A ten year veteran of the local SEO space based in the UK, Tim Capper is a member of the Google Product Experts community (formerly Google Top Contributors).
As a Product Expert, he helps small businesses around the world while gaining sneak peaks at Google's newest products and features. He and other experts are deeply involved in the process of troubleshooting these rollouts, and thus work to make GMB a little better for marketers, one product at a time.
He's also the founder of Online Ownership, a bespoke Local SEO business specializing primarily in the hospitality industry.
When I sat down with Tim he had a lot of great information to share about the benefits (both tangible and intangible) of becoming a Google Product Expert. If you're a local SEO consultant you won't want to miss this part.
He also shared how he'd improve one crucial part of the Google My Business experience. And he was happy to offer a few details on the differences between local SEO in the UK and the US (which he hinted were little more than the tip of, well, a glacier).
Here's the lightly edited (for readability) transcript.
Carmen: Google My Business has been adding a slew of new features for small businesses and agencies across various industries. What are the new features you're most excited about as a Local SEO specialist?
Tim: There's quite a lot! Well, I would probably say the posts. On the whole, I really like Google posts. It's a way of engaging directly in the search results.
Together with, however, and, caveat, we're still a little unclear on how this is going to be working, but the ability for a service area business to define their area rather than having their address define the beginning of their service area. Now the business can specifically map out that area.
That's obviously just kind of rolling out, but I think that's going to really be great for service area businesses if it does what it says on the tin.
Carmen: Google recently changed the name of their expert community from "Top Contributors" to "Product Experts." Since you're a Product Expert yourself, could you tell us a little about what this title change means for the Google My Business Expert Community?
Tim: Well, I think the general consensus from us, the overall consensus as a community, is we kind of liked the name change. "Top Contributors" was vague, and we ended up in a 20-minute conversation about what that was.
"Product Experts" kind of nails that in one.
Carmen: What was the Product Expert Summit like?
Tim: It was great. This was technically a regional one. It tends to be a shorter version. This was really only a day and a half.
But GMB's always very good with us, and they pack in a load of information. Our CMs do a brilliant job of tracking down the program managers involved in the sections we want to dive into, and bringing us face-to-face with them.
Carmen: In what ways has the expert community influenced the Google My Business Product? Does this name change imply that they will be communicating any differently with you?
Tim:Yes and no. Sometimes you've got a team working on a roll-out. In the ideal version, we normally have a private Hangout—because we're around the world—where the product team would give us a demo.
We're whitelisted on that product, and we bounce back a lot of questions and answers. We try and address a lot of things and user bugs that typically a Googler may not come across. From our point of view, a business, and a user's, that's the ideal version.
Sometimes a product gets launched and we knew it was arriving but never got access. It lands, and we have to troubleshoot it. But normally, we get a good look at a new launch. That's the ideal, but it doesn't always happen that way.
Google's a big team, a big product spread out across multiple locations, so it doesn't always happen the ideal way.
Carmen: What's the best way for an SEO specialist to become a GMB Product Expert, and why should an SEO specialist become involved in the community?
Tim: The best way is to start getting involved in the community. Just start answering questions.
Even if you're a little unsure, possibly holding back a bit, just start getting involved. You've got to want to help a business. That's one of the biggest things. Yes, there are benefits to being a Product Expert, but you do want to be in a position to help people.
The majority of people who come into the forum have no expertise. Some are technophobes. And you need to be able to walk them through the product. By the time you walk them through you'll start increasing your own knowledge base.
For an SEO, one of the greatest benefit is getting to expand your understanding of the product.
If you're a local SEO, you start seeing issues which you may never have ever come across if you can't take yourself out of your bubble.
On a day-to-day basis you may never come across it in your work life as a local SEO, but you can certainly start making connections. "Ah, this is a problem I saw here, this is how it was solved, I'm coming across a similar one. Not the same, but how can I use a similar approach using that client?"
If you never get involved, you only come across problems you come across, whereas here you see all different types. Some of it might never be of use to you, but it's probably one of the greatest educational tools in SEO.
Carmen: There's still a lot of criticism for Google from the expert community regarding the ways they handle fraudulent reviews and fight fake review schemes. What advice would you give to Google to improve this critical aspect of GMB?
Tim: Reviews have become a very, very, very big problem.
I got involved with some UK businesses that had it really, really bad, and it took me months and months to try to get some kind of result for the business before they went out of business. It got to that stage. I will admit that was a very low point for me, personally, between myself, the product, and its limitations.
Users come to the forums and they're generally upset. They see what is a clearly fake or malicious review. The fake can be good or bad.
Let's say it's malicious. Even so, there seems no way to deal with these if the user never left a footprint.
It's obvious for users, on a base level, to say, "Why don't we look at IPs?"
But in their [Google's] defense, you and I are looking at a page. Google doesn't look at that. There are one billion, say, business pages, and say each one has 10 reviews. And now you've already got a monumental data set.
It's pretty much as large as organic search, page-wise.
The difference here is, it's so granular.
Reviews don't link out.
Reviews don't have an algorithm they can follow link, to link, to link.
It's literally the user, the account, how many reviews, and what businesses do those go to.
Literally, these algorithms, as best as I can tell, have to start at a point, work their way through, and start cross-referencing. It's not just by users, but you've got a phone number, and an address, and this may change.
So I understand user frustrations, but this isn't as easy as it seems to correct.
I feel there are a few ways that Google could be tackling the problem to make it better. They could be using some form of a receipt-based thing where a customer produces a receipt, when you need the review you could have a little code to add a specific code for that business that comes from the receipt, or it could show on your Maps app you were actually at that location, and those could be treated slightly better than if Google cannot determine you were actually at that store ever.
Separate the aggregated review score based on who is a true customer they know, and who isn't.
That would take care of a good chunk, but there are a lot of problems. How do service area businesses get around that when they're in the user's home? Still, the customer who uses a service area business could still provide a receipt to show they were a true customer. Something like that could handle it quite quickly.
I do think until Google has a very good algorithm running for detecting spam or fake accounts, I think at that point they'll literally need to audit ten years of reviews. There's just no way unless they have a very quick-working algorithm.
The current system is clearly not working. Or when it's working, it's working very poorly, failing to detect pure spam reviews or fake reviews. It's a tough one. I would certainly not want to be in their shoes.
Carmen: In The Comprehensive Guide for Local SEO Specialists Checklist that you and Online Ownership produced for SEMrush, you talked a lot about optimizing the Google My Business listing info with essential information. How would you optimize a Google My Business review portfolio?
Tim: You can't optimize your reviews in that sense, but the question is how does, and I think for most local businesses that haven't gotten into this space before, is essentially,
"How do I get better reviews," or even "how do I even start getting reviews."
The simple one is to ask for them.
There are a lot of platforms out there, obviously, that do help customers generate reviews with emails, etc.
If the business does have some development or technical skills, I just recommend building it into your email or marketing, into the customer's journey.
They book an appointment, they leave, and after the appointment the system should generate a follow-up email.
"How was it? How was the product? Small businesses depend on local customers like yourself, would you take five minutes letting us know how we did and how we can improve our business?"
I spend a fair amount of time in the hospitality industry.
We create a customer journey around that. If they book at a resort you get the Thank You For Booking email, about a week before they get an email on what the weather's doing, a view of the beach, a quick seasonal reminder to pack a raincoat or whatever the case may be. So we create a customer journey. By the time they get home, they expect a Welcome Home email, and we ask them to take five minutes to leave a review. It works really well.
I've got a small resort in the Caribbean that still sends handwritten postcards welcoming customers home, handwritten and personal. There's no review link in a post card, obviously, but just building that affinity between the customer and the business.
Since it's online, people tend to forget that connection. The minute someone leaves the store that connection's nearly forgotten. But if they can bring that human-to-customer connection into that outreach, it works really well.
Carmen: What would a GMB Business review portfolio checklist for Local SEO specialists entail?
Tim: Well, the first thing, for a new client company, you can pretty much see if they've got five reviews.
You can ask what their communication is like with the customer, and about the customer's journey.
"When they book, what do they get? When they leave, what do they get?"
If it's a quick in-and-out, a takeaway restaurant, you're not going to have a customer journey.
If they ordered online and there wasn't an interaction where an email was exchanged, or if it's an "in-and-out and I purchased that," what seems to have worked is a little flier at the till.
If you use, "Small thanks with Google," it's a great little site where you can print out table fliers, table cards.
They're just small little fliers. You can have them on table tents asking customers, and putting it into their mind, to leave a review.
If they're a first-time customer they should be pinged with their location asking them to leave a review.
Obviously Google Beacons help with the Maps App, and helps Google know they were actually there, and they get a push notification.
Carmen: Finally, at Grade.us, we have many UK Local SEO specialist customers. As a local SEO expert based in the UK, what are the major differences that stand out to you between the UK and the US when it comes to Local SEO?
Tim: There are some very unique differences.
The UK can have some very interesting situations where a country or town borders on two different counties. Those can cause potential location signals or misinterpretation signals for local SEO.
Another big one is with the virtual offices mail forwarding addresses. GMB doesn't typically integrate with the UK postal database, so there are a lot of spam locations in virtual locations which aren't picked up.
Versus in the US, where when someone tries to set up a service area business with a UPS address it's suspended, flagged, and known. In the UK they are very prolific in large cities. So that's one to look at.
Depending on the vertical you're in with local SEO you can, at times, remove an entire local pack full of spam before your clients can appear in the local pack. Not overnight, but very quickly, depending on the city you're in.
We certainly have less aggregators. If you're building up a location, if you're building a business location, we typically only have three here. There's one or two more private ones, aggregators that are very good, but the rest is fairly limited. With local SEO here, we tend to look for more niche, depending on what your clients are doing, which takes a bit more time. Versus the US, where you have a good selection of aggregators out there.
There's quite a few differences.
Carmen: Sounds like we could be here all day talking about those!
Tim: Yeah, there's quite a lot of difference.
Carmen: Well, thank you very much for your time today. It was great talking to you!
Tim: Yes, no problem, have a lovely day!