Over the last year, Google announced some significant changes to their local search results Knowledge Panels, which, as is sometimes the case when Google makes changes, is both good news and bad news for businesses. The new features are good news for Google however, as it makes them more formidable as a competitor against Facebook and Yelp in the area of online reviews.
One change announced at the Google I/O last May is that Google Maps will start including local business recommendation directories embedded within search results that are based on a local search category, intent, and proximity to a user’s location. This update is already being seen by desktop and Android users and will soon be extended to all mobile device searches.
In August 2017, the company launched Google Q&A, which is their answer to Ask the Community featured on TripAdvisor and Yelp. Google Question and Answer allows consumers to ask business owners and their managers more in-depth questions about their business than the information normally found within the Knowledge Panel, questions like “do you sell widgets?” or “are you open on Christmas Day?”. The questions and the answers show up in local searches, and other users can give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to either or both, which influences their rank in the list.
This obviously enhances user experience as it it gives consumers the chance to have specific questions answered and all users access to more comprehensive information about a business by reading the previous questions and answers. Conversely it also gives businesses an opportunity to form a more personal relationship with their customers and build trust.
However, as with any crowd-sourced feature, the results can be unpredictable, and as a business has no control over what a user says in reviews or Q&A, the potential for serious damage to reputation is a real concern.
Anticipating the risk, Google issued updated user content policies for local search features last December. Predictably, a significant percentage of users are perfectly willing to violate those guidelines by asking slanderous questions like “why are you still selling cheap products that break right out of the box?” and similar negative comments. Google doesn’t do much in the way of monitoring, so the only real defense a business has is their response to such content.
Another problem that businesses with multiple locations have been having is simply answering the large amount of questions being asked. It can greatly increase an owner or manager’s daily workload.
Nevertheless, Google Q&A can also be used to improve reputation, and it gives businesses the opportunity to increase brand awareness and enhance their relationship with their customers.
Google does a good job of vetting users who contribute content to Knowledge Panels by requiring them to have a Gmail or Google account and a user profile. They also fight spammers by monitoring the frequency and amount of reviews or questions that are coming from any one user. Google calls high quality reviewers Local Area Guides and rewards them by giving them a more personalized search experience the more reviews they post.
Overall, the new changes help Google become more competitive and gives them data to improve user search results, and gives businesses an effective tool to give their customers a better experience. Look for more changes and improvements over the coming year.