Tackling the Problem of Measurement in Local

Tape measure wood. Abstract image of a tape measure on a piece of wood.

In this new Street Fight feature, local marketing gurus David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal will semi-regularly 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: Hey Mike, hope your last couple weeks were as good as mine–I went to Crater Lake for the first time and made my first-ever hole-in-one! (</brag>).

Mike: How cool is that! (Crater Lake that is, not the hole-in-one 🙂 ). The hole-in-one is pretty cool too, I guess. How far was it?

David: Legit: 182 yards!  But back our conversation…last time we said we were going to talk about the increasing fragmentation in Local, and if it was having an impact on small businesses yet. I know at our Local U events, your prototypical small business client Barbara Oliver sometimes makes a guest appearance. How’s she doing these days? As your canary-in-the-coal-mine, what’s she seeing?

Mike: As you know, she loves guest appearances and is always ready to chat. Her business is up 3x over the past four years. She’s ecstatic and and her “seat of the pants” assessment attributes that to Google and reviews!

David: Yeah, I think “seat of the pants” would easily rank #1 as preferred analytics package for small businesses. There was a survey that came out last week that confirmed this. SMBs can feel that local search works, but they’re too busy to look at dashboards, and/or it doesn’t meaningfully impact their business decisions to know specifically WHAT about it is working.

Mike: There is always the problem with measurement in local. SMBs do not have very good tracking and she is no exception. I have been looking at her numbers to get a sense of where traffic has been coming from, and what we can attribute to what. And while we are seeing Google continuing to send gobs of traffic, we are seeing the strong beginnings of that increased fragmentation we have been talking about.

David: So what do her numbers look like?

Mike: Most of what I see in quantifying local results are proxies…but one of those that offers some insights is Google Analytics. In her account, we are seeing some interesting year-over-year shifts.

In terms of search and social traffic, when I compare the last 12 months to the previous 12, I see:

  • Absolute Google search traffic is down by about 8%
  • Relatively speaking, Google search traffic is now only 80% of her total, down from 90%
  • Bing/Yahoo traffic remains flat at 10%
  • Both Facebook AND Yelp saw 150% increases y/y and are now contributing 5% of her total visits

Both Facebook and Yelp were starting at near zero but are growing rapidly. She doesn’t pay for any Yelp traffic but does boost her posts regularly at Facebook. Hmm, what does that say about ROI?

But she does a bang-up job on Facebook and has significant engagement there with real existing customers post-sale, so even if they sent ZERO traffic, the time investment would be worth it.

David: The most surprising thing in those numbers to me is that Facebook and Yelp were starting from such a low bar. Your point about the relative ROI of paid Facebook traffic vs. free Yelp traffic certainly speaks to Yelp’s potential for a paid product that provides real value, but their current ad product ain’t it, to say the least.

And I presume she’s not even active on Instagram or Snapchat or Pinterest, all three of which have plenty of value in building customer relationships.

Mike: Correct, she has NO social presence on Instagram or Snapchat and just a smidgen on  Pinterest. Certainly she would benefit from a stronger presence on those.

David: My other inference is that if her business is up so substantially but Google referrals are down, at least some of those Google searchers must converting directly on-SERP without ever visiting her website…another trend you and I have highlighted/warned about for years.

Mike: We do see decent numbers on Google’s Insights product but it is so limited, unreliable and quirky (and it’s impossible to do comparisons), that we really can’t get meaningful numbers there. Google just upgraded their Insights product but it continues not to provide real information. Maybe someday it will.

That being said, calls and driving directions are strong sources and when combined with web traffic point to Google’s dominance for the next period of time….

David: For sure. You’d think that Google would put a little more energy into making the dollars-and-cents case to SMB’s with Insights. They’re so far behind Facebook and Yelp in this regard. Yelp’s estimated leads and sales figures are totally bogus but at least directionally they speak to what someone like Barbara cares about.

Google’s always had the disadvantage of being a more complex and opaque product than Facebook, but it feels like they’ve made almost zero progress on this front in the last eight years.

Mike: Man, we could talk for ages on the ages that Google has spent making, breaking and throwing away SMB products…so back to the topic.

A real black hole though is what Apple is sending that isn’t going through Google. About 50% of her traffic is now mobile and 75% of that is from Apple. Don’t Android users search the web?

But if I had to put a number on it, she’s is getting good local traffic from Apple. Starting in 2012 she started focusing on Yelp as a way to improve her Apple standing and that seems to have paid off.

So where are we? Has it fragmented enough that most SMB’s can reduce their reliance on Google? Or because of Google’s complexity, many of them currently DON’T focus on Google and just take what they get?

David: Well, I don’t know that I’ll ever advise an SMB to ignore Google completely. I mean Barbara is still getting 80% of her traffic from them. My prediction for 2020 has been that Google and Facebook-owned properties each send about 30-40%, and Apple and others make up the remaining 30-40%.

But the days where organic visibility in Google can increase business by 3x in four years are quickly slipping over the horizon.

Mike: 4 years…that’s three Google Local branding exercises from now. 🙂 I agree that the big 3 or 4 will dominate, and your numbers are as good of prediction as one can make that far out in this industry. Certainly the cost of achieving success in the Local Pack has gotten more expensive and the ROI on paid solutions will continue to improve in a relative sense.

I think that next time we need to explore the opportunities in the post-sale funnel which is where I see the best ROI for the foreseeable future.

David: Agreed! Looking forward to it.

Got an idea for what you want Mike and David to discuss next time? Send it to either davidmihm@gmail.com or mike@blumenthals.com, or just leave a comment below and we’ll put it in the hopper!

  1. August 23, 2016

    Mike & David. This is seriously fantastic commentary dialog. Love it! Awesome way to talk through the value lifecycle with a bit-o-history and foreshadowing. Looking forward to the banter on post-sales which I presume might also cover retargeting and possibly paid ads.

  2. perryevans
    August 23, 2016

    Good stuff, as always, guys. When you measure “local traffic” I presume the lens is traffic to the SMB website? If this is the case, I’d make the case that you’re missing a [potentially] meaningful chunk of user behavior. When a Yelp profile is completely “filled out” or a FB page is complete and users are showing active engagement, many consumers are making decisions to visit or call without feeling the need to visit the business’ website. Is this captured in your metrics view? I suspected not, given the way you explained the 80% Google and Yelp being so small.

  3. david
    August 23, 2016

    I’d like to comment on this from the perspective of SEO and business operator (several smb’s). In many cases tracking for ROI HAS to work back from the POINT OF SALE. That could be more true from services (sort of like Barbara) than selling on the web (whether local or not).

    The big news, using Barbara Oliver as the example, is that sales tripled in the last 4 years. That is GREAT NEWS. Then the business has to work backwards…not trying to tie web analytics into that.

    One way: What is the lead total? She knows that. Or can know that if she tracks. NO analytics program will be able to discern that. If phone calls come in….how would any analytics program discern, unless it can capture EVERY CALL from every device and simultaneously assign it to a web view at the moment.
    You can’t tell!!!!

    So she and staff can ask on the phone how people learned of her services. If not….you just lost the best way to track leads and sources.

    Who is doing the buying? Are they new customers or repeat customers? Is that changing. Is she selling more items, or is she selling more expensive items (or both). Are old customers referring new customers directly. Are the tremendous reviews generating those new leads and ultimately sales.

    Someone can search for her business by name, see and read the knowledge box. Call her. In those cases you have ZERO references from any kind of web data. ZERO. I’m sure that occurs a lot. I answer the phones at more than one of our smbs. WE get those. They haven’t clicked on the site. They see the KB, see the phone number and call. NO WEB DATA. So much for working back from the web data we receive.

    BTW: There are plenty of analyses and studies that suggest that Knowledge Boxes/Panels CUT web traffic from google. Plenty of them. So if google traffic is down…that could be one reason for drops in google traffic. It doesn’t mean that google searches are down. It means that you aren’t receiving the clicks. But you might be getting the searches. Even more telling you might be getting RECOVERY Name searches…and you aren’t seeing any of the web analytics data of any sort.

    In her case, if she isn’t gathering data at the point of calls…analysis is VERY DIFFICULT and entirely speculative.

    Even if she hasn’t gathered the data as to sources of leads, she still has other data that could be mined.

    She has sales invoices. At the very least she can look at NEW CUSTOMERS versus repeat customers. If the uptick in sales volumes and # of customers started occurring 4 years ago…and those customers that were new then are now repeat customers….and the uptick was because of increased web visibility…wow…that is interesting. It implies that the increased web visibility brought them in and her great service and products made them happy and has continued to make them happy.

    Our experiences are simply that no matter how much data we receive on the web it misses when it comes to sales…and for us to understand it better and to eliminate the weak points and emphasize the strong points we need to buttress that info with actual point of sale or follow up to get better more relevant data.

    But what the heck. David: Congrats on the Hole In ONE

  4. Fun reading the back and forth – thanks guys 🙂

  5. August 24, 2016

    Another great discussion guys!

    What I’ve been attempting to do is get help/buy in from clients in order to effectively track sales/new clients. I can do all of the analytic/form/call tracking I want but that won’t provide a good ROI because I don’t know who the new clients are. I can tell you who called and when or who filled out a form, but did that turn into cash for the client? There needs to be a partnership with the client in order to track a lead all the way through the funnel to a cash sale/client. It is easier said than done but Im making it a work in progress.

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