You don’t need to be a digital marketing professional to know that Google’s local search results are a big deal for businesses that deliver services and products to local audiences. Where a business shows up in the local search results could offer a big boost in business – for your company or your competitor’s, whichever appears higher.
While local search results are super helpful and have come a long way in the past two years, Google continues the not-so-simple task of continuing to improve search results. By combining its evolving understanding of the products and services a business offers with users’ search histories and a growing number of other engagement signals from the user side, Google continues its quest to circumvent any Search Engine Optimization gaming of their system and factor the real world into the search results equation.
Google wants to connect our lives. It’s the internet of “things,” and Google connects everything together and boils it down to a very simple output. —Lauren Polinsky
A local search variable I continue to research is how Google views the use of our mobile devices for search purposes. Where you are physically is an easy factor for Google to consider, but what about how long you stay in a single location or the hours or days a business is most often frequented? Can Google see that a location is busy and offer another result? Can Google tell from online reviews that a location is probably not a great option, busy or not?
I recently caught up with Lauren Polinsky, Director of Search Analytics Ecommerce Technology of MGM Resorts, to talk about a new variable that we coined the “physical bounce rate” for a business. Here is our discussion about how Google could include a “physical bounce rate” as part of a comprehensive approach while delivering local search results.
Lance Fisher: What are Physical Bounce Rates to you?
Lauren Polinsky: Physical bounce rates are people who are coming into a place but not enjoying that situation. For a nice easy example, there is a hockey game that lets out. Everybody’s looking for something to do right afterward, generally a “bar or food near me.” Then, you look at the people who can actually physically fit into a space. You can only have X number of people. There’s only a certain number of people you can serve at any given time. Lines are going to form. So, I think the people who don’t stay and go somewhere else are negatively impacting what Google sees about you from a local perspective.
Because Google persistently tracks us. If you have a map app or email or an Android, they know you’ve searched something, and you’ve gone from point A to point B. You’ve left point B. You went to point C or whatever you did. Google can start to use those signals as engagement quality. So, you looked for a “bar near me,” you walked in, you saw that there’s a two-hour wait to sit down or the lines are out the door for the bartender or whatever. That’s a poor experience, just like it is on a website. So you’ve left. And that, to me, would contribute to a physical bounce rate.
It’s clear Google is not only tracking where we are, but how much time we’re spending at a location. Located in Lake Oswego, Oregon, I looked up “coffee near me” and saw that a location is a little less busy than normal. Interesting that Google would point this out.
Google is connecting the dots between who a business says they are and who customers think they are. —Lance Fisher
Lance Fisher: So the Physical Bounce Rate is one variable, but there are many elements that go into delivering search results.
Lauren Polinsky: I think there are a ton of engagement metrics that Google is consistently tracking without explicitly telling all of us it all the time. It’s very interesting to watch how they bring it into search results through the busy times, popular times per day, or how they choose from your centroid. Because there could be three or ten bars right near you, and it may be that one is not even a quarter mile away. But why does that one that’s a quarter mile further away get ranked higher than the one that’s really close? What is the difference? It can’t be just reviews. It can’t be just links. It has to be something else.
I think it goes back to the physical world. Google wants to connect our lives. It’s the internet of “things” and Google connects everything together and boils it down to a very simple output.
It all seems so organic doesn’t it? Google tracks real engagement to help deliver real suggestions that Google’s search customers can use. But the broader subject that needs to be looked at is: How do we bring a business, either organically, strategically, or both, to a place where customers engage that business better than its competition? Is it really that different from how we should be looking at our web properties? Probably not, but what is for sure is that Google is connecting the dots between who a business says they are and who customers think they are.
I want to send a big “thank you” to the brilliant Lauren Polinsky for contributing to this article.