How Reliable Are Google My Business Insights?

How Reliable Are Google My Business Insights?
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Ever reported local business online performance using data from across the Google suite and found major discrepancies? Here contributor Gyi Tsakalakis takes a look at how reliable this data is, and how SEOs can safeguard against inaccurate reporting.

For local businesses, Google My Business (GMB) just might be the single most valuable online marketing tool. However, despite many upgrades, the data in the GMB dashboard (particularly: Insights > Customer actions > Call you) seems inconsistent with other sources. Let’s explore what’s going on here.

Has It Ever Seemed like Google My Business Insights Data Isn’t Quite Right?

Before we dive in, a few notes, caveats, and disclaimers.

Comparing data from different sources is fraught with challenges and limitations. This is particularly true with data provided to us by our good friends at Google. In my humble opinion, at least some of these issues would be resolved with more light shed in how this data is generated and more specificity about what these metrics mean. This is particularly true of Search Console and Google My Business (Google Analytics gets a pass).

In addition to the opacity of the data, we must also confront issues related to data scarcity. Put simply, the numbers in my examples are tiny.

Furthermore, in order to isolate variables, I’ve had to make some assumptions, use parameters, and do some filtering. Put simply, my methodology increases the probability of disparity of the data.

So, with the acknowledgement that these comparisons aren’t apples to apples and certainly not scientific, let’s take a peek.

How Reliable is GMB’s ‘Visits to Your Website’?

The first metric we’ll examine is GMB’s Visits to Your Website. According to Google:

Customer actions

This section shows how customers behave after they found your listing on Google. The graph shows how many customers completed the following types of actions when viewing your listing:

  • Visit your website: A customer views your website. Displays as “Website actions” on bulk reports.
  • Request directions: A customer requests directions to your business. Displays as “Directions actions” on bulk reports.
  • Call you: A customer calls your business. Displays as “Phone call actions” on bulk reports.
  • Total actions: The total customer actions for website, directions, and phone.

To view how many customers did on a specific action and day:

  • Select the day you’re interested in. (Desktop: Place your cursor over the day. / Mobile: Tap on the day.)
  • To the right of the graph, click checkboxes to turn on and off filters.

For our purposes, I’m counting Visit your website as a click and a session. Admittedly, these aren’t exactly the same things. (And I’m sure you’ll be more than happy to point this out in the comments below!) Nevertheless, let’s have a look.

In order to make as good a comparison as I could, I’ve attempted to isolate home page visits from our Google My Business listing. To accomplish this, I’ve filtered down to the home page URL that contains the GMB UTM parameter. In other words, for Search Console and Google Analytics, we’re only looking at data for the URL that appears in our Google My Business listing.

Google My Business Customer Actions: Visit your website 3/13/18 – 6/11/18

GMB Customer Actions Visit Your Website

Google Search Console: Total Clicks 3/13/18 – 6/11/18

Google Search Console Total Clicks

Google Analytics: Users, New Users, and Sessions 3/13/18 – 6/11/18

Google Analytics Users, New Users, and Sessions

If we put this data into a single chart, we get:

Clicks / Sessions / Visit your website
Search Console67
Google Analytics105
GMB Insights75

 

Frankly, this seems pretty darn good. Which isn’t terribly surprising since Mike Blumenthal produced similar results about a year ago.

However, as Mike asks:

“Does a strong showing in one area (web visits) mean that the other areas like click to calls and driving directions can be trusted?”

Great question. Now, let’s look at click to calls.

How reliable is GMB’s ‘Call you’?

Google says that ‘Call you’ shows the number of times a customer calls your business after they found your listing on Google. This has been generally assumed to mean a click to call on a GMB listing. After all, how else could Google track calls to that number (feel free to let me have it in the comments)?

In order to compare, we used a dedicated call tracking number in our GMB listing. Here are the results:

First-time Calls Tracked17
GMB Call you2

 

Yes, small data, I know. I encourage you to share yours.

Hopefully, it’s intuitive to you that the main source of this discrepancy is most likely related to desktop calls that aren’t tracked in GMB. Wouldn’t it be awesome if Google implemented dynamic call tracking in GMB listings? Admittedly, awesome for business owners and marketers, perhaps much less awesome for users.

My colleague, Brian Barwig, has also shared some of his findings on Twitter.

Sterling Sky’s Colan Nielsen also points out that:

So, What Should We Do?

If absolutely nothing else, this post serves as a reminder of how imperative it is to understand the limitations of the tools and data at our disposal. My hope is that it plays even a tiny role in bringing more attention to the lack of transparency and documentation of Google My Business data. Here are a few more things to think about relating GMB Insights data:

  1. Make fewer unfounded assumptions! GMB Insights data certainly isn’t worthless. However, you also shouldn’t rely solely on it to make decisions and draw conclusions. Regardless of the raw numbers, depending on your business, it may be a useful tool to track directional changes relating to local visibility and customer engagement.
  2. If you’re inclined to report on this data, you’d better spend some considerable time educating your audience (whether it’s your boss or your client) about exactly what these metrics mean. Furthermore, where you can, you should report on a variety of data sources.
  3. If you’re able, download your Insights data (you may have to switch back to GMB classic). GMB Insights data via the dashboard is only available for up to the previous quarter. You can also retrieve location insights via the Google My Business API. If you’re not into ‘rolling your own’, consider using a tool that integrates with the Google My Business Insights API, like BrightLocal (no, they didn’t pay me to write that). For balance, Yext has this feature too.
  4. With respect to phone calls, I encourage you to explore using a dedicated call tracking number in your Google My Business listing, as well as your real local phone number in the ‘alternative number’ field. In my experience, this seems to be okay. However, don’t take my word for it; you should research and test this yourself!

Gyi Tsakalakis was once told that people would never use the internet to hire lawyers. Now he helps lawyers win clients from search. His companies, AttorneySync and EPL Digital are committed to bringing more agency-client trust to the search industry.

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8 thoughts on “How Reliable Are Google My Business Insights?”

  1. This is a great article on google my business. I always wonder if the data was accurate and your article brought more clarity to that. Thanks

  2. Hi Gyi, I have found that over the years, data such as website visits as reported in GMB v GA have converged, for my clients anyway. I think, even with a difference, perhaps more important is the trend over time in metrics rather then the discrepancy between platforms. I think that’s what you’re saying in point 1. Agree that it would be great to have more transparency from G though.

  3. Gyi: Nice balanced researched article. We consider GMB data soft or mushy. Maybe some of it is totally on target, maybe not. One has to stretch hard to work to confirm the numbers they provide as you demonstrated. There is no easy way to confirm the data.

    Google decides how much or little to send. They don’t describe the process. Its always a mystery and for all the years Google has been sending data to sites that register with GMB and all its named predecessors its always been a dark unexplained hole. No explanation.

    Should one depend on this data or not? I think you give a reasonable description on how to deal with the info.

    I’m going to add what I see as both SEO and operator of the business. Over time I’ve come to see that our own data is more productive than any web data provided by any source. The key is we know and understand our niches better than algo’s. We ultimately look at the large “sales funnel” in terms of things like leads and visibility (ie clicks to the website) as the very top of the funnel. We are focused on elements that get to the far more narrow bottom of the funnel that represents sales.

    We take all the data, such as GMB insights, Search Console (I tend to still call it webmaster tools), GA, analytics from an outside party. When folks interested in our services contact us via web forms or calls we generate our own data.

    Our data is more helpful and predictive to sales than any type of web generated data. We’ve been running these businesses since before the web; we’ve adjusted and tested web forms to generate better more helpful info. We’re always testing.

    Recently based on some things we’ve done we have immeasurably better insights on our industry and specific locations than we’ve ever had. By ever I mean in over 30 years. Neither GA, GMB, Search Console, any other web source or our contact management tools get close to giving us the data and understanding it that approximates our own insights into how the business/industry works and how to look at the sales funnel and do things that increase the size and width of the bottom of the sales funnel ie =SALES

    Thanks for the article. Well presented

    1. Gyi:

      On the one hand we look at all the web data we have. We do try and make sense of it. On the Google side GA, Webmaster Tools and GMB provide different data. Its confusing. Additionally, GA vs GMB provides two different sources of data. One of our types of SMB’s get reasonable and valuable organic/paid clicks that is not GMB related (no pacs/no maps) but local.

      We also check GA data against a free analysis tool and occasionally look at log files. We want to know if the data is reliable.

      Per your description above we have to work and stretch to determine if GMB data is at all reliable. The long history of Google Local data (GMB) is not good.

      Businesses should DEFINITELY review this information. Its their money on the line. SEO’s and marketing consultants should help them. (Its their reputation).

      As to our own information. We get lead information. It sits in a data base or contact management system. We can dice it, slice it etc. When we study it and reorganize it, let alone compare and contrast it we see far more insightful information that helps us with sales.

      BTW: Its not google’s business. They have zero to do with those insights.

      Our own data is more valuable to sales than web insights such as bounce rates, time on page, #of pages viewed, aggregated return visits, volume of people reading driving directions (how the hell do we know if this is accurate or not).

      We strive to make sales out of all of the insights (web and our own). More sales and we can eat steaks. Less sales and we lettuce and occasionally a meatball or two.

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