Google’s Local Business Dashboard is Borderline Useless

Filed in Google, Local Search, MY BEST POSTS by Matt McGee on August 12, 2009 23 Comments

LBC logoI think it’s terrific that Google is showing analytics-style data in the Local Business Center (LBC). This has been available for a couple months now, and I’m glad it’s there. Any idea that gives small businesses more information to understand their online marketing efforts should be commended. But while the idea is great, Google’s execution is poor and makes the data borderline useless.

Google shows impressions (how many times your listing appeared in Google or Google Maps search results) and actions (how many times they clicked for more info or clicked to your web site). Those are all fine and good, but they offer no context without strong keyword data — they offer nothing by themselves that you can act on. But Google is falling down on the keyword data, so it all becomes data for data’s sake. What good is marketing data if you can’t act on it?

Where Google Went Wrong

The mistake Google made is that it pre-washed the keyword data that’s available in the Local Business Center. Google took away the most actionable, informative, and helpful parts of the data and isn’t showing it in the dashboard. Google explains what they did in the (new) August LBC newsletter: (emphasis is mine)

To protect any potentially personally identifiable information, queries with a very low search volume are put into the “other” category, and we filter addresses out of the queries (for example, if someone searched for “bakery near 5873 Maple Ave,” you would only see the “bakery” term.)

This is local search, folks. LOCAL. It’s all about location. What good is data if the addresses are removed from the keywords that people used to find your business listing? What’s happening is that people are finding you by searching for things like “Italian restaurant Spokane” or “Topeka injury lawyer”, but Google isn’t telling you that. All you’re getting is the “Italian restaurant” and “injury lawyer” part. How can you do anything with this data if you don’t know what locations were searched on when your business listing showed up in Google’s search results?

What This Looks Like

As you probably know, my wife is a real estate agent. She works with Windermere Real Estate and covers the Tri-Cities metro area, which includes numerous cities: Richland, Pasco, Kennewick, West Richland, Benton City, Finley, Burbank, and to a lesser degree, Prosser, Connell, and a few other towns, too. There are a lot of city names people might use when searching, not to mention the more generic “tri-city” or “tri-cities” type of keywords.

As a small business owner, Cari would sure as heck like to know what cityname keywords bring up her business listing on Google and Google Maps. But what do we see in the LBC dashboard? At the risk of giving away too much to the other local real estate agents that read this blog, we see this:

LBC data

Aside from the fact that she gets a lot of visibility on agency-related terms, this tells me nothing. I know nothing about the local search terms that are working for her. Result #1 – “windermere” what? Richland? Kennewick? Tri-Cities? Result #3 – “realtors” where? Pasco? West Richland? It’s useless.

riverfront parkI’d especially like to know more about the specifics surrounding query #8 on that image. Riverfront Park is in Spokane, and has nothing to do with Cari’s real estate business whatsoever. Or maybe it’s Riverfront Park in Denver. Or South Carolina. Or Tampa. Or Nashville. Is something in our listing triggering Spokane-related searches to show her listing? Denver-related searches? I’d love to know, but Google is keeping that information from me.

Even Google’s own example above, from what I quoted: “…if someone searched for “bakery near 5873 Maple Ave,” you would only see the “bakery” term…” How on earth is that helpful? I bet that bakery would love to know that people are using such detailed, long-tail searches to find a bakery — and that its own listing is being shown when they do.

Google’s Explanation

Mike Blumenthal did an interview with Google’s Carter Maslan when these stats were added to the LBC a couple months ago. Hats off to Carter for answering Mike’s questions, but the explanation left much to be desired:

MB: None of the “Top Search Queries” reported back include geo modifiers. Is that information not being shown? Or is it that the general terms with the out the geo phrase generates so much more traffic?

CM: Our report just includes the what part of the querie and and we are then summarizing the results with the where part of the querie. So the where part whether implied or stated are noted the same.

If I’m reading that correctly, all of the “where” parts of a query are being combined when shown in the LBC stats. So, not only do I not know what cityname is being searched with “real estate” when Cari’s listing shows, but I’m also seeing all citynames combined into one line on the chart. So, that #5 result above, “real estate” is combination of “Kennewick real estate” and “Pasco real estate” and “Richland real estate” and any other possible combination?

Again, I ask: How is this useful?

And don’t even get me started on Google’s need to “protect privacy” on the lowest 20% of searches (also in Mike’s interview) and roll them all into the Other category.

Am I Wrong?

I’ll stop there. Am I wrong that this data is borderline useless? Carter ends that interview by saying this local data “will offer huge benefits to the small business person.” I’m not seeing it. If I’m wrong, I’d love to know. If you’re a small business owner or a local search marketer, what are you doing with this data? What are you doing that’s useful to your local marketing efforts?

Comments are open.

Comments (23)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. This is typical of Google. Roll out something without really thinking it through. Local search is all about localized keywords not broad.

  2. Good point Matts.

    I would also agree that the argument about “protecting privacy” is suspect. I have accounts that have very little traffic and thus some of the top 10 queries have only 1 result. Why can they show in that situation but not others?

    Showing the details of the long tail would add some value to the report and even if the phrases were listed without counts or in some summary fashion.

  3. Mike Bunnell says:

    If someone uses his own address in a search and I get an organic click from that, Google passes that query to me… why not do that here too?!

  4. David Mihm says:

    Matt, I agree with you about 50% of the way. I don’t think the data is totally useless, because it does begin to get SMB’s acclimated to the idea of keywords and actions…which will bode well for the curious ones who want to learn more about SEO or paid search as a result of seeing them. But as far as being actionable in-and-of itself, you’re right that it’s pretty much useless. The only thing it really tells you is/are possible generic phrases to check manually where the 10-pack may be showing up.

    I assume that you’ve seen Mike Belasco & Mary Bowling’s amazing series on tracking LBC clicks using Google Analytics? It’s obviously asking a lot for Google to make that a one-click process for SMB’s but some sort of tighter integration with ACTUAL Google Analytics would definitely be nice.

  5. Matt McGee says:

    I’m with you on the privacy thing, Mike, 100%. It makes no sense. They don’t hide any of this “possibly personal information” in Google Analytics, so why hide it in the LBC?

    David – I have seen that series, and enjoyed it. But I disagree with you that it’s asking a lot for Google to simplify this for SMBs. These are all Google’s own products we’re talking about. It’s all internal stuff. It’s ridiculous that Google’s own analytics software can’t easily tell you if a click came from the 10-pack, 3-pack or where. And it’s ridiculous that you can’t get this same data in the LBC. Dad always told me, “If you’re gonna do something, do it right.” Wish someone would tell Google that.

  6. Dave Oremland says:

    I’m pretty much in agreement, Matt, and voiced these sentiments very early on after looking at the dashboard stats.

    One funny thing about the weird long tail phrases such as Riverfront Park; Do an advanced search with the name of the firm and Riverfront Park in parentheses. You will probably find some strange data source that is supplying that “connection”.

    I suppose it gives new users “some perspective”. I’d much rather rely on keyword research. Its far more meaningful.

    ….and one funny other perspective, for one business we have it is showing initials for the state search….LOL….missed that one Google ;)

  7. Jim Knox says:

    I agree, Google did not think this through. There may be a chance that with enough pressure they will modify this stance. Obviously, it is a “I-D-10T” programing error on their part.

  8. Adam Dorfman says:

    I agree that the data is pretty much useless for those of us who already understand local search and the benefits of it. For our SMB clients, however, having the impression and action data is useful. Tracking local search optimization results is inherently difficult (tagging the links & trackable phone numbers can cause data integrity issues) but showing our clients that their LBC listing is showing up 100X more often after we optimize it is a very useful statistic.

  9. Mike Bunnell says:

    I guess we can give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they are rolling this out basically in alpha and will continue to refine, taking user input into account…

    but seriously, no “export to CSV” on the reporting page? really?

    ironically, no “beta” tag on the logo…

  10. Miriam says:

    I totally agree, Matt. Location is the one thing that has always been missing from kw research tools and it’s the thing we need the most in Local. Here’s my vote for giving us the kw data raw, not pre-washed.

  11. Gene says:

    Am I wrong? YES, you are wrong.

    Unless I am missing something here it seems blatantly obvious that someone doesn’t understand that the analytics report is tied to a local listing that has a particular city in it. The report is giving you the impressions for keywords tied to your city. This may come in the form of a city name being typed in or the city that the IP address is registered in.

    So when you want to know which city these keywords are associated with you need to look at the city that appears in the listing.

    Gene
    Local Search Guy

  12. Mike Bunnell says:

    Gene -

    You’re pretty off base here; there are generally several – possibly a couple dozen – geomodifiers that can cause any particular listing to show up. Of course every listing contains a city value, but it also contains a ZIP Code value, and Google is smart enough to show your listing on searches where the city or ZIP of your listing is in close proximity to – but not exactly matching – the city or ZIP of the query.

    Which is exactly Matt’s point; what is the distribution of these geovariations across my impressions and clicks?

  13. ian says:

    sounds like the keyword conspiracy is alive and well, and very possible correct!

  14. killy says:

    i agree that the data is pretty much useless, thanks for the info.

  15. mati says:

    Actually i didnt used this data so far, but its incredible for me to cut such data and to give it the users of google tools. Really strange if done intentionally, otherwise is just an error google probably tries to fakely explain meanwhile working on it.

  16. Stever says:

    I can kind of see the privacy issue for some types of search terms. The “bakery near 5873 Maple Ave” example in particular. They are likely looking for a bakery near their own home address, that’s personal. And it would be just too ripe for marketer abuse. Ok Google, strip the street addresses but keep other broader geo-locators such as city names and zip codes, those are not personal.

    As for if someone uses their address to generate an organic click, sure Google will pass that, but who is searching like that? Only maps really has the functionality to take that search query and deliver a result that may be near a location, so bit of a mute point that in organic it would pass the full query.

  17. Gene says:

    Mike,

    Google Local doesn’t search according to zip (unless someone searches for a keyword and zip) it searches according to city name. I have done countless tests of my own in San Diego which is a city that contains many over a dozen zip codes.

    Not only that but the all you have to do is a ranking report with the city and key phrase to see where your impressions are coming from.

    While ranking results can bleed into surrounding cities this is the exception and not the rule.

    Gene

  18. Mike Bunnell says:

    Gene –

    Not exactly sure what you’re saying here… city is certainly a ranking factor and a major one, but Google Maps (Google Local > Google Maps 3+ years ago) doesn’t “search according to city name”.

    If you want to get right down to it, the geographic unit that GM uses it lat/long pairs; any geographic element in your search (city, zip, landmark, address, etc.) is geocoded into a lat/long pair. Any business listing in the database has been geocoded into a lat/long pair.

    When you do a search, a whole bunch of ranking factors (proximity as determined by lat/long, city name, keywords, number of reviews for the listing, etc.) are run through the algorithm and the results are generated.

    What you’re seeing is based on city name being a strong ranking factor. But it’s not the only one; part of our job as local search marketers is understanding all of the dynamics and behaviors (both consumer and search engine) that are going on in a certain market. To say it’s all about the city that your listing is in really misses the boat. People cross city lines to visit local businesses, so analyzing the raw query data can give you great insights into the local dynamics for your business.

  19. John says:

    I thought I struck gold when I started using this for a client. Then, I actually checked the data, couldn’t share it, couldn’t transfer the business to another person and couldn’t export the data.

    Useless.

  20. You and Blumenthal bring up some excellent points… It could definitely see some improvement

  21. Jacob Stoops says:

    I agree. I believe that the stuff they’re giving is ok, but it seems like they’re cutting the fat where it shouldn’t be cut. They’re lumping all the long-tailed stuff (which is more highly-targeted) together for no good reason at all.

  22. Joaquin Jimenez says:

    Matt,

    I agree on your point that the data provided by Google in the LBC is useless for a Search Marketer because the data is not actionable. The privacy claim is not consistent with how Google handles their analytics.

    The data is clearly woefully insufficient. However, for the average SMB who is new to the online landscape the data shows the beginning of action and value. The SMB cares about visits and phone calls. As the SMB gains exposure to the data and expectations change they will quickly become dissatisfied with the data and come to expect more. Hopefully more is provided sooner rather than later. Google seems to be taking an introductory approach. It will be interesting to see what they do with the data in the coming months.

  23. O.O.B. says:

    Let me tell you a story of how Google local put me in debt. First we have to go back… 2 years ago, Google gave my Local Business listing the #1 place for my service and location. Today, I wished they never had and here’s why:

    Finlly, people that were searching for my services were finding me- and rightfully so! After all, I’m not only the best on my location, but one of the best in my industry, credited with multiple awards and years of expertise. At the time, I was so happy with Google that I would have kissed their shoes. They gave me the means to connect with clients where my limited resources could not.

    My home business grew to more than I could handle by myself. I needed to hire help, but to do so, I needed to get an office. I hired an attorney to draft up a business plan and we shopped it to the banks. Our pitch was simple “We need this much to expand- we’re making twice as much so it won’t be hard to pay back.” The loan was approved.

    I paid thousands for all the right licensing, hired 2 employees and moved into a warehouse. As sales increased and I expanded my inventory. Here’s where it turns bad:

    We moved into a warehouse lot with similar businesses. We all shared the same street address but different suites. One day, callers started complaining about products that we didn’t even carry and services that we didn’t perform. Turns out, one of our competitors had managed to rack up multiple negative reviews on his Google local listing and it had somehow MERGED with our listing.

    Now, dealing with damage control isn’t so tough. We explained to callers that they had the wrong number and gave them the correct one. The icing on the cake- when our business came to a screeching halt- was when we found that our phone number was nowhere to be seen. No one called for our business. To put it lightly, our phone lines had become the enemy.

    For nearly 2 months, we struggled with finding new customers. We passed out flyers but that proved to be ineffective. We heavily relied on Craigslist advertising. In fact, that was our ONLY source of revenue.

    Google was no help. They would not even entertain the idea of listening to us. What baffled me the most was how a company that employs 20,000 people (that’s right, twenty-thousand) didn’t have a single person to answer the phone. Here’s Google’s phone number, call them and ask them about anything and see what happens: (650) 253-0000. They will shut you down like a light.

    Like a broken record, Google’s android receptionists repeatedly chanted the anthem of: “We do not offer tech support for ‘free services’. We do not offer tech support for ‘free services’. We do…” Ok, as a professional I can understand that a business would not give free support for a free service, but I was willing to PAY. Alas, there was no one at Google that would take my money. Then I remembered that I had paid Google thousands of dollars in Adwords, a $21 Billion dollar company and they couldn’t help me.

    Finally, I ended up deleting my Google Local listing. I created a new one and waited a week for my conformation code. After verifying the code I searched daily for my listing to appear. About a week later I found it… It was on page 4. I’m sure you can figure out what happened in the proceeding weeks. We liquidated.

    There’s an old proverb: “Don’t put your eggs into one basket”… Whether that’s true or not, I know that basket is not Google.

    Thanks for debt,
    Out Of Business

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *