The Ranking Myth: Why Keyword Rankings are Obsolete in Local Search
By Martin Scholz, SVP, Business Development, Uberall, GmbH
There was a time when keyword ranking was a science that seemed worth pursuing in local search. Many companies still try to convince you that it is important to monitor closely. After all, better ranking means more web traffic, which correlates to more exposure and more in-store sales, right?
Unlike most sciences—which become more refined and precise over time—the science of search keyword ranking has become progressively more murky over time, until now it is really more of a pseudoscience, especially for local search. In a previous life, I worked for a company that had the world’s biggest keyword rankings database. Even then, we had already begun to struggle with the uniqueness of search, the change of ranking algorithms and ranking factors, and the impossibility of pinpointing keyword effectiveness. In the few years since I left, the advent of voice and semantic search and the seismic changes in location search algorithms have muddied the water even more. Keyword ranking certainly still has usefulness in web search and PPC. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking of search rankings as a proxy for expected foot traffic. A few keyword rankings tell you nothing about your performance in your addressable market or your target group’s intention to buy.
New changes to local search have relegated the old “science” of keyword search to the equivalent of hunting UFOs. Even if you tracked 1000 keywords to perfection, the rankings would not be consistent or reliable enough for local search. Walk two streets over or wait twenty minutes, and your entire set of rankings may change. It turns out to be a big waste of effort for something that will have no useful results. A few years back, Google really began to focus on local search—they began displaying search results based on things like a user’s geolocation, the business hours, and listings data— and then displaying packs of results based on local search optimization. So, there is no such thing as accurate rankings in local search, and looking at keyword rankings is a waste of your time. Whoa. That might you feel panicky. Especially if you’ve been spending a lot of time looking at those little numbers in parentheses. But don’t worry. The truth is—like UFOs—there was never any real evidence that rankings were useful in local search. There was no direct link to understand how a web search led to foot traffic or business impact. Rankings were merely a proxy for visibility or "the chance to be seen by users". Other parameters like search volume had to be considered, too.
But lucky for us, there HAS always been a much better way of measuring the effectiveness of understanding the business impact of your listings.
Engagement, impressions, and interactions.
Because Google My Business profiles are just perfectly conversation-optimized, they don’t just show us impressions from search.
Google also tells us how many people clicked to be navigated to your location, called right in, and other key indicators - not just that your brand popped up—but that people want to and do engage with you. And this is a much better indication that you’re about to get business, right?
If rankings are the mythical aliens we’ve been frustrated in trying to track across the sky, interactions are like the stars twinkling around us, everywhere we go, happy to light up our understanding and navigate our way. They’ve always been there, they are easy to find, and they provide useful data that actually tells us how our digital footprint is impacting our business. Interactions and engagements also aren’t limited to Google search. They are any micro-moments where visitors engage with you on your Facebook, Google and other profiles: the likes, clicks, reviews and comments they leave you - the way they interact with you on social media, the way they make a reservation or ask for directions or click to call your business. These are all direct indicators of intent to buy, and a much better thing to track. Makes sense, right?
So why are so many of us still squinting into the sky, looking for aliens? Partly out of habit. Partly because some of the software platforms mislead us by still focusing so needlessly on rankings.
At Uberall, we encourage our clients not to waste energy on features that don’t matter. Instead we give them the ability to track engagements and interactions. As KPIs, interactions are much a better way to understand the business impact of your listings, ads and engagement efforts, because we can trace a direct line from prospect engagement to foot traffic, intent to purchase, and revenue.
So the next time someone tries to get you pull out a telescope to look for for rankings, maybe gently suggest that you map your interactions, instead.
They will surely be a better way to navigate the success of your business.
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