What’s the Relative Impact of Google My Business vs. Websites on Conversion?
David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal consider a new framework to address a nuanced question.
David: Hey, Mike. I’m just back from a terrific LSA annual conference. Not least due to the venue—it was nice to get some Vitamin D in Southern California for a couple of days. Been a long, dark winter for us in the Northwest this year.
Mike: Sounds nice. I could use a little sun right now. I am in Sioux Falls speaking at the TrendDigital conference and, even though I am from Buffalo and used to the cold, it’s even colder here.
David: Greg Sterling always does a great job programming these events, but this year’s content was particularly strong. Lots of relatively tactical panels around both SEO and the Google ecosystem more broadly.
I was relieved not to prepare a presentation this year, but Greg spotted me in the audience for a panel with our friends Joy Hawkins and Andrew Shotland alongside Florian Hubner of Uberall and Lance Bachmann of 1SEO.
Greg quasi-facetiously made the remark, “Well, David Mihm would say that websites don’t matter anymore; everything’s happening on GMB.” While I had a brief chance to correct the record, it just struck me that the relationship between websites and Google My Business is maybe a little more nuanced than a 10-second back-and-forth really allows.
Mike: Local has always been nuanced, and given Google’s cloak-and-dagger around ranking, the relationship between the website and Local ranking, the site’s relationship to the Knowledge Graph and their strategic goals, it can be confusing to many. And our industry tends to want cut-and-dry answers that they can then cookie-cut into a profit.
David: To be fair to Greg, I don’t think he was actually expecting a cut-and-dry answer, but I take your point.
My standard soundbite I repeated during the session is that we should start thinking of local business websites more and more as a data source for Google and less and less as a consumer destination.
That’s been my philosophy since early 2015, and the data from Rand Fishkin and Jumpshot is certainly starting to bear that out — three-fifths of searches on mobile devices (which have the strongest local intent) are “zero-click” searches. Google is giving more and more searchers exactly what they want directly on the SERP.
But there are certainly a number of variables that play into the value of a website.
Mike: Obviously you and I both think that websites are a critical piece of the SMB marketing pie. That being said, its role has been changing, AND it often varies by industry as to the function it plays in conversions for local.
David: Yes, the industry specificity is a really key nuance here. At LSA, I brought up your case study of the sources of Barbara Oliver’s (brick-and-mortar retail) leads as an example of where the power of GMB really shines.
Lance countered with that power being less dramatic in home-service businesses … and while I was skeptical of that claim, it wasn’t really appropriate to back up my skepticism as a non-panelist!
Mike: Key Performance Indicators need to be defined, and they vary by industry. They matter. For someone like Barbara Oliver, driving directions are a hugely valuable KPI. Much less so for the services arena where I would think that a phone call does the trick.
David: Right, and I would expect a well-optimized GMB profile in-home services to drive quite a lot of phone calls:
- Reviews are obviously a key factor in consumer decision-making in these categories.
- There’s plenty of opportunity for before-and-after photos, or videos of project work.
- Contractors have the ability to highlight recent projects with Google Posts.
Google’s full-court press on Local Service Ads indicates to me that they feel Home Services is a strong direct-response category where the consumer only needs a little bit of structured information on the SERP in order to make a decision and contact the business.
Mike: The consumer is on a journey and is close to making a decision when they are seeing you on Google. Whether they make it at the Business Profile on Google or at the website, it is imperative that your profile at Google has enough information to confer trust. Otherwise, the end user will just move on to the next profile and never make it to your site.
Whether the ratio of on-Google Knowledge Panel to website conversions is 70/30 (like with Barbara) or reversed and is 30/70, the business still needs the profile to compete effectively against all others that the consumer might choose at Google.
David: Totally agree. And one of the major contributing factors in your GMB profile showing up in the first place, and giving you a chance to earn that initial trust, is the information you provide Google on your website. We’re now seeing Google pulling more and more snippets from websites directly into the 3-pack (see image below).
Joy Hawkins mentioned on the LSA panel that her agency has plenty of data around the power of on-site changes influencing 3-pack or Local Finder positioning.
I also wouldn’t disagree with Lance that a website might be closer to that 30/70 in more knowledge-heavy categories. I’m probably not going to hire a lawyer to handle complex business litigation without taking a pretty deep dive onto her website, even though I would (and did recently) hire a plumber purely based on his review presence, business description, and availability.
Mike: We have, though, been seeing a transition across different industries, and as Google gets more sophisticated, users will start making different decisions. I received a call from a multi-location storage company whose phone was ringing off the hook, but their web traffic was down. They were surprised that almost all of that difference was accounted for by their GMB stats for phone calls.
David: I haven’t necessarily seen a growing business where web traffic was down, but certainly flat—with the increase in business due almost entirely to GMB.
Lance’s comment got me thinking: We probably should be developing a logical framework to help our peers understand our more nuanced view of the place of the website in this ecosystem.
Mike: There is certainly a continuum of needs among businesses in terms of conversion that the Knowledge Panel might or might be able to solve. For Barbara Oliver, there is nothing more important than a new potential customer getting driving directions and walking in her door. And a spa business, with the big Call-to-Action now presented in the Knowledge Panel to book, probably needs to be concerned with converting the searcher right then and there.
But the plumber is looking for a phone call, and the doctor is looking for an appointment. Of those the plumber’s client might or might not find enough at Google to make the call, but almost all of the doctor’s potential patients need to to go on to the website to make the appointment.
David: It feels like there are two axes, then, for this framework:
- Depth of Knowledge Required (Surface-level -> Deep)
- KPI type (Driving Directions → Phone → Simple Scheduling → Complex scheduling)
What do you think?
Mike: I like it as a framework! It would be interesting from others what percentage of conversions they see in different industries to gut check the chart.
The other axis in the diagram might be the constant state of changes at Google and the way that users respond to them. Things like Google delivering more and more answers and users searching with smaller and smaller interfaces. It is a moving target, and while the diagram should be useful, we all have to be aware that things can and will change.
One can only assume that Google is working to solve ever more complex use cases for conversion on the Knowledge Panel … so the need for a website visit today may be the newest CTA at Google tomorrow.
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.