Candour

Episode 18: Local SEO, GMB bugs and Google SERP experiments

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What's in this episode?

In this episode Mark Williams-Cook talks about some local SEO and how to improve map ranking within the UK, and also about a bug which has recently emerged affecting Google My Business users. We also talk about a type of schema abuse which has caused a website to force rich results. Finally we also talk about some new changes to Google Search which we are starting to see.

Show note links:

How to share a Google SERP experiment by Valentin Pletzer: https://valentin.app/nid.html

Google Structured Data Testing Tool: https://search.google.com/structured-data/testing-tool/u/0/

Creating a short name & URL for your business: https://support.google.com/business/answer/9273900?hl=en-GB

Transcription

MC:

It’s Monday I'm Mark Williams-Cook and it's time for another Search with Candour podcast. This episode was recorded on Friday the 12th of July 2019 and today we're going to be talking about local SEO. I've got a couple of really nice tips to improve your map ranking for UK companies especially as well as a bug that's been plaguing some Google My Business users. I've also got an interesting case of schema abuse I want to share with you and show you what's going on there with an example of a website being able to force rich results when they really shouldn't have them. I'll also be talking about some new changes to the Google SERP’s that we're starting to see.

If you've been working in Search any amount of time you'll know that Google runs really regular experiments on changing their search result pages, changing how their display, changing where things are displayed and it's really interesting when you start to hear about new types of results creeping in and what that could mean. This week I saw a post from Valentin Pletzer (@VorticonCmdr) who had a particularly interesting example which I will link to in the show notes that you can get at search.withcandour.co.uk and it showed a new block within the search results called ‘people also view’ and this is a horizontally scrolling card that appears at different places in the search result. In the four examples/screenshots he's given it’s sometimes near the top of the page, sometimes appearing in the middle of the organic results and what's interesting about this is the ‘people also view’ contains both organic and paid ads.

So, in these examples where he's done a search he will have some organic results and then another bar of ‘people also view’, this horizontal bar in the search result which is actually showing extra ads which has been met obviously with condemnation from some people and other people who think it's quite interesting this test.

I think we have to accept that 90% of Google's revenue is made through ads and so to continue increasing their shareholder value they either need to be charging more for ads or they need to have more people clicking on ads, which is possibly the reason behind this change which is Google is moving more towards this answer engine. So, as the years go on now we're seeing less and less of these blue-link results and what I mean by that is we're seeing less results where Google just returns a list of websites and it's your job to pick which one is relevant to your query. What we're seeing a lot of is basically Google's either wanting to directly give the answer to the searcher through a rich snippet or through their knowledge graph, or through paid inclusion images which is what earns their money.

It seems, in a lot of cases, Google's considering showing a standard organic blue link is almost a failure on their part, and don't get me wrong I don't think organic is going anywhere but with a lot of these new zero click results it does mean that what these positions can do and what they mean to business is changing. It likely means that we will see a slightly increased importance on paying to play really in the search results which is obviously good for Google. At the moment, it is just a test and it will be interesting to see if they roll it out.

Here's something really cool though, I spoke to Valentin about this and he actually showed me he had written a blog post which gives you details on how you can share Google SERP experiments, and again there’s a link to his blog post is in the show notes at search.withcandour.co.uk and it's really smart. He shows you if you've got a Google experiment that you want to share with some and they can't replicate, it shows you how to use the chrome developer tools to find what's called the NID cookie value and you can then share this cookie value with someone else and he gives a little bit of detail on how to do that, and also that you should be doing it in an incognito window so you're not sharing any or leaking any personal data. But he's got the cookie value for this experiment as well, and if you follow his guide you'll actually be able to replicate this search result for yourself and have a look.

I also really briefly want to talk about schema (again!) just because this week I saw a tweet which I found really funny by a chap named Colan Nielsen (@ColanNielson) who is the vice president of local search at Sterling Sky Inc and he did a tweet saying:

He's given a screenshot of a website called medicalcenterent.com and the result shows for a page that they have titled as Medical Center ENT Associates Houston - ENT Specialist Houston ... that they actually have a rich snippet result here with a star rating and a logo. This result for them does stand out within the results but on further investigation when you look at what type of schema they've used, they've actually used recipe schema to get this highlighted search results. I had a quick look at this and I ran it through the Google Structured Data Testing Tool which is a tool that Google provides that you can paste a URL into and it will show you what schema it's detected on the page and give you a breakdown of the values. It's really helpful if you need to troubleshoot your own schema or look at what other websites’ competitors are doing.

So, they've actually used recipe schema - they've listed the type as ‘recipe’, the recipe name is ‘Medical Center Ear Nose and Throat Associates Houston TX’, the image of the recipe is their logo and the description of the recipe is: ‘our goal is to provide excellent care to patients with problems of the ear, nose, and throat (ENT). We care for patients of any age, our staff is well-trained, personable, and professional. We strive to provide a warm comfortable atmosphere in our practice for the benefit of our patients.’ Then they've listed the author name as ‘Medical Center ENT Associates’ and then they've said they've had 60 reviews with a best rating of 5 and a rating value of 4.8. Funnily enough they didn't include anything like cook time, nutrition prep time, recipe category, cuisine, recipe instructions, or video which obviously you would normally give but they're not they're not things you have to give in this schema.

I've seen examples like this before and this was particularly prevalent with video, where websites were essentially lying that they had a video about something and they would just list an HTML page and provide a thumbnail. This meant they would get this highlighted result at the top of Google which would massively increase their click-through rate and then on the page it turns out that there's no video. Now I would expect that this isn't going to last very long, especially because I saw some Google employees actually liked the tweet that was highlighting this so some people at Google are definitely aware this is happening and we talked about penalties in the last episode and we actually talked about schema penalties as well. So, my expectation would be that this site is going to lose the ability to show any type of rich results/schema results from doing this. This is slightly different from the examples I've seen previously because this is so intentional, this isn't a “whoops we've accidentally not matched our website with the schema information” which is the reason why you can get the schema penalty as well.

For instance if you accidentally label some information your schema that should be matching on the page and it's not there, Google can see that and again you'll get this schema penalty that will say “we found you're using schema incorrectly so we're blocking you from showing it” so I'll be really interested to see how Google reacts to this because this isn't a case where someone's accidentally done something, they've intentionally used the wrong type of schema just to try and improve their search result and click-through-rate. It will be interesting to see on the sidelines what's going to happen there. In the show notes again, we'll link to the Google structured based testing tool if you want to try it yourself.

Local SEO is something I want to spend the rest of this episode talking about. Local SEO, if you haven't done it yourself or kind of encountered it before as a thing, is really treated separately to ‘normal’ SEO. The local SEO is referring to specifically the local map results. I'm sure you've all seen it when you've googled a business or a service and the result you get back at the top of the search result normally includes a map with listings for businesses. Now the factors that weigh in to rank businesses on this map pack are different to all of the factors that Google uses to rank normal results, there is an overlap between the two. For instance, we've seen that incoming links (backlinks) help both sets of results, we've seen slight differences in actually how that's panned out meaning that in normal organic results it's really about the authority and topical relevance of links whereas for local SEO/local map packs the kind of actual location of the site that's linking - if it's a site that's about the local area, it tends to seem to have a bit more weight and there's some people actually say that having link citations/backlinks (even if they're no-followed) from these very hyper local sites does help.

But regardless, there's a lot of other factors that weigh in to ranking and one of the ones I want to talk about and share some advice about is NAP citation. NAP just stands for “Name, Address, Phone number” so one of the things that does seem to have quite an impact on the rankings within map packs are the amount and consistency of your business name, address and your business phone number appearing across different websites.

This means that it is important where your business name, address, and phone number is listed across the web - that it's consistent. So, it's not showing different addresses. If you've got different addresses showing in different places this tends to have a negative impact on how well you will perform within those map packs. You may think “okay well, why on earth would I have different addresses in different places” so I've got a really good example that I've seen quite a few local businesses fall foul of, which is that it's common in the UK. If you're not in the UK you may not know this, there is a website called ‘Companies House’ which essentially lists all of the UK registered limited companies and you can see information about directors of those companies and financial information and it's crawlable by Google and it's fairly common practice for small businesses sometimes to list their accountant’s as their primary business address.

Now the issue with this is that Google will find and index these Companies House listings which will mean that the address will likely be different to the address that you want to show within the google map pack or the one you have on your website. To compound this there are lots and lots and lots of websites online that essentially copy and scrape this data from ‘Companies House’, so there's websites like ‘Company Check’ where they will give you easy access to lots of information about UK companies and they get their information from ‘Companies House’. This means if you have a different address in Companies House to the address you wish to list within your Google map pack this may well be causing you problems, because what Google is seeing is your company name, address, phone number listed differently in different places on the web and perhaps some places it trusts quite a lot.

I've seen a few companies turn around their map pack listings and really improve them by changing this address over in Companies House. There's another aspect to this as well which is that there's lots of companies that have trading-as names, so it may be that your official register company name is quite a long name e.g. something something limited but you just refer to it as a shorter version of that. For instance our registered company name is Candour Agency Limited but we tend to just trade as Candour.

To avoid any confusion here, there is actually a type of local business schema that allows you not only to specify your business name within the schema, so this is on your website. Using the local business schema on your website to say your company name with separate optional fields which most people miss, once is called ‘legal name’ so you can actually specify your business name in schema as your trading-as name so whatever name you're commonly referring to your business as. You can also specify the legal name of your business which is the full name that is present in Companies House. By doing these two things you're really helping Google out and tying all of these knots together to let Google understand the address of this company when they see if on different websites and their Google My Business listing, however there may be a different business name on Companies House and all these other websites but because of the schema I know that these are the same entity.

So, this really helps your Google business ranking so it's worth checking that your registered company address is the same as the address you have in Google My Business and they match up. If you are using a slightly different name to trade under than what is listed in Companies House that you're using the local business schema to let Google and other search engines know that your trading name and your legal name are one entity.

While we're talking about Google My business, I tried to warn a few people about this through LinkedIn and Twitter and places I have contact with people, which is that there does appear to currently be a Google My Business bug which is connected to the Google My Business short names. So ‘short names’ are if you're a verified business you can create what's called a ‘short name’ which is basically just a custom name for your business profile which makes it easier for visitors to find you, so rather than having a really long Google My Business URL. You can have something like “g.page/” and then you can specify a custom name which goes directly to your business profile.

There have been lots of reports recently that I've seen where people are having an issue whereby they specify their custom name, their Google My Business page profile is just disappearing and it's not appearing in Search and this seems to have created a bit of a backlog. There's a message up in the Google My Business Help Center talking about account suspension saying at the moment there's a two-to three week wait if your account has been suspended. It's definitely not everyone because I have seen and spoken to some people that have said “no I picked my short name and everything was fine” and I've got people I know personally who have tried to specify a short name and then their account’s been suspended and it's gone.

If you haven't already got your short name yet it might just be worth waiting a week or so and keeping an eye on the Google My Business Twitter account, just to see if they make any comment about this. I did reach out to them and asked them if they could confirm there was an issue and they haven't responded which, based on that and what I'm seeing and other people say, leads me to think that there probably is an issue because when I previously asked them if there's been an issue with something when there hasn't been an issue they normally come back quite quickly and say “no, we were not aware of anything.”

So, it seems that they are aware that something is going on, but they are not going to confirm anything at the moment and obviously don't risk losing your Google My Business. It might be better to just hold fire for a little bit.

Okay, that's everything for this episode I hope you found the local business SEO tips useful, I hope you found it interesting seeing how you can share Google SERP experiments and I do hope I saved your Google My Business page by telling you to wait on getting a custom name.

I'm going to be back on Monday the 22nd of July with more Search news and other stuff that hopefully you'll find interesting. If you do have any questions you want covered on the podcast do just drop me a line, you can tweet me @candouragency otherwise I hope you have a great week, my name is Mark Williams-Cook.

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