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Just over a month ago, Google announced that it would be making some important changes to Google My Business, the platform that recently further asserted its dominance over other local pack ranking factors in Whitespark’s annual Local Ranking Factors survey.
These changes included retiring the Google My Business name in favor of “Google Business Profile,” improving the functionality of the “direct edit” experience (in which a business owner can manage their profile directly from the search results), and retiring the Google My Business mobile app in 2022.
Google My Business’s place at the heart of any local businesses’ online marketing and visibility efforts means that any significant changes cannot be ignored. Tie those updates in with a name change — something that usually generates a lot of fanfare and speculation, whatever the industry — and it’s easy to see why some (including myself) saw this as an emergence of a new era for local SEO and businesses on Google.
But is it?
After the dust had settled on the announcement, I wanted to hear how industry experts view the changes and whether they’d be doing anything differently. I also wanted to know what the average local search marketer made of these changes. Would it make any difference to their day-to-day?
Let’s look at the announced changes, one by one, and see what the people have to say.
As a content marketer by profession, my interest was naturally piqued most by the announcement of a name change. But in reality, what does this really mean beyond my fellow content marketers having to sigh and make plans to change/update content in reaction?
First, what has actually changed? Well, before the change, the platform to access the dashboard of your Business Profile was called “Google My Business,” but the actual output — the profile users see in the Knowledge Panel and that appears in Local Pack and Google Maps search results — was commonly called Business Profile anyway.
You can think of it as the thing you “did” being Google My Business, but the thing that actually changed was your “Business Profile.” Google has clearly acknowledged the confusion here and decided to put everything under the umbrella of Google Business Profile with the old GMB dashboard renamed to “Google Business Profile Manager.”
Experts agree that the retiring of the name “Google My Business” matters very little, and, if anything, it’s going to make the discipline of local SEO and profile optimization far easier for agencies and consultants to explain to their local business clients.
Andrew Shotland, of Local SEO Guide, told me: “This kind of reminds me of when they switched from Google Webmaster Tools to Google Search Console. While it caused a brief dust-up on SEO Twitter, ultimately I don’t think it impacted anyone other than the teams at Google working on these services.”
“In other words, while the GBP name provides a bit more clarity about what the product is, for current users I don’t think this matters,” he added, “I guess for businesses that this is all new to, it might help them better understand what in fact this service is. So I would expect this will improve uptake of the service from SMBs, which I would expect is Google’s goal.”
That note about making the service more appealing to SMBs is an interesting one, something that we’ll come back to.
Meanwhile, DealerOn’s Greg Gifford sees complaints about rebranding as ultimately unfounded. “Everyone’s complaining that Google keeps rebranding, but it’s been seven years since the last name change. And now everyone’s making the same complaints they made seven years ago. In reality, Local SEOs are the only ones complaining; for the run-of-the-mill business owner, it’s a complete non-issue,” he says.
Still, I can’t help but feel for my team of content specialists weaving their way through years’ worth of GMB content and working out what, and how much, to change. My sympathies are with you if you’re in a similar boat.
As Joy Hawkins, of Sterling Sky, puts it: “It’s really only annoying for us to have to go back and update the dozens of blogs on our site that reference ‘Google My Business.'”
A veteran of local SEO, Joy had the foresight to stop playing Google’s game a long time ago, though. She says, “Google constantly does this, though, so when we renamed our Facebook group, we decided to go with Local Search Insiders instead of having to rename our group every four years when Google decides to rebrand again.”
To ensure I captured a range of opinions on these changes, we polled BrightLocal users to learn what they thought would impact their work, if anything. When it came to the name change, just 12% thought it would have any impact on their business, with 4% of agency respondents and 3% of consultants believing the name change would have some impact on their business.
If you’re all set to jump into your content and swap every mention of Google My Business out, my advice is not to do it, and instead to balance mentions of GMB with new mentions of GBP. If the Google Trends data after the last name change are anything to go by, people will still be searching for “google my business” for years to come.
Sticking with things being retired, one of the bigger updates mentioned in the original announcement was that the Google My Business dedicated mobile app would be deprecated sometime in 2022.
Depending on whether you’re a local business owner in love with easy access to GMB Messaging or a local SEO agency frustrated by the limited access granted to managers by the app, you may be welcoming or fearing this change.
Joy Hawkins says that this update is “the only thing I really think is changing” within these announcements, and that “if anyone had got used to using that, they might have an adjustment to make.” Steady Demand’s Ben Fisher, who is also a Diamond Product Expert for GBP, admits that “the usage is not very high, according to Google.”
The low uptake of this app is something Andrew Shotland reflects on, too, saying “It likely had very low usage and was expensive to maintain. Given how the rest of the world has gone app-y, that’s the only reason I can come up with for retiring an app these days. I can tell you I used it once or twice on our business and then never again.”
Given that the key market for the app was SMBs wanting to manage their business on the go, it seems a surprise that Google would remove this if their focus is indeed on attracting that audience. However, there’s been a much more exciting, and easy-to-access, profile management experience waiting in the wings for its time to shine: the ability to update and manage your Business Profile right there in the SERP.
In its announcements, Google mentioned more functionality being added to the “in-search” merchant experience, saying that “the easiest way to manage your profile is now via Google Maps and Search. Moving forward, additional tools to help you understand how your business is performing and how you can enhance your online presence will be available exclusively on Search and Maps.”
This experience has been around for over a year now: just log into your Google Account, search for your business name (or even just “my business” if you want to pick from all the accounts you manage), and there it is.
What’s new is the functionality coming over from the old Google My Business dashboard that aims to make this approach to management more appealing to account owners. One big update is that businesses can now claim, verify and even resolve suspension of Business Profiles without needing a separate dashboard.
To the best of my knowledge, the ability to manage a profile in Search doesn’t have an official, Google-verified name, but I’ve seen it called “direct edit,” “in-search experience” and “the NMX, or New Merchant Experience.”
(Side note: back in 2020, Ben Fisher said that Google felt that “X” was cooler than “E.” While I agree, I’d like to think it was also to avoid confusion with the British music newspaper, the NME. As a Brit myself, how I wish they’d considered this with the focus on Google Business Profile, or GBP, more commonly known “round our gaff” as the Great British Pound… sigh.)
So, what should we make of Google’s direction here? Mike Blumenthal, of Near Media and GatherUp, says that “by creating and emphasizing a new small business experience via search, Google can also hopefully increase awareness of Google Local amongst very small businesses.”
Greg Gifford agrees, saying that “it’s more helpful to businesses who don’t have a marketing person/agency in place, since they can now make their edits directly in the SERPs.”
However, while it might be easier, are small businesses missing out on functionality still only available in the Google Business Profile Manager (GBPM — aka the old GMB dashboard)?
It’s certainly true that the direct edit experience isn’t a like-for-like with the Google Business Profile Manager. For example, while you can set up Google Posts in the direct edit experience, you can’t manage your Google Products and Services, which still have to be edited and set up via the Business Profile Manager.
Mike Blumenthal is interested to see how direct edit can achieve this without overcomplicating things, saying: “What isn’t as clear is if the new(ish) search interface can provide a good small business user experience for adding the many details and turning on and managing the many features available in Google Local without becoming a nightmare.”
Kick Point’s Elizabeth Linder agrees: “What you can manage directly in Search and Maps compared to in the dashboard still feels a bit muddled.” She also notes that “being prompted to make changes directly from Search and Maps may result in confusion, or worse, in business owners making changes haphazardly.”
Giving more visible power to clients to potentially mess up your properly-researched and fully-considered profile optimization strategy is certainly a concern for agencies, but Elizabeth sees the other side of the coin, too, and believes that “it’s an opportunity for business owners to look more closely at their branded SERP and learn a little more about what us agencies mean when we’re referring to their business profile”.
But is everything a new merchant needs to do really that visible in SERPs? While Ben Fisher points out that “most merchants go to search for their business name and then submit edits” and that “the web-based version of GBP is something that was born out of Google really watching how merchants behaved,” Andrew Shotland feels that more could be done to bring the ability to claim a profile to the attention of business owners in the first place: “They need to do a better job of [informing] the manager of the profile that you can do this.”
“Right now, I just see that tiny ‘own this business?’ link, which is fine, but they need something like that big honking Search Console widget so business owners will notice it,” he adds.
For what it’s worth, Google is now promoting the ability to edit your profile in SERPs and Maps from within the Google Business Profile Manager:
Thinking of businesses further afield, Online Ownership’s Tim Capper notes that there are currently significant downsides to the focus on the direct edit experience, notably that “they have not managed to integrate editing of the Business Profile-created websites (business.site), which is pretty big considering that there are around forty million small businesses in Asia and Africa that rely on these for their businesses.”
So, with Google bringing more and more functionality to the direct edit experience, where does that leave the future of the Google Business Profile Manager?
The answer, it seems, is that the future’s (hopefully) bright.
So far, these updates have been fairly well communicated by Google, but one aspect of the announcement had agency owners reading between the lines. Regarding the GMB dashboard, which thousands of agencies use every day to manage multiple client profiles, Google had this to say:
“The Google My Business website will transition to support primarily larger businesses with multiple profiles and will be renamed ‘Business Profile Manager’. Larger businesses will still be able to manage individual profiles on Search and Maps if they choose to do so. Over time we expect smaller businesses to shift to managing individual profiles directly on Search and Maps.”
I feel we can be forgiven for thinking that the lack of language around those managing multiple different businesses, and the focus instead on “larger businesses,” left agencies and single businesses out in the cold. When my company wrote about these changes at the time, the number one question we received was around this (and it was the loudest-shouted question internally, too): “What about agencies and single businesses? Will they still be able to manage multiple individual GBP profiles in the dashboard?”
Luckily, Ben Fisher is here to set the record straight: “There seems to be a ton of confusion after the messaging from Google about this update. Let me make this super-clear for everyone… the Google Business Profile Manager (formerly GMB Web) is NOT going anywhere, and more importantly, I must stress it STILL, and WILL STILL BE available to single-listing merchants. Okay, if all caps are not enough to convince you, I have this on high from Google themselves (although nothing is publicly stated yet).”
“This all makes sense if you take a step back. Google is a software company, they make decisions on where to spend time and resources based on big data sets. While this is not perfect, it does inform what moves they should make,” he adds.
Ben also told us, back when the news was announced, that “agencies can still manage in bulk and via the API; nothing has changed there.”
So if you’re an agency working with clients, you’ll still be able to use the Google Business Profile Manager to manage them, as you always have been. While the GBPM is not exclusive to multi-location businesses managing lots of profiles for one business, it does seem that, with single-business functionality focused elsewhere, this leaves more room for Google to make improvements for those managing local SEO at scale.
On this, Mike Blumenthal is optimistic: “I am largely hopeful that this ‘split’ of the local small business UI away from the Dashboard will allow Google to focus their efforts to improve the experience and get rid of the significant bugs present for multi-location businesses in the GBP dashboard.
“If Google is true to their word, this will allow them to increase multi-location and agency functionality via the dashboard. The dashboard currently has so many bugs and weird artifacts that it is a huge burden to manage businesses at scale in the environment. Things, like rejecting automatic updates or even downloading a complete list of businesses, or getting accurate Insights, are not possible or work extremely poorly at scale.
“If you are a pessimist, you see the long neglect of the Dashboard and the increased focus on the web interface as an indication that Google is getting ready to nuke the Dashboard. I, being the eternal optimist, am taking Google at their word and think that the Dashboard will be fixed and once again become useful.”
Andrew Shotland is also on the hopeful side, saying: “I hope this means they will invest more in supporting [multi-locations] and providing a richer feature set. My guess is the multi-location businesses are the biggest users of the dashboards, even though their numbers may be dwarfed by the number of SMBs around the world.”
We’ve heard from a handful of experts, and I’ve provided some of my thoughts, but what about the legions of SEOs and small business owners with their boots firmly on the ground and their noses to the grindstone?
Does being so close to the individual day-to-day of SEO mean that they’re less aware of, or careless about, the grand movements of the unknowable machine that is Google? From our research, it certainly seems so.
Our poll not only showed that a third of respondents didn’t know anything about them, but also that only 10% of local businesses felt the changes would impact them. However, only 13% of agencies, consultants, and freelancers felt “positive” or “very positive” about the changes.
The picture this paints is that these changes are, as the experts I spoke to broadly agreed, not nearly as substantial as initially supposed.
What they do, though, is signal a direction that Google may be heading in, attracting small businesses to its platform through profile edit visibility and potentially providing a better place for multi-location brands to manage their profiles at scale.
All this leaves me in a reflective mood, considering how quickly we in the local SEO sphere (particularly the news and content area) are wont to jump at the signs of Google making changes, but ultimately we are Chun-li and Google is M. Bison in this famous scene from the comically bad Street Fighter movie:
“For you, the day Google graced your news feeds with a name change was the most important day in your life.
“For us, it was Thursday.”
Thank you to all the local search experts who talked to me for this story, and to the BrightLocal users who responded to our poll.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
Jamie Pitman has worked in digital marketing for over a decade and is currently Head of Content at local SEO tool provider BrightLocal. He specializes in local marketing and the many factors that affect local search performance, from Google My Business and consumer reviews to branding, content marketing, and beyond.