Keyword research in Local Search can be hard. When you’re working with small businesses you are often working with small sites with very limited data. Many of the popular keyword research tools show zero data or won’t allow you to get data specific to the city the business is targeting so people often default back to Google’s tools. In Local Search, there are two different places where you could look for this – Search Console and Google My Business (GMB) Insights. I wanted to see how these tools stack up against each other and if they essentially tell the same story.
- In this case study, 66% of the top 10 keyword lists for Search Console vs Google My Business Insights were different (click to Tweet)
- Search queries inside Google My Business Insights are reflecting unique users, unlike impressions in Search Console. (click to Tweet)
- 1 Quarter in GMB Insights is not real-time and doesn’t display data from the last 3 months. (click to Tweet)
- Search Console is not tracking impressions from the local pack that happen on mobile devices (click to Tweet)
- Search Console impression data includes searches done by rank trackers. Although one ranking report could trigger thousands of impressions in Search Console, it should only show up as 1 device/user inside Google My Business Insights. (click to Tweet)
- Explicit keywords (ex: “plumber Chicago”) do not convert better than implicit queries (ex: “plumber”) (click to Tweet).
In this case study, we looked at 78 different GMB listings for 29 different businesses. For each one, we took the top 10 queries inside Search Console for the last 3 months and compared it to what Google My Business Insights was showing for the last quarter.
Inside Search Console, we made sure to only look at the impressions that were for the page containing the UTM code.
- Near Me – These were queries that included “near me” or a close variant. For example, “divorce lawyer near me”.
- Branded – These were keywords that included the specific name of a local company or one of their employees/practitioners.
- Implicit Queries – These are search queries that are local in nature but don’t specify a specific location. For example, “divorce lawyer”.
- Explicit Queries – These were search queries that include a location. For example, “Divorce Lawyer Denver” or “Divorce Lawyer Colorado”.
Search Console top search queries are very different than what you’ll see in Google My Business Insights.
After compiling all the data, we found that 66% of the top 10 queries were different. For example, this was how the data differed for a plastic surgeon. There was only 1 keyword that was in both top-10 lists.
|Google My Business||Search Console|
|3||Lip Fillers||Dr Bradford Patt|
|4||Nose Job Houston||Lip Enhancements|
|5||Nose Surgery||Dr Patt|
|6||Lip Injections Houston||Bradford Patt|
|7||Botox||Facial Plastic Surgery Houston|
|8||Plastic Surgery Houston||Deviated Septum Doctor Houston|
|9||Lip Injections||Lip Enhancements Near Me|
|10||Lip Fillers Houston||Nose Reconstruction Houston|
This led me to want to dig into finding out why the lists differed so much and figure out which one was more accurate.
- Google My Business Insights Reports on Unique Users. Unlike any other metric available to us, search queries in GMB Insights represent unique visits. Technically, it might report on the same person twice if they’re using different devices, but at least it’s not going to increase the numbers when I search 10 different things on my computer while researching for a client. Impressions in Search Console, on the other hand, are not unique.
- 1 Quarter in GMB Insights is not the last 3 months.
The second reason why the data sets didn’t match is because 1 quarter in GMB Insights is not representing the last 3 months. I didn’t know this until recently when I started digging and found this example.
This screenshot for 1 quarter was pulled on May 13, 2020. It’s for a business that does lawn care in the summer and installs Christmas lights in the winter. Due to how much we monitor his website traffic, ads, and various other places, I’m extremely confident that massive searches for Christmas lights installation do not happen after Christmas is over. Also, common sense is helpful here. The last 3 months would be February – April if this was true. Additionally, I checked back on this several times over the course of a couple of weeks and the numbers didn’t update. Google doesn’t state how often they fetch these but they are not in real-time. The fact that I was looking at the last 3 months in Search Console and an undefined time period in GMB Insights is another explanation why these data sets didn’t match.
- Search Console is not tracking impressions from the local pack that happen on mobile devices.
This is a fact that many people don’t realize. Search Console is tracking everywhere your website appears whereas GMB Insights is tracking everywhere your GMB listing appears.
This becomes problematic when you realize that most local packs on mobile devices are missing the website icon, which essentially means all these searches/impressions will be missing in Search Console.
This causes even more of a discrepancy when you start to realize how different the algorithms are for local packs and organic search results. There are tons of keywords that rank businesses for one and not the other. For example, if you look at the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) for “Botox”, you’ll see that there is a local pack at the top but the rest of the search results are highly favoring national sites that no small business stands a shot competing with.
We also see that sometimes the local pack will show businesses local to that area but yet the organic results show businesses in the next town over. For example, when I search “car accident lawyer” from Aurora, ON, I get a local pack showing lawyers in Aurora but the organic results show me businesses in Toronto which is 40 minutes away.
We see this pattern more often with implicit queries so it wasn’t surprising to see that 40% of the search queries that were in our GMB list and missing from the Search Console list were implicit. According to our study, “Botox” was on the top 10 for the plastic surgeon in Google My Business and had 49 unique users, yet it wasn’t on the top 10 list from Search Console because it only had 18 impressions for 3 months. At first, this makes no sense until you realize that most of the impressions they are getting from this query are coming from local packs on mobile devices. According to Search Console, he’s getting 6x more clicks for “botox” queries on mobile devices.
Remember that the website icon isn’t appearing in local packs and he ranks nowhere organically. This means he’s only getting an impression logged if someone clicks on his listing (because at that point Google shows the website icon). It makes the CTR in Search Console for the GMB listing look ridiculous but it all makes sense once you realize that most of the mobile searches are simply not counting as impressions because the website icon isn’t present until the person clicks on the listing.
- Search Console is tracking impressions from ranking trackers. We realized this pretty quickly when diving into some data in Search Console. We have a particular client with an extremely large report that tracks tons of keywords from various geo-coordinates. Take a guess at which day the report runs:
Although one ranking report could trigger thousands of impressions in Search Console, it should only show up as 1 device/user inside Google My Business Insights. Darren Shaw, who operates a local search ranking tracker, confirmed that if you used a tracker that tracks both mobile and desktop, it might log as 2 in Google My Business Insights since there would be two different devices. From the case study, 40% of the top Search Console keywords that didn’t show up in Google My Business were explicit. I believe the reason for this is the local search community’s habit of focusing on these keywords. I generally hear things like “I don’t rank for ‘plumber Chicago'” a lot more than I hear “I don’t rank for ‘plumber'”. I think it’s possible that some people also assume that explicit keywords would convert better because they are more specific. That also turned out to be false according to our case study. When we dove into the Google Ads accounts for 15 of these businesses and looked at a sample of 894 conversions*, we found that implicit queries actually converted at a higher rate overall.
It also varied quite a bit across different clients, so it’s important to make sure you’re tracking and looking at both.
We learned a lot in this study but if you work in the local search industry, these should be your main takeaways:
- Search queries inside Google My Business insights is a valuable metric that should not be ignored.
- Search impressions inside Search Console should not be used as a method to pick keywords; use click data instead.
- Make sure you are tracking both implicit and explicit keywords. Get rid of the thinking that one is better than the other.
*We specifically looked at keywords that had at least 100 impressions over the last year to get a better sense of how higher searched explicit vs implicit terms were stacking up.