Tim Colling

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I have some clients who are very responsive to GMB message or "chat" requests, and others who are not. Is responsiveness to GMB messaging requests a ranking factor in local search results?
 

Jon Hall

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Hey @Tim Colling! There's no evidence that responsiveness is a ranking factor *yet*, but I think the writing is on the wall. Google wants businesses to adopt its messaging product for many, many reasons. And the Big G wields both a carrot and stick to make that happen.

Incidentally, I just wrote up my perspective on this in the good old Grade.us blog, haha. Check it out if interested!
 

Jon Hall

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Actually @Tim Colling I'd love to get yours or @Phil Rozek's or @BenFisher's or others' take on this prediction? Here is the relevant section of the article, published today on the blog. (Copy/pasted instead of linked so as not to spam you, but interested personas can easily find it online. Oh and if the argument seems to end abruptly, that's because I cut off the Switchbird commercial that concludes it ;))

Anyway, the article posits that as other factors (e.g. reviews) become less trustworthy or otherwise poor differentiators of one locksmith from another, Google will turn to your clients' performance on chat and other "private" channels for E-A-T signals. Is Google listening in when you turn on Call History? Maybe. @BenFisher points out how Google is measuring business performance in chat. Absolutely! Details on that below.

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When Google devalues ranking factors that marketers and SEOs exploit, or when a factor becomes so commonplace that it no longer provides a competitive advantage to businesses, what will move the needle for search rankings?

My prediction—and one of the bets my new startup Switchbird, a messaging automation software, is making—is that Google will increasingly rely on business performance in private channels like messaging and voice for its local business rankings.

I know, I know. Almost nobody uses GMB messaging, right? Businesses who turn it on see limited engagement. No way messaging is the future of local SEO, is it?

Maybe not. But consider this: Google and Facebook are now aggressively vying to become the messaging channel of choice for conversations between local businesses and their customers.

Facebook declared in 2019 that “conversation is the future of commerce” and showed convincingly with their own data that the basic business activities of sales and service in almost every business category are shifting from emails, phone calls, and in-person transactions into chat and messaging.

Google, meanwhile, has been systematically replacing SMS with its own messaging product in GMB and elsewhere for years. Why? Presumably to capture that messaging activity within its own ecosystem. The “private” data associated with messaging, much like that in Gmail, is extremely valuable. And Google knows what to do with it.

Imagine a local business that enables GMB messaging, performs well in the channel by responding quickly to leads/customers, and earns consistent 5-star feedback in Google’s private customer satisfaction (CSAT) surveys. Google can use that information in a host of ways to serve users, businesses, and of course, the Big G itself.

My guess is that one visible result we’ll see in the near future is this: local businesses will be rewarded with a lift in rankings for turning on messaging, driving more engagement, and giving Google clear, incorruptible signals of solid business performance. If that happens, you can bet competitors will follow suit. Then it’s off to the races.

We know that Google is already using this data to evaluate business performance against its own benchmarks. Google tracks two metrics for Business Messages “agents”:

  1. Customer satisfaction (CSAT): User satisfaction ratings, reported as a percentage.
  2. Merchant response rate (MRR): The frequency with which you respond to new conversations with users, either through automation or live agents, reported as a percentage.
 

Tony Wang

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@Jon Hall that's pretty interesting, and I wouldn't bet against. But I think there are plenty of local businesses that are not ideal for chat. While customers may want a quick answer to things like price, availability, it's not very straight forward for say, home services, contractors, auto repair. Those businesses may need a lot more info than can be easily communicated over a chat. So for some industries, yes it'll be great, for others, not so much.
 

Jon Hall

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Thanks @Tony Wang! I agree that chat has constraints and won't replace other channels for those industries.

BUT would you agree that chat is a sufficient means to book an appointment with a contractor, home services pro, or auto repair shop? If we just look at lead capture for those industries, chat rivals Google's "Call" CTA or your typical web contact form/funnel.

See above how Google describes the critical performance metric, MRR: "The frequency with which you respond to new conversations with users, either through automation or live agents" Google knows that chat can be partially automated, meaning it's available 24/7 for "new conversations" unlike a live call. And by keeping that initial lead conversation within its ecosystem, Google captures some extremely valuable data. Not only the response times and customer satisfaction ratings they describe, but also lead volumes, nature of customer inquiries, outcomes, etc.

That's why even if there's no evidence today, I will not be surprised to see Google reward businesses who turn on GMB messaging and perform well against those metrics. That is the carrot/stick the big G has to drive adoption of its product ;)

Either way, I think that there's opportunity here for all kinds of businesses to gain competitive advantage in their markets using chat/messaging for lead capture.



P.S. Incidentally, Google is recognizing partners in the Business Messages software ecosystem who enable more SMBs to leverage GMB messaging. I'll be able to say more on that in a couple weeks, but note that I work on automated "messaging funnels" for just the kinds of SMBs you mention! e.g.

funnel-demo-95d86c13be3da0852165e7b221b5faa0.gif
 

Jon Hall

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@BenFisher Good point, widespread adoption would have to precede MRR or any other performance metric being used as a ranking factor.

But simply turning messaging ON is a factor that *can* be put against all merchants today. Not sure if it will be, but that would certainly drive adoption :) We shall see!
 

Tony Wang

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@Jon Hall I'm not sure using a chat bot is a big step up from no chat at all. That would be like having voice mail/call tree answer all your calls. I think most businesses will want to just use a bot like the example you gave, rather than actually taking the time to personally respond. I also suspect that most people that reach out via chat will ask questions they think are quite simple, such as cost for service, but such questions are not always so simple.

For some businesses, chat makes sense, for others, not so much.
 

Jon Hall

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@Tony Wang Right on. Very fair points. Sorry I've drunk so much "chat Kool-Aid" (my own and Google's) that I tend to overlook the gap between reality and the Kool-Aid-induced vision :p

You're right. Chatbots don't work as a stand-in for human communication in many cases.

I don't even like or use the term "chatbot" since there's no implied purpose other than automated chat for chat's sake. I am interested in chat or messaging *funnels*.

A messaging funnel can turn someone who asks a not-so-simple question at 1am into an appointment the next day.
IMHO that's a differentiator from voice mail, phone trees, contact forms, etc: engaging those people who prefer to lob a question over chat/text before they move on to a competitor.

I know this works. But to your point, it doesn't necessarily work for everyone. Anyway, I guess GMB messaging as a channel will thrive or die by Google's hand. We'll see!
 

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