David: Well, Mike, here we are in our last conversation of 2018. The year has really flown by! Hard to believe the Street Fight show was 11 months ago. Now that I’m with ThriveHive, it feels like I am entering a new decade in 2019.
Mike: It’s been quite a year for me as well. Although one good thing about this time of year is that soon, very soon, the days will start getting longer. And I can’t wait. It’s been a dark and dismal fall in these parts.
David: Given that our readers probably want to get back to their families and presents as quickly as possible, let’s get to the point.
Last time we spoke about the need for our lens of ranking factors to evolve. We talked about extending that conversation this week into toolsets. Perhaps we can spark an idea in some aspiring SaaS entrepreneur for 2019.
Mike: I am up for that! If you treat local search exactly like organic search, you end up missing the forest for the trees. This is true of both the tools and the tactics needed to succeed. While local ranking at Google has the DNA of organic, the evolution to the Knowledge Graph has added new ways to understand businesses as entities.
David: Let’s start there.
Local was the canary in the coal mine for RankBrain, but it feels like this shift in a tool mindset could and should actually apply to SEO more broadly.
Moz’s Dr. Pete is now reporting Knowledge Panels on 42% of search results. Few people in our industry would have believed the percentage would ever be that high in the early days of Hummingbird, RankBrain, etc., let alone within a few short years.
And yet the best proxy for entity authority that we have continues to be the link graph—which makes no sense when you’re talking about Things instead of websites.
Over the past 18 months, my pal Matthew Brown and I have indulged in a handful of IPA-fueled thought experiments around “how would you do competitive SERP research in the absence of backlink analysis?” but they haven’t yielded any foolproof product ideas.
Mike: Where is the Majestic / aHrefs / Moz Pro for entity analysis? It would require much additional testing and modeling, but understanding entity relevance and authority beyond just the link graph would be incredibly helpful.
David: There’s also the question of Entity engagement (which I argue is, or at least will be, a critical piece of rankings moving forward).
Once you rank, even just for your own business name, what does that search result look like? Is it compelling enough to attract searchers to spend more time learning about you, or to place a call or request driving directions from your Knowledge Panel?
This is the kind of question our ThriveHive Google My Business Grader assesses, but our team would readily admit there are plenty of additional areas to explore and innovate within that conceptual framework.
Mike: I would agree with you on the idea of tools that measure conversion optimization, and your Grader does that.
Going one step beyond Knowledge Panel assessment for an entity might be automating what the Local U’s Google Brand Score assessment survey does.
By assessing a broader understanding of how Google views a given local brand, you’re better able to reflect the “digital soul” of a given business / location. By looking at both the Knowledge Panel and the organic results, you can provide a business a framework for improvements that are likely to affect conversion across the board on all searches.
It is something that could and should be automated by some tool company. The tool could also track changes and improvements over time.
David: We’ll get right on that ;).
I agree with you (and folks like Miriam Ellis and Mono Solutions) that website results are not going away, even if they’re being demoted at an accelerating rate. How your own website appears—and other websites that reference your brand—not only influences consumer perception but also drives a meaningful percentage of conversions.
Mike: Absolutely. The website does and will play a critical role in local as we saw in the excellent research from Colan Nielsen of Sterling Sky around how proximity affects local 3-pack rankings for law firms.
But we need to better understand the role of the website in the context of all of the other ways that an entity can achieve higher authority from things like “super” citations and reviews.
David: Well, rankings on third-party review sites, like the ones from (y)our Yelp case study, are another area for new local tools to explore. Identifying how prominent an entity is on major review or directory sites, particularly by industry, has a major influence on rankings.
The ability to assess your own prominence on these sites, as well as your competitors’ prominence, would certainly help inform your overall local SEO strategy.
Mike: Absolutely. There is a lot of work ahead but no time like the present to get started.
Finally, there is the need for better tools that show the impact of location on ranking. While we haven’t seen any solid Entity ranking tools, we are just starting to see some Local tools that are showing the incredible nuance of how a business rank can change over distance. Local Falcon was the first of these tools, although I see that Pleper has just released a similar product to beta.
These tools, while informative, end up only analyzing rank in Google Maps and still don’t really show that detail for the Local Pack.
David: Proximity to searcher is either the #1 local ranking factor (simple view), or an entire mode of the multi-modal algorithm (complex view).
A tool that accounts for its degree of influence by category and location—and a business’s ability to supersede a disadvantageous location and still rank for competitive phrases—would be really helpful for marketers.
Mike: Local is a complicated world that is not currently served well by the tools of the organic world. The end of the year and the start of a new one is a great time to get folks thinking about how they might address this hole in our tool sets.
And as you pointed out, tools that work well for local could also be used in a broader understanding of a whole range of entities. Entity search is the future of search, and we would all be served by better tools.
After more than a decade in local search, David Mihm now serves as VP of Product Strategy at ThriveHive, leading the direction of the company’s search-related product offerings. He’s also the Founder & CEO of Tidings, an email newsletter platform for small businesses that leverages their everyday social media activity, and his own weekly newsletters, Minutive and the Agency Insider. He’s the former founder of GetListed.org, Director of Local Strategy at Moz, and along with Mike, he’s a co-founder of Local University.