy across the brands within the IWG group.

The Year in Local Search – 2020


2020 has nearly come to an end (cue sighs of relief!) 

While this year presented many challenges, especially for local businesses, it also created the opportunity for triumph. Google My Business introduced more new features than ever, and we saw the good side of many organizations that strived to provide extra resources and relief to those in need.

Although we may all be glad to see the back of what’s been a pretty hectic year, we’d be remiss not to look back on all the exciting things that have taken place. For us, it’s been a year filled with GMB news, updates, and changes, and we even had some laughs along the way too, (Four Season Total Landscaping anyone?)

So, before we say “so long” to 2020 for good, we invite you to join us in reflecting upon the year in local search.

What would a year in review be without GIFs? Keep your eyes peeled throughout and let us know how many TV shows or films you recognized in the comments below!

January

January Jones GIF

Suffice to say, the year started out strongly, if not a little stressfully (when isn’t that the case for local SEOs?) We saw the introduction of new features in Apple Maps, as one of Google Maps’ biggest rivals strived to achieve feature parity through the introduction of “Collections”, real-time transit information, and indoor maps.

Arguably, what shook the local SEO community more though, was news of a featured snippets shakeup

Originally spotted by Mark Barrera, it was later announced by Google Search Liaison Danny Sullivan that sites ranking in a featured snippet position would no longer be able to rank with that same URL on the same page of SERPs. 

Sure, this is old news now (literally), but at the time it shook the local SEO community and raised a whole host of questions, such as “are featured snippets worth getting?

Here’s what local SEO Twitter had to say at the time:

February

In the month of Mardi Gras, Valentine’s Day, and of course, National Ukulele Day (yep, it’s a thing apparently!) local SEO news was uncharacteristically quiet. Perhaps Google was recovering from the unprecedented excitement that the featured snippets shakeup caused?

What we did notice, however, was a big change in the local SERP display for users in Europe

On February 21st, what’s known as the “find results carousel” was spotted across European SERPs. This new feature saw third-party directories such as Yelp, Yell, and Tripadvisor appear front and center in local search results, like so: 

Dentists in Brighton EU SERP

At the time, there was some speculation that this update might have been Google’s response to the EU’s hefty antitrust fine

So far, this SERP feature has stayed firmly in Europe, but one BrightLocal reader did suggest they’d like to see it rolled out elsewhere:

It would be nice if they released this everywhere. A lot of people choose not to use directories, yet they take up a large portion of the SERPs. This way would allow them to be separated and other, more useful, websites to populate those positions.

Sarah, BrightLocal Reader (New Local SERP Display Puts Directories Front and Center)

March

As Spring rolled around, so too did the first effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on local businesses.

While the month got off to a positive start with the launch of our very own Local Search Industry Survey, we were soon brought down to earth as Google announced the suspension of many of its most popular features.

In a post published on Friday, March 20th, Google announced that it was temporarily disabling and limiting some key features in Google My Business.

During the unprecedented COVID-19 situation, we are taking steps to protect the health of our team members and reduce the need for people to come into our offices. As a result, there may be some temporary limitations and delays in support as we prioritize critical services. 

Google

Among the features suspended were: new reviews, review responses, Q&A, adding/claiming/verifying listings, and editing business information.

At first, it’s safe to say that this came as a huge blow to local businesses, many of which were relying on new reviews to help tide them over and keep them front of mind in hopes that they’d be a top choice to customers when they reopened. (See the #5starchallenge below…)

Additionally, GMB Product Expert Jason Brown noted at the time that Google Posts were also “failing”, due to being disabled. 

That said, GMB by no means left us high and dry. While some features were suspended, new ones were introduced, such as ‘mark this business as temporarily closed’.

April

Sadly, we’re now firmly into the Covid-19 territory of the year. As the impact of March’s news and local business closures worldwide continued to be felt, we reached out to our customers to see how they had been impacted.

We don’t need to tell you, but at this point, the landscape was looking pretty bleak. 

How local businesses are handling covid-19

Additionally, local marketers were now feeling the effects of nationwide business closures, with many of our respondents reporting losing clients and revenue.

The impact of Covid-19 on local marketers

Despite these dark times, our poll respondents remained optimistic and full of insightful tips to help each other out. Just take a look at some of the responses we received:

In down markets the most successful companies do not stop marketing, they push it. When everyone else is cutting back, it’s the perfect opportunity to move forward.

We recommend keeping calm, kind, and in contact. The worst thing that could be done is panic. Everyone is scared and the future is murky at best, but if we stand strong and craft messages of acknowledgment and hope, then the customers and clients alike will bounce back from this time of uncertainty stronger and more profitable than ever.

Fortunately, things didn’t stay this way for too long. But it’s important to look back and see just how far we’ve all come despite the obstacles thrown our way. 

Here’s to the resilience that local businesses and marketers alike have shown this year!

May

In the month that we saw Google reviews begin to return (hooray!) Google My Business rolled out three new attributes for local businesses to take advantage of.

Potentially another way to help local businesses bounce back amid difficult times, the attributes allowed local businesses to highlight how they were adapting and continuing to provide services with stay-at-home orders (and the like) in place.

As of May, businesses – namely restaurants – were able to specify whether or not they provided curbside pickup, no contact delivery, or dine-in. 

Sure, this may not have been the most exciting update of the year, but it provided a great deal of help to keep consumers informed and help to keep businesses in service!

Plus, we were kept busy with news of the second broad core algorithm update of the year and high flux caused by a bug with Google.

June

As June rolled around, along came more features provided by Google to help local businesses in a continually challenging time.

In an attempt to help businesses speed up their recovery from the impact of Covid-19, several new features and support measures were introduced, including: 

  • Smart campaigners getting free promoted pins in Google Maps
  • ‘Grow My Store’ report providing tips to help local businesses improve visibility
  • New details on Google’s shopping tab
  • International Small Business Week

Since Google’s announcement in June, there hasn’t been a huge amount of chatter about these items.

That said, this change definitely did signify the start of Google’s big push in getting consumers to shop local (see: the ‘Shop Local’ adverts airing in the UK right now). 

July

july by GIF CALENDAR

Remember when local SEO expert and contributor Andrew Cock-Starkey predicted that Google My Business would introduce paid aspects in 2020? It may have seemed less likely to some at the time, but in July of this year we saw a pretty controversial test taking place on GMB profiles.

On July 22nd, GMB Product Expert Tom Waddington spotted that GMB was offering the opportunity to upgrade your listing for $50 per month and get a coveted Google Guaranteed badge.

In what was arguably the biggest news of the year thus far, this news did not come as a welcome surprise to many…

In fact, the controversial test sparked concern that this potential paid option would lead to businesses not worthy of ranking simply “buying” their way into the top slot.

Meanwhile, some thought that this option could give Google too much power:

That said, the reaction wasn’t all bad. This change did spark some thought that paid-for Google Guarantee profiles could help to reduce spam somewhat, which I’m sure we’d all agree would be welcome.

August

After lots (and lots, and lots…) of Covid-19 related-local SEO news, August finally brought with it some good old fashioned Google My Business news in the form of GMB’s direct edit.

Interestingly though, this feature wasn’t entirely new.

In 2017, Google announced that users would have the ability to edit their GMB listing without leaving search. In August 2020, we simply saw an update to this existing functionality.

So now, without needing to login to the Google My Business site, GMB owners can do the following directly from search results:

  1. Update profile information
  2. Create posts
  3. Reply to reviews
  4. Add photos

While a version of this feature had existed for a while, news of the Direct Edit experience did seem to raise some concerns, such as “does the Direct Edit experience pose a threat to agencies?”

It seemed that some feared this could lead to clients trying to make edits to their listing more frequently, as well as blurring the agency/client relationship line.

Fortunately, any concerns were soon put to rest and seemed to blow over pretty quickly.

September

September was yet another filled month for local SEO news, with the highly anticipated Local Search Ranking Factors survey being released by Whitespark. We also witnessed many changes to the fast-evolving Local Services Ads by Google.

Google’s Local Services Ads have been around for a while now, and they continue to be a popular choice for local businesses to gain more paid exposure in SERPs.

And if 2020 showed us anything, it’s that LSAs are showing no signs of slowing down. During September we saw two major changes to Google feature…

Firstly, bidding was introduced to a select few beta testers. While LSAs had previously been available at flat sums — making them an affordable and accessible option to many SMBs — this news meant that LSAs became even more competitive.

It’s safe to say that this news wasn’t welcomed with open arms by the local SEO community, who often found LSAs to be an affordable, low-maintenance way to help local businesses gain visibility.

By some, the move to auction-based bidding seemed like Google prioritizing profit over user experience:

Soon after, LSAs were finally rolled out across Europe. Previously, the ad option had only been available to the US but as of September 2020 LSAs are now available to 10 countries throughout Europe: Germany, UK, France, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Spain. 

In 2020, it’s clear that Google’s been placing even more emphasis on LSAs, so keep your eyes peeled for yet more changes in 2021.

October

In the spookiest month of the year, yet more exciting GMB news emerged.

Spotted by Sterling Sky’s Colan Nielsen, Google began beta testing ‘Preview Call History’ in the GMB dashboard.

In the past year, call tracking has become even more popular and encouraged, with services like CallRail fast gaining popularity.

And, although call tracking is important, it’s definitely a function that has caused some confusion in the past (Where does the call tracking go? Does it interfere with NAP? And so on.)

So, the introduction of native call tracking (even if it does have limited reach) could be very much welcome. 

Regardless, it seems like this is very much early doors right now, but watch out for call history previews next year.

November

As if 2020 hadn’t been stressful enough, in November we had elections, holidays, and lots and lots of local ranking fluctuation.

While November might have been a pretty quiet month for local SEO, there was one local business that took center stage, occupying headlines globally…

Enter: Four Seasons Total Landscaping.

The unsuspecting gardening firm based in Philadelphia made headlines when it was chosen to host a press conference by Donald Trump and his team on November 7th. 

Naturally, that’s not where the press conference was supposed to be hosted – but somewhere along the line, it had gotten mixed up for the Four Seasons premier hotel chain.

What might have begun as an awkward scheduling snafu was an absolute success story for this small business. 

Sure, it might have resulted in some negative GMB reviews (which have since been dealt with) but the press that Four Seasons Total Landscaping received was priceless.

And, as we know, press pays! According to Business Insider, the small gardening firm has made a whopping $1.3 million in merch sales alone.

In what’s been a testing year, this piece of lighthearted news among tense times can surely be seen as a triumph for SMBs.

December

With the holiday season upon us and the end of year in sight (cue more sighs of relief) you’d think that local SEO news would take a day off and give us a rest, but alas!

Always trying to keep us on our toes, Google rolled out its third and final broad core algorithm update of the year on December 3rd, leading to rankings flux and all-around stress from the local SEO community.

Although the dust hasn’t quite settled yet, we can expect that (as always) there will be winners and losers from this algorithm update.

In the meantime, all we can do is hold on to our hats and not make any drastic decisions before we know what’s changed (however tempted we may be!)

Here’s to 2021!

So, among everything else, it’s been yet another busy year for local SEO. But importantly, it’s heartening to know that in testing times the local SEO community, agencies and SMBs alike, are able to overcome the hurdles thrown their way.

From all of us at BrightLocal, we sincerely hope that 2021 brings with it a brighter, better year for local businesses and marketers. No matter what, we’ll be here bringing you the latest news, guides, and support through it all. 

What was your favorite news item of the year? Let us know in the comments below!

P.S. Want to test your local SEO news know-how from each month? Check out our Local Quizness series – the ultimate challenge for local SEO news lovers.

Stephanie Newton

Stephanie is responsible for managing BrightLocal’s community outreach and engagement, as well as producing and managing content to help inform and educate the local SEO community.