For many local business search queries, Google serves results that include a combination of AdWords listings, local pack listings, and traditional organic listings. For example, here’s a search on the phrase bankruptcy attorneys:
To earn clicks from these searchers, you can:
- Pay Google for clicks via AdWords
- Earn clicks from the local pack
- Earn clicks from traditional organic results
Very generally speaking, and depending heavily on the query and the nature of your listing (or ad), the higher you appear on the search engine result page, the more clicks you are likely to command.
Today, I wanted to share with you some observations we’ve been making relating to visibility and click-through rates from local pack results.
Here is some Search Console data for a Google My Business listing:
TL;DR: Click-through rates from local pack listings seem disproportionately low.
We’re tracking this listing with parameters. These parameters are intended to help us distinguish Search Console data for the Google My Business listing from data for the page from other channels (i.e. traditional organic, etc).
As you can see, the average click-through rate (Avg. CTR) for this listing is about 0.62%.
Notice also that the average position for this listing over the period is 1.2.
This trend is not isolated and is supported by data across several sites we manage.
Anecdotally, this seems very low to me.
So, what are the possible reasons.
First, there’s the possibility that the Search Console data is grossly inaccurate.
Admittedly, we’ve seen a lot of inconsistency with the data in general and have always viewed it with a healthy skepticism.
When compared with corresponding Google Analytics (GA) data for the same parameter, we see much different data over the same period:
New Users: 5
While these numbers are small, at least in this instance, Search Console data corresponds pretty closely to GA data for this page.
We also looked to our rank tracking data from STAT to corroborate the Search Console position data.
STAT supported Search Console’s position reporting.
Finally, we figured we’d look at Google My Business dashboard data:
With respect to visits to the website, even the notoriously inaccurate GMB data supported the other sources.
Therefore, at least in this case, the Search Console data appears reasonably accurate.
Second, we hypothesized that the low local pack click-through is the result of appearing after four paid search ads. After all, on a mobile device, the pack listings fall way below the fold.
So, we compared Search Console data:
to AdWords data:
for a variety of terms.
In just about every example we looked at, AdWords outperformed the local pack for clicks and click-through rates.
However, even clicks and click-through rates for AdWords seemed pretty low.
Is it possible that most people are scrolling down past AdWords and local packs to traditional organic results?
Nope. At least not in the results we examined.
So, what’s the source of all of these impressions without any clicks?
We’ve tentatively concluded that there are two major causes.
First, it’s the bots. Despite Google’s best efforts, we believe that bots, rank tracking software, etc, are running-up a lot of impressions without generating any clicks.
Second, it’s searches ending in the SERPs. In other words, searchers are finding the information they need without clicking-through to the results.
Most of the results we studied were related to law firm look-ups. Most queries followed a pattern of:
[practice area] + [legal modifier]
[location] + [practice area] + [legal modifier]
For these searches, our theory is that most searchers are looking for contact information for a law firm, usually a phone number.
If you look at the results for these types of queries, most of the listings, including AdWords (call extensions), local packs (Google My Business listings), and even organic results (page titles and meta descriptions) contain phone numbers.
Our guess is that these searchers are calling firms directly from the results.
From our experience, we know this is happening for AdWords. To a less reliable extent, we know it’s happening for local packs. We don’t have great data to support a conclusion that it’s happening for traditional organic results (but anecdotally, we know it happens).
So what does this mean?
First, if you have data / examples to the contrary, please share them. We hope we’re wrong.
Second, make sure your phone numbers appear prominently in your listings. As best you can, you should also try to track calls by source (I realize this is nearly impossible to do in local packs and very challenging in organic).
Third, unfortunately, you probably have to pay Google to get a significant amount of click share for these types of terms. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying AdWords is right for all firms. But it’s undeniable that a significant amount of click share goes to paid ads, just like Google likes it.
Fourth, particularly if you don’t have the budget to compete in this sandbox, don’t heavily rely on clicks from these types of queries. Focus on less competitive long tail queries. Focus on other client development initiatives.
Finally, hopefully it’s been obvious to you for a long time that you shouldn’t hyper-focus on rankings. While we know that search visibility plays a role in earning new business, it’s certainly not a magic bullet. In fact, as we’ve tried to illustrate here, you can rank really well and still not command much click share.
You can’t pay your firm’s bills merely with impressions, rankings, and even traffic. Be sure you are tracking actual clients and fees all of the way back to their source. If you have questions about how to do this, don’t hesitate to ask.