In this regular Street Fight feature, local marketing gurus David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal kick around some of the biggest ideas affecting the local search ecosystem and the broader industry. Send an email or leave a comment if you have specific topics that you’d like them to touch on in future columns!
David: Well, Mike, 2016 is in the books. I for one couldn’t be happier to see its backside. But I’m really looking forward to 2017 — I see it as an inflection-point year in our industry when the trends we’ve been seeing in semantic search, monetization, and voice search come to a head and fundamentally change the practice of SEO (and for many businesses, the ROI from it).
Mike: While I am always excited about the future, I (skeptic that I am) don’t see 2016 much different from the rest of our recent past. But I have faith that we can move forward.
ROI and KPIs in local search have always been hard to come by and with the trends we have been seeing in local it has become even more fragmented and difficult to narrow in on the real story of a business’s online success.
David: Well, and I guess I would start even one level higher. I’m not convinced small businesses without a full-time in-house marketer really care about analytics, and they certainly don’t have the time or expertise to dive in each week and change their marketing or customer service behavior based on what a dashboard is telling them. I hope the vendors going all-in on analytics in StreetFight’s latest survey are selling to enterprises and not SMBs.
Mike: They *might* care about analytics if they were presented with metrics that mattered to their bottom line and matched their seat-of-their-pants, day-to-day experience. I agree that all too many metrics don’t “put food on their plate” and when you dig into them they don’t mean much (like a Facebook Reach metric or a Google Analytics Page view).
David: Funny thing is, though, there is an inherent attraction to vanity metrics like that. To the point that “website hits” and Facebook page likes are still the primary KPIs that the average small business would say they actually care about or measure. A simple aggregated vanity metrics report might hold some appeal.
Mike: Obviously it varies by business type but it seems to me that actions like click to call and calls, requesting driving directions, filling out a form or requesting a meeting via messenger are KPIs that ultimately would best fill the need to inform a bricks and mortar business of their online success in the pre-sales arena.
David: Certainly those are the acquisition metrics that put food on their plate, as you said, and the ones they should be weighting most heavily. I’m still not sure a magical analytics product that matched their seat-of-the-pants would be a primary marketing expense.
For the sake of exploring the conversation, let’s stipulate that if such a product existed, they’d pay for it. So why doesn’t it exist already?
Mike: I just went through an exercise of assembling the actual numbers for a local client vis a vis these specific KPIs and I had to look at 5 or 6 dashboards and manually assemble the numbers to get the answer. It’s a walled garden problem, no? Even when Bing, Google Local, Web analytics and Yelp all track the same metrics of click to call and driving directions there is no easy way to create a consolidated view AND Facebook’s metrics that might indicate pre sale activity are not tracked at all and took laborious manual labor to assemble.
Why for example does Google even silo their local and web analytics and make it so difficult to get a consolidated view?
David: Well, on that specific point, it’s Google being Google.
More broadly, though, you’re right on. There’s zero incentive for these companies to work together to provide this holistic view, and in fact it’s a disadvantage for newer and smaller players to be 100% transparent about the number of calls, clicks, and leads they’re actually sending a business. The reality is that Google and Facebook would dominate digital customer acquisition for virtually every business.
It’s why Yelp came out with that wildly inflated ROI calculator–which has only fed the skepticism of digital marketing metrics more broadly for the small businesses I’ve talked to. Most of the “leads” they’ve received from Yelp have been local salespeople trolling for new prospects.
Mike: For Facebook, which is just now getting into lead gen, the metrics have not really kept pace and still look at very vague success indicators that are mostly focused on the post sale conversation. In Yelp’s defense they did track and provide the numbers for click to call and driving direction requests.
It seems like a value add opportunity for Local SEO’s to provide this information in an easy to understand way or there may be a product opportunity for someone.
David: I think the silo problem is only going to get worse, though. As you and I have talked about many times, we’ve already seen a marked increase in the number of engagements and transactions that are happening directly on each of these platforms (Google SERPs, Facebook chats, etc.).
So many customers never even make it to your website anymore, where you as the business own the analytics data and be able to slice and dice in a manner that makes sense for your business as opposed to a self-interested tech company.
Mike: For sure. In my case study (pay wall), 70% of these activities came directly from Google My Business. The website was a strong second, however, pacing well ahead of Yelp and Facebook as a source for 25% of these activities.
Although when I dug into the web KPIs, most of those users that took an action on the website came from Google as well. In the end Yelp provided 3% and FB 4% of these leads with Bing clocking in at zero.
But even these KPIs don’t really measure someone walking in the door although they are more immediate than many digital and non digital measures.
David: Offline tracking–perhaps the most siloed data layer of all. No way any of the GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) companies want to share the most valuable information with anyone but the business–and even beacon companies don’t think third-party beacons are the answer, either.
Circling back to my initial point about analytics and dashboards, though–given that small businesses consistently rate referrals as their top-performing channel–even a product that CAN consolidate and distill these digital KPIs is truly only looking at the tip of the iceberg.
Even by Google’s standards, it would take a serious privacy invasion for GAFA to be able to quantify nebulous transactions from online word of mouth like email and social media, let alone offline conversations, anytime soon.
Mike: Interesting that as far as local has come that the real promise of accountable marketing and advertising still seems a distant dream.