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Joy Hawkins – Search Engine Land News On Search Engines, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Mon, 25 Mar 2019 17:59:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.2 The majority of listings for car accident attorneys on Google are fake /the-majority-of-listings-for-car-accident-attorneys-on-google-are-fake-314569 Mon, 25 Mar 2019 17:59:08 +0000 /?p=314569 Google’s ranking algorithm has a huge flaw in its local results that lead generating companies have been using for their own profit.

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If you work with attorneys, you may have noticed recently that there is a massive amount of spam that seems to be growing like weeds in Google’s local results. Let me explain what I mean.

This was a search done earlier this week in a prominent zip code in Manhattan, New York. All three of these listings in the three-pack are fake.

In fact, when digging further, 18 out of the top 20 for this search result set were not real businesses. When looking through two cities for one of my attorney clients this week, I compiled a list of 273 fake listings in the top six pages of results for just two different keywords. Many SEOs who work with attorneys are noticing this. Brian Barwig of AttorneySync tweeted earlier that he looked through over six pages of fake listings that had no websites attached to them.

Whoever is behind this has realized that there is a huge flaw in Google’s ranking algorithm. Listings that are ranking on the first page of local results have:

  1. No website
  2. No backlinks or online mentions online of any kind
  3. No reviews

So how are these listings ranking? It’s simple, Google’s [stupid] local algorithm strongly favors listings that have words in their business name that match the searcher’s query. So the fact that these listings have the words “car accident” in them and are close to the user searching is making it possible for them to rank…with absolutely no other factors needed.

Dave DiGregorio also points out that the listings are starting to get flooded with fake reviews as well. The same users are leaving reviews for various listings.

When you call the phone numbers on the listings, they take you to lead generating companies that ask if you need a personal injury lawyer. If asked, they will not identify what company they work for. Several attorneys I work with have told me they are being inundated with requests from lead providers who are selling these leads for hundreds of dollars each.

Stewart Guss, an attorney in Houston, Texas, reached out to me about how horrified he was to see that his office was being pushed down in Google as a result of these. He decided to have some of his employees call the phone numbers and pretend to be in need of a car accident attorney so he could find out which lead providers were selling the leads. If you’re an attorney reading this, here is his advice. “Vet your paid lead sources. Just ask them flat out how they are finding and funneling their leads through their lead generation system. Make sure that you’re not doing business with a pay per lead vendor that is cannibalizing the very same leads you should already be getting via organic local search results.”

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Google My Business messaging problems continue /google-my-business-messaging-problems-continue-312719 Thu, 21 Feb 2019 15:01:27 +0000 /?p=312719 When messaging is set up in the GMB app, it doesn't work for listings that belong to location groups in the dashboard.

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Recently, I went through the trouble of having my client (an attorney) set up the Google My Business messaging feature since I was not able to set it up for him. Once I sent a few emails back and forth with him to explain how to download the app and set it up, he finally got the confirmation box to appear.

However, when I sent him a test message, it never arrived. As the user sending the message, I didn’t receive any type of error that it didn’t go through. I brought this up to Google at a recent conference and was told that this is a known issue that is impacting listings that belong to location groups inside the Google My Business dashboard. This impacts all my clients since we are using the agency dashboard and every client is inside a location group. The issue appears to only be with listings that set up Messaging via the Google My Business app, not listings that set it up via SMS before Google removed that ability.

The amount of issues arising with messaging seems to conflict with the fact that Google is pushing these features and highlighting them more to customers. I’m not 100 percent sure why they would want to push it when so many pieces for merchants to manage it are still broken. One of the newest tests we have seen was pointed out by Sergey Alakov on Twitter. He highlights the message button with a “new” message.

Hopefully, Google comes out with a fix for some of these issues soon. We’d love to start actually setting up this feature for small businesses, but it’s hard to recommend a feature that doesn’t work.

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6 things you need to know about Google’s change for service area businesses /6-things-you-need-to-know-about-googles-change-for-service-area-businesses-312177 Thu, 14 Feb 2019 13:20:54 +0000 /?p=312177 Google's new service area business set up cleared addresses. If you're a service business, don’t try to add it back. Here's why.

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Earlier this year, Google announced that they were offering an improved sign-up flow for service area businesses. There have been lots of questions from the Local Search community about these changes and what they mean. I’m hoping to clarify some of that by pointing out the main things you need to know.

1. Instead of having a box you have to check that says you deliver goods and services to your customers at their location, you now have the option to clear your address. This function accomplishes the same thing; it just has new wording. Clearing your address will turn your listing into a service area business which will remove the directions icon, remove the maps pin, remove the listing from the Google Maps API and hide your address from the public.

2. If you’re a service area business and your address was cleared, don’t try to add it back. When Google started rolling this out in November 2018, they automatically cleared the addresses for any existing service area business listings. This caused a ton of confusion for people who logged into their dashboard and saw their address was “missing.” If you attempt to add the address back, it will make you reverify it.

3. Even though your address is missing, Google still knows where you are. The purpose of the feature is to hide the address from the public.

4. There is no longer an option to add a service area that is a radius around your location. You instead need to add a list of zip codes or cities.

5. Your ranking is still based on the address used for verification not what you put in the service area. It has been this way for a very long time and we all hope Google will change this at some point.

6. If you move to a different area you should add your new address back to the listing so you can reverify it and then clear it again. Again, not really ideal but if you fail to do this, your listing will rank based on your old address not your new one.

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Google My Business messaging via SMS to end, but where is the alternative? /google-my-business-messaging-via-sms-to-end-with-no-alternative-in-sight-311134 Mon, 28 Jan 2019 15:28:45 +0000 /?p=311134 The end of SMS messaging on the GMB dashboard will have a sizable – and negative – impact on marketing agencies and large enterprises. Here's why.

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When Google My Business released the new GMB app back in November, many people failed to see the massive inconvenience of their new approach to the messaging feature would cause. Previously, the Messaging feature relied on technology from Allo which is set to be discontinued and will only work until March 2019.

Currently, if you try to add the messaging feature on a listing in Google My Business, it prompts you to download the GMB app.

If you are one of the lucky few that set up messaging before this change, you can still access the messaging feature via the Google My Business dashboard and receive and respond to messages via SMS. However, since Allo is going away in two months, we are assuming this SMS functionality is going to stop for everyone, including those that already have it set up. I have attempted to get a public statement from Google about their plans here and have been unsuccessful.

This change, in my opinion, has a sizable negative impact on both marketing agencies and large enterprises.

Agencies

If you run an agency and are using the Google My Business agency dashboard, you cannot access the GMB app. Trying to do so gives you an error that tells you that you have no listings in your account.

A user on the Google My Business forum sums up why this sucks for agencies:

“This is horrible. We were utilizing messaging option with our chat program. Were onboarding many clients that would allow them to use same chat program with GMB, their website, FB, and more. This shuts that down really fast. Plus, I utilize Agency GMB dashboard, which does not work with the App. So to help clients that still want to use GMB messaging separately from the easy to use third party, I have to walk them through it, because I cannot help them through my dashboard access.”

Franchises and enterprises

If you have a chain with 100-plus stores, how would it be possible to manage all of this via one app on your phone? Dan Leibson, who works with several of these types of businesses says:

“We have a few clients (both are 500+ locations) that have heavily invested in website chat and integrated that provider into GMB chat for pre-sales support and customer service. It’s has been a great lead producing and review management (via solving customer service issues before it comes to a review) tool.

These large clients that were using Google SMS for GMB in their communication strategy were told by their SMS vendor that they will have to stop using GMB chat when Google deprecates SMS. And that no solution on the immediate horizon but that a solution ‘was coming.’

Now this revenue and support stream will be completely cutoff.”

We still have two months until Allo stops working so maybe there is the possibility that Google will surprise us and announce a way for us to continue utilizing Google Messaging via SMS. For now, I would advise agencies and enterprises to hold off on adding the Messaging feature until there is a solution that makes sense.

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7 things you might not know about Google My Business categories /7-things-you-might-not-know-about-google-my-business-categories-310312 Thu, 10 Jan 2019 13:53:34 +0000 /?p=310312 I have found that Google My Business categories are often an overlooked tactic by many people that work in the Local Search space. According to Moz’s Local Search Ranking Factors Survey, proper Google My Business category associations are the #3 search ranking factor for local packs. It has been one of the top ranking factors […]

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I have found that Google My Business categories are often an overlooked tactic by many people that work in the Local Search space. According to Moz’s Local Search Ranking Factors Survey, proper Google My Business category associations are the #3 search ranking factor for local packs. It has been one of the top ranking factors for as long as I can remember so I wanted to share some things about Google My Business categories that people often aren’t aware of.

1. Google constantly changes the names of categories. For example, “Lincoln Mercury Dealer” got renamed to “Lincoln Dealer” in the fall of 2018 and “Natural Foods Store” got renamed to “Natural Goods Store” in December. It’s important to know that Google can rename them so you’re not thinking it’s a new category that has been added.

2. Google constantly removes categories and adds new ones. For example, in the first six months of 2018 in the U.S., Google added 34 categories and removed 36. One that they added was “Fitness Class” and one that they removed was “Dog Sitter.”

3. New categories can give you a boost in ranking. In this thread, Rich Owings of Local Is Where It’s At talks about how he started doing Local SEO for an escape room. Google had just recently added a category for this business type so most of the competition didn’t have the new category yet. By being one of the first to add the new category, he was able to move to the first page overnight.

4. Categories have different names in different countries. For example, in Canada Google My Business calls the Real Estate Agent category “Estate Agents.” This is likely because categories in Canada tend to be more similar to the way they are named in the UK. I can safely say as a Canadian that no one here calls real estate agents “estate agents” but Google seems to think we do.

5. The categories you see on Google might not be the way they appear in the Google My Business dashboard. Every category has a GCID which does not change and a category name which varies based on the country. I’ve found that sometimes Google displays the GCID in the search results which can be really confusing if you’re trying to figure out why your competitor is showing a category that you don’t “appear” to have as an option in the Google My Business dashboard. In this example, Brodie Clark asked on Twitter why  he couldn’t find the Heating Contractor category to add to his client. This is because “Heating Contractor” is actually the GCID for the category that’s named Central Heating Service in Australia.

6. The concept of “category dilution” is not true according to our testing. This concept states that you could “weaken” your ranking for a category if you have more than one category on your Google My Business listing. Instead of putting all your ranking power in one category, it would theoretically be dispersed amongst all the ones you pick. We have found the opposite to be true. Adding more categories often results in an increase in ranking and clicks because you now show up for more related queries. For example, we added the category “Employment Attorney” to a law firm in Florida when we noticed that they take a lot of employment-related cases. This is what happened to his ranking 48 hours later for local rankings for the query [employment lawyer cityname].

7. The primary category holds more ranking power. I always suggest that a business pick their primary category wisely because it holds more ranking weight than secondary categories. The primary category is the first category you select in the Google My Business dashboard. We had a personal injury attorney who also practiced insurance law. He told us that his focus was personal injury so I suggested that we switch his categories around in Google My Business. Previously, he had “insurance attorney” as the primary category and “personal injury attorney” as a secondary category. By reversing that, we saw an increase in most personal injury keywords and a decrease in the insurance attorney keywords.

 

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Google Posts decline in traffic leave many to wonder if strategy is worth the time /google-posts-decline-in-traffic-leave-many-to-wonder-if-strategy-is-worth-the-time-309517 Mon, 17 Dec 2018 12:01:38 +0000 /?p=309517 After Google Posts moved to the bottom of the Knowledge Panel in September, many are reevaluating the strategy as low-impact.

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Last year at LocalU Advanced in Santa Monica, Joel Headley from PatientPop shared a strategy they were using for Google Posts which sparked my interest. His use of Google Posts increased bookings by 11 percent across thousands of listings. He found a lot of the increase in clicks was actually to the Appointment URL, not just the post itself.

After learning about this, we started implementing Joel’s strategy here at my agency for our clients and found similar results.

At the end of September, I reported on my forum that Google had decided to move Google Posts to the bottom of the Knowledge Panel. I’ve asked Google several times why they would give Posts less visibility when they seem to be spending so much effort developing new features for them but have been unable to get a good answer.

Recently when doing monthly reports for clients, I started noticing a large decline in traffic (clicks) from Google Posts when looking in Google Analytics for our professional services clients. Here is an insurance agent who used to get a decent amount of traffic from Google Posts. His traffic flatlined in October despite us posting the same type of content as for September and August.

Here is another example of the same results with a law firm:

For the law firm, the sad thing is that we also see clicks to the Appointment URL decrease at the same rate.

I have seen the same trend for clients in other service-based industries.

The posts for companies we work with who sell products and offer discounts are still driving a few visits to the website but are still less than 1 percent of the traffic that comes from the website field on the Google My Business listing.

I asked others on my forum to see if people were experiencing the same thing. Dan Foland from Postali said, “We work with attorneys and law firms and have seen a decrease all over the board. Views and clicks have decreased roughly 50-60%. We’ve stopped using Google Posts all together for some of our clients. The results often aren’t worth our time.”

Phil Rozek confirmed the same finding. “Same here. The drop in clicks started when Posts moved to the bottom of the knowledge panel. That’s why I’ve doubled down on my expiration-date workaround, so we can put up a post and just let it simmer, and not have to conjure up a new one every 7 days.”

Diogo Ordacowski, who works with listings in the apartment building industry, showed a similar picture for his clients.

We haven’t completely lost faith in Posts but are re-classifying them as a low-impact strategy. Greg Gifford pointed out that posts for the auto dealers they work with are still useful. “For a dealer who does a post a week and gets 3-5 clicks a month that results in one conversion, it’s still worth it.”

However, I would say if time is limited and your cost-per-sale is low, the drop in traffic might make it a strategy not worth pursuing anymore.

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Massive fake review attack has big impact on small businesses /massive-fake-review-attack-has-big-impact-on-small-businesses-309255 Mon, 10 Dec 2018 12:40:13 +0000 /?p=309255 Business owners and Google product experts could not easily find all the businesses impacted during the recent attack because the profiles selected to hide their reviews.

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The Local SEO community was recently plagued with a massive fake review attack that impacted small businesses globally. A collection of 37 profiles left over 3 million fake 4-star ratings. By the time Google removed them all about five days later, the average profile had left over 81,000 ratings for various businesses.

Who is behind it?

At this point, we have no idea who initiated the attack. Most of the profiles have Vietnamese usernames but the majority of the ratings were left for SMBs in the USA.

 

Who did it impact?

Jason Brown and several other members of our Google Product Experts group tracked reports that came in from the Google My Business forum and on Twitter.  Although we managed to put together a list of at least 257 businesses that were impacted, there were many more.

One of the users affected reported, “We received 22 reviews yesterday within one hour time with no single comment. All the names are strange and not normal and it seems that someone is trying to damage our name.”

The business owners impacted seemed lost, confused and frustrated by the event. Another reported, “It does scare me the amount of control Google has over our businesses success and failure. Gone are the days of the local yellow pages and directories to find a service. When you’re a small business, a week of no visibility can drastically affect our business and sales.”

One thing that made it hard for the business owners and Google product experts to see what other businesses were impacted is because the review profiles had selected to hide their reviews. This infuriates me. I understand the need for privacy but I cannot stand the fact that any user with any name can just post a review on a business that they have never had an interaction with. There needs to be some accountability if these reviews are going to have any type of credibility.

I’m very happy to see that Google removed all the reviews but this entire situation sheds light on the growing trend that leaving fake reviews online is way too easy.

 

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Yelp vs Google: How they deal with fake reviews /yelp-vs-google-how-do-they-deal-with-fake-reviews-307332 Thu, 01 Nov 2018 15:50:00 +0000 /?p=307332 I recently heard a story of a business that got caught with fake reviews on Yelp. They were also an advertiser spending thousands of dollars a month on ads. When they got caught, Yelp canceled their ad account and told them they would be demoting the listing’s ranking for 6 months. After that time, they […]

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I recently heard a story of a business that got caught with fake reviews on Yelp. They were also an advertiser spending thousands of dollars a month on ads. When they got caught, Yelp canceled their ad account and told them they would be demoting the listing’s ranking for 6 months. After that time, they would re-evaluate, but there was no guarantee that things would go back to how they were before. Yelp’s stance on fake reviews couldn’t be more completely opposite of Google’s. Here are a few ways they differ when it comes to approaching businesses caught with fake reviews:

1. Yelp issues a ranking penalty, Google does not.

2. Yelp stops the business from advertising, Google does not.

3. Yelp monitors the listing to see if the business continues their deceptive practices, Google does not.

4. Yelp will remove a listing from their system for having fake reviews. I have never seen Google do this. I reached out to Yelp to find out if what happened to this particular business is typical.

A Yelp spokesperson responded with this: “It’s critical that we maintain the quality of content on our platform and protect consumers from those relatively few businesses that seek to artificially inflate their online reputations. We reserve the right to demote in search results, or remove from our platform altogether, any business that seeks to artificially manipulate our system or mislead consumers. We continue to recommend that businesses avoid contracting with third-party companies offering to remove negative reviews or otherwise boost business page ratings as doing so may lead to severe penalties on Yelp. We have reason to believe that this business has used extreme measures to attempt to artificially inflate its reputation on Yelp and mislead consumers.”

5. Yelp’s automatic filter catches a lot of fake reviews, Google’s does not.

According to the Yelp spokesperson, Yelp’s filter removes about 25 percent of their reviews. These include reviews that are fake, biased, solicited, or other unhelpful rants and raves. I have yet to see Google’s review filter catch paid-for reviews.

Lots of businesses using review posting services (marketing companies that post reviews for them) will have these reviews automatically filtered on Yelp already, but the person reporting them had to get Google to remove them manually. I had a business once come to me who had their previous SEO company posting reviews for them. They were trying to make things right and asked me to get Google to remove all their fake reviews. Google’s first response to my request was that the reviews didn’t appear to be fake. I was dumbfounded. The business owner was admitting to this but Google didn’t believe him. Why on earth would any business owner make this up when all the reviews were positive? In the end, we sent Google the emails between this business owner and the SEO company to get them removed.

In my opinion, the variances between these two companies tell me that fake reviews are a big deal to Yelp but not to Google. What should you do if you catch a business with fake reviews?

Google: Report it on the Google My Business forum. In my experience, you need a lot of evidence to get Google to remove fake reviews.

Yelp: The Yelp spokesperson told me that if a consumer or business believes that a review violates Yelp’s Terms of Service, including those that do not represent an actual first-hand experience, they can easily report the review by clicking on the small flag-shaped button in the bottom right-hand corner of the review. The review will then be reviewed by Yelp’s user support team.

On the other hand, if a user experiences a business offering payment or other incentives in exchange for positive reviews, they can alert Yelp’s User Support team through this form. Businesses that are reported may receive a Consumer Alert, which warns consumers that a business has been going to great lengths to mislead them behind the scenes.

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3 reasons why Google My Business search queries don’t match Search Console /3-reasons-why-google-my-business-search-queries-dont-match-search-console-306294 Mon, 08 Oct 2018 17:14:00 +0000 /?p=306294 If you work in local search, are you regularly checking the Search Query report in Google My Business Insights? Here's why you should be.

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Search Queries launched in Google My Business in July of 2018, but they didn’t become available for everyone until the end of August. Now that this new feature is fully rolled out, the biggest issue I have run into is understanding how it differs from Search Console data.

I wanted to highlight three reasons why your Google My Business Insights data might look different than what you see in Search Console.

Search Console is reporting on traffic from Google My Business along with traffic from organic (yes, it tracks both). You can separate this traffic by adding UTM codes to your website field in Google My Business.

The resulting data can be enlightening as it will help you gauge where to spend more efforts since the two algorithms are getting increasingly different.

If you’re ranking both organically and in the local pack, Search Console will be counting this as two impressions for your site. You can break this down if you’re using UTM codes.

Here is an example of what it looks like for a client of mine for a specific keyword. In this case, the organic reach is larger because the searcher’s location doesn’t impact it. However, clicks on the 3-pack for this keyword are still higher even though almost a third of the impressions are coming from to organic.

Search Console is reporting on impressions and Google My Business is reporting on unique users. These two things are extremely different.

According to Google’s Help Center, an Impression in Search Console is recorded when the website appears in a search result for a user. This is vastly different than “unique users” since one user could search the same thing multiple times.

Additionally, it’s important to note that your business may appear in results without the website URL or a link to the website being displayed. Google My Business will report on these queries — when your listing shows up in results without your website attached. But Search Console won’t.

Let me explain. When I was looking at one client’s account, I noticed that “best criminal defense attorney near me” showed 12 unique users in Google My Business Insights yet Search Console showed one impression.

How is that possible? How can you have more users than impressions? The reason for this is that mobile searches often return 3-packs that don’t have the website field displaying.

Similarly, some desktop searches return 3-packs that have images instead of the website field.

In both these cases, Google My Business would be reporting on searches whereas Search Console would not.

The main takeaway here is that if you work in the Local Search industry, you should be adding Google My Business Insights to your list of places to gather keyword research. You might be surprised at what you find.

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6 ways the August core algorithm update impacted local business /6-ways-the-august-core-algorithm-update-impacted-local-business-304996 Thu, 06 Sep 2018 15:23:00 +0000 /?p=304996 Was your site affected by the recent core algorithm update? Here's a look at the changes made to local and small business sites after the update.

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At Sterling Sky (my company), we only work in the small business (SMB) market, so we were particularly interested in seeing how Google’s recent algorithm update impacted local search.

I’ve spent the last few weeks analyzing dozens of sites in depth, diving into ranking charts and before-and-after screen shots to see exactly what changed with this recent update. Below are the top six things I’ve noticed as a result of the update.

Keep in mind these are observations based on my audits and findings. Since I only analyzed sites optimized for local SEO, these findings are very specific to local businesses or sites ranking for local terms such as “plumber Seattle.”

I was careful to only include items I saw multiple times across numerous sites and industries I analyzed. I try to give examples to help illustrate my points but wanted to make it clear there were tons of similar examples in my findings that showed the same thing.

1. This update was not related to links

As far as we can tell, this update was related to on-site content quality more than backlinks. We have a new client of two months who saw an increase organically across almost every keyword we are tracking. All the work done so far on his site has been related to improving content quality — no links were built.

2. Keyword impact

In the local search world, it is hard to get a business to rank in the 3-pack in a surrounding city, but it is sometimes possible.

We work with a company in a suburb of a large city. Let’s say they’re in Addison, Texas, but they get all their customers from Dallas (They’re not, but it’s a similar scenario). With this update, the majority of keywords we were tracking that used [keyword + Dallas] increased, even though his location is in Addison (the suburb of Dallas).

In another example, Tom Waddington sent me an example of a business that decreased both locally and organically for the name of the major city but sustained rankings for the suburb (where they are actually located).

3. Organic and local results changed

We have ranking trackers that scan all our accounts daily so it makes algorithm updates easier to track. Many algorithm updates only impact the organic results or the local results, but we are seeing that this update impacted both. We are also seeing a small gap between the two updates. The local update seemed to have happened over July 31-August 1, and the organic update happened from August 1-2.

4. The gap between organic and local algorithms increasing

Usually, there is a strong correlation between the sites that rank organically and the listings that rank in the local results. However, with this update, I haven’t seen much correlation at all.  Sites that had big organic increases did not simultaneously have big increases in local rankings and vice versa.

Also, we saw more examples where the patterns were completely opposite. Sites that increased organically dropped locally and vice versa like this:

In another example, a site saw a decline in organic traffic consistently with all the quality updates this year. However, their local rankings and telephone calls from Google My Business (GMB) have increased substantially, and they are getting almost triple the calls from GMB they were getting at the beginning of the year.

5.  Video carousels increased for local search terms

For tons of keywords I looked at across numerous industries, we saw an increase in video carousels that did not exist before the update.

6. YMYL impacted heavily

I agree with Marie Haynes, who said this update was really focused around Your Money or Your Life (YMYL)-type sites. I’m seeing the biggest movement in industries related to healthcare.

I audited an attorney’s site and found that the big drops were related to pages about specific medical malpractice lawsuits.  Another drug rehab site lost two-thirds of their traffic overnight.

Have you noticed changes to your sites since the algorithm update? Are the changes you’re seeing different from mine? I’d love to hear about it, so please feel free to share your findings with me here.

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