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Google changes affecting local queries

As Google continuously updates in order to keep up with our ever-changing world of tech, we ask, what are the recent changes affecting local queries? Also, what important improvements are worth considering in 2018?


Star rating threshold

One of the most important changes to Google My Business for us this year was the change to review star thresholds. Before this change, businesses that had less than 5 reviews on GMB were not given a star rating, and after, star ratings were provided for businesses with as little as 1 review. We touched upon this when outlining how important getting more GMB reviews were in March last year, providing this example of a local business that lost out:

Getting more (positive) GMB reviews will continue to be of utmost importance in 2018, and if you’re not convinced, take a look at these stats from BrightLocal’s recent study.

Snak Pack changes

The rollout of Snak Packs to more industries was a challenge for us in 2017. Specifically, because they removed links through to websites (circled in red) from the search results:

Google’s reasons for this are simple – keep people using Google as long as possible. With Snak Packs (right), users have to click on a business for more information (i.e. website,  phone number or directions) and whilst doing this, users will find out more information about the business (e.g. GMB reviews and photos). We personally think this is a backwards step from Google as it makes the platform more difficult to use, especially when you’re just trying to find a phone number of the opticians you just booked an eye test with, for example.

The removal of website links from this part of the search results also made it more difficult to report on this part of search results, so we had to adapt our processes here.

Questions & Answers

A completely new feature from GMB in 2017 was ‘Questions & Answers’, and with it presented a new set of challenges and opportunities for businesses:

Pestering our clients for more replies was our main challenge, but we also found that it presented a new way to embrace customer interaction and promote the business, in much the same way as responding to negative GMB reviews is! We also came across this useful tool that can help you get your customers to ask more questions by creating a direct link.

Search Engine Land produced a handy guide to everything you need to know on the Questions & Answers feature, take a look here.

The ‘Hawk’ algorithm update

Reversing some of the effects of late 2016’s ‘Possum’ update (for the better), the ‘Hawk’ update gave better map pack search results to distinctly different businesses that were geographically close to each other. Imagine a town’s high street that happened to have two barbers next door to each other, before Hawk, only one would have shown and the other filtered. After Hawk, each would have the same chance of being filtered/displayed, leading to more useful search results.



Towards the end of 2017, Google gave end users the chance to upload video reviews of businesses that could then be viewed via Google My Business pages. They also started offering hefty rewards, in the form of Google Local Guides points, for the trouble. The start of 2018 has brought more functionality with respect to video – business owners are now able to upload their own videos. We expect to see more businesses adding videos in 2018.

Integrating 3rd party reviews in GMB

One of the most radical changes we’ve seen in quite a while on GMB, is the addition of third party reviews into the interface:

This could provide headaches for many a marketer, bringing to the fore customers/incidents they thought had been buried on booking sites long ago. Conversely, it can also highlight that a business is well liked on many review platforms. There’s no option to respond to the third party reviews within the GMB interface, and we would see that this integration is unlikely.

This change will force local marketers to keep a close eye (or even closer eye) on all review platforms so that their local presence amongst competitors isn’t jeopardised.

Furthermore, now that Google has spent a considerable amount of time getting GMB reviews firing, will 2018 be the year that third party reviews started carrying some more weight?

Tightening up of review guidelines

Review spam is reaching epidemic levels in Google My Business, and it’s high time it was addressed. Early signs that Google is looking at this are on the way,  as changes to guidelines have already been noted. We very much hope to see tighter guidelines not only be announced this year but also correctly and stoutly enforced.

It’s not only Google struggling to contain review integrity, we’ve also seen in recent weeks that a Tripadvisor prankster took his ‘restaurant’ to #1 in London without serving a meal.

It’s certainly due to an interesting year for local search and one that will be exciting for us to keep up to date with. Find out more about our local SEO services by contacting us.