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 are Google My Business ‘Visits to Your Website’?
The first metric we’ll examine is GMB’s Visits to Your Website. According to Google:
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
Google Search Console: Total Clicks 3/13/18 – 6/11/18
Google Analytics: Users, New Users, and Sessions 3/13/18 – 6/11/18
If we put this data into a single chart, we get:
|Clicks / Sessions / Visit your website|
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 Tracked||17|
|GMB Call you||2|
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:
The other thing in misses out on is when somebody clicks on to your website from your knowledge panel and then calls you. You can definitely attribute that to GMB if you know how to set it up properly with call tracking
— Colan Nielsen (@ColanNielsen) 2 June 2018
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
For more information to help you understand your GMB Insights, explore our in-depth Google My Business Insights Study.