How Google My Business Insights Bridges the Gap in Local SEO Data
Updated: March 9, 2018
Between Google’s local pack and knowledge panel results, today’s SERPs allow searchers to find exactly what they need before clicking through to your site, usurping core business KPIs. This off-site engagement, from click-to-calls to map views, is not captured by Search Console or Google Analytics—and that means you’re missing out on a huge number of online interactions. Without this data, you’re left to optimize in the dark.
That’s why it’s more imperative than ever for SEOs to track and attribute those interactions to their local search efforts.
Local KPIs have been available in some form or another but never easily accessed at scale until now.
18 months ago, we started collecting local KPI data for a client’s 2000+ Google My Business locations. We immediately realized about a third of our traffic from Google originated from the Map Pack (formerly unattributed) and core KPIs were occurring at a magnitude 4x larger than we were capturing within our own web properties. Not only had we been unable to optimize against this data to improve our local strategy, but we had also missed out on an opportunity to highlight the successes of that strategy for our client. By closing the data gap created by Google’s local SERP, we improved our client’s satisfaction with their digital presence overall and were able to leverage the data to more effectively optimize local listings.
When we discuss local KPIs, what are we talking about? We’re referring to engagement metrics that are taking place within the SERPs, GMB listings, and maps that have, since 2014, been featured exclusively in the Google My Business Dashboard and not available in reporting tools such as Search Console and Google Analytics – until now. These include:
Click to calls
For many businesses, a phone call is a lead–and the desired outcome from a site visit. For these businesses, getting a sense for how many users are clicking to call straight from your local listing — bypassing your site altogether — is essential.
Visits to your website
Website clicks coming from local listings are not exactly a blind spot – it’s captured in Search Console and analytics. But with GMB data, businesses will know exactly how much traffic is coming from their listing — and can chart performance alongside searches and views.
Requests for driving directions
This metric is exactly what it sounds like – and could actually be more useful than at first glance. When optimizing your local listings to increase actual foot traffic to your business, this is one of your primary KPIs. Can you optimize photos/videos, cultivate and respond to reviews, and write unique, engaging posts to compel users to actually visit your business? When you roll out new features or optimizations, do you see a similar lift between driving directions and website clicks – or do certain types of optimizations (such as high-quality images of your store interior) drive more foot traffic vs. website traffic?
Uploading high-quality photos to your listings is an easy optimization to increase listing engagement – and you can track the affect of this optimization with the photo views metric. It’s worth mentioning that these are not unique actions and will capture multiple views from a single user.
Discovery and Direct searches
Discovery Searches are your local listing’s impressions for non-brand, or “category” keywords. For example, if I searched for “department store” and Nordstrom appears in the map pack, this would be considered a Discovery Search for the Nordstrom listing. Direct Searches, on the other hand, is when a customer is searching specifically for your store, typically in the form of a generic brand query (“Nordstrom”) or a location-specific query (“Nordstrom Downtown Seattle”).
Like most SEO, increasing Discovery searches is the real goal for most local businesses. There are, however, some optimization strategies that can directly impact discovery searches – such as creating sub-listings within a single larger entity (i.e. pharmacy department or photo centers within a drug store, a unique emergency room or parking garage listing for a hospital, etc.)
Map Pack and Google Maps views and engagement
Are customers finding your listing within Google Maps or from search engines? In the GMB dashboard, can track this breakdown over time, and monitor total views for the listing as well.
These KPIs have been available in some form or another but never easily accessed at scale until now. It’s long been possible to access this data in the GMB dashboard for an individual location, and there are several third-party solutions for managing multiple-locations. But these solutions come with their own set of issues and inconveniences—primarily, the lack of integration with commonly used reporting tools such as Google Analytics.
How Accurate is GMB Data?
Pretty accurate. Others have confirmed the accuracy of GMB’s click data through campaign tracking codes and Google Analytics – but from a bird’s eye view, we’ve seen a strong correlation between declining traditional organic KPIs and increasing local KPIs. This underscores the importance of accessing your local data and incorporating it with your traditional SEO reporting – it’s an increasingly essential part of the picture, and could drastically alter a perception of declining organic performance.
Where’s My Data?
On January 10, 2017, Google introduced location insights for the Google My Business API. This is a potential game changer, and a great opportunity for anyone managing multiple locations. The benefits of having this data at your fingertips is obvious. As Google notes in their announcement, “location insights in the Google My Business API makes it easier for third-party application developers and large multi-location brands to programmatically access location insights such as total number of searches, views and actions that let business owners track and analyze where and how people are finding them on Google.”
Optimizing without data is pointless.
Those of us managing multi-location brands have appreciated the Google My Business dashboard, which has allowed for bulk editing, posting, and updating of individual location pages from a convenient dashboard. However, we’ve long pined for access to local insights. Google describes the new API functionality as bringing “the features from our Google My Business dashboard into your own data analysis tools.” It’s a welcome update.
For those without developers on hand to acquire API integration, Google also provides a flat file download to manually pull your data. We recommend validating the wealth and depth of your data before fully investing into an API integration.
Getting Started with Google My Business Insights
To unearth this data, all you’ll need is GMB access and fully claimed and up-to-date portfolio of locations. If you don’t have location access, first make sure you meet the criteria and then follow their in-depth documentation to set it up.
Using The Data
Optimizing without data is pointless. Fortunately, this data is now easy to reclaim. The new GMB data export functionality allows you to compare the performance of hundreds, or even thousands, of locations side by side over time, which can unlock data-driven local optimizations that can be easily measured for success.
Some ideas to get started:
- Use search data (discovery vs direct) to organize locations by their need for better branding or better categorization of their products and services. This same data could be used to measure the success of any on-site content strategy to improve visibility or local product and service keywords
- Identify the best performing photos and descriptions and use those details as best practice for all locations
- See what reviews searchers are viewing and respond to negative reviews that are highly visible
- Develop a substantiated best practice GMB listing based on performance metrics and emulate that listing across all locations
- Create a local performance scorecard in Data Studio leveraging the Google My Business API.
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