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Early Results from Google Local Search Experiment Campaigns Look Promising

Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote about the appearance of mystery local search campaigns that had popped up in some brick-and-mortar advertisers’ AdWords accounts. These new campaigns are experimental and allow Google to surface locally focused ads on Google Maps and Google Search using Google My Business information such as business category and business location.

This is in contrast to how Maps ads have been triggered over the past couple of years, which relied on keyword targeting from campaigns with active location extensions.

At the time of my recent column, advertisers didn’t yet have reporting available in the UI for how these keywordless campaigns were doing and what queries were driving traffic. Just after publication, however, performance data started to trickle in.

How are these campaigns looking so far and what kinds of queries are driving traffic? While results are limited, there are a few key things to call out.

Mobile Driving Most of the Traffic

Looking at a handful of advertisers included in the experiment, the vast majority of traffic from these campaigns is attributed to mobile devices, with 74% coming from phones. This comes as no surprise given the more on-the-go nature of mobile device users.

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CTR is also significantly higher on mobile devices, though still relatively strong on desktop at 5.5%.

All Queries are Non-Brand

Examining AdWords search query reports, we find that all of the impressions attributed to these ad units come from queries which do not include the brand name of the advertiser.

This is somewhat surprising given that the share of traffic attributed to ‘Get location details’ clicks, which come from Google Maps, is much higher for brand keywords than non-brand keywords for traditional keyword-driven local ads. (Nearly all clicks reported from the local experiment campaigns so far have been attributed to the ‘Get location details’ click type, with a few ‘Headline’ and ‘Driving Directions’ clicks accounting for ~1% of total clicks sprinkled in.)

At the end of Q1 2018, 6% of brand text ad campaign phone traffic for brick-and-mortar advertisers came from ‘Get location details’ clicks, compared to just 1% of non-brand traffic for the same advertisers.

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In the case of local brand searches, it’s pretty likely the searcher is going to find their way to a local store so long as one exists, so the incremental gain from having an ad present is likely small.

For non-brand searches in which users are searching for a general type of store and not a brand name, being present with an ad is more likely to produce incremental value for the advertiser. Thus, it’s good to see that the traffic coming from these experimental campaigns for now is all non-brand.

Most Queries Include a Reference to a Specific Geographic Location

At present, the vast majority of queries driving clicks from these ad units include a geographic reference. 56% of all clicks come from queries that include a reference to a physical location, whether that be a zip code, city, state, country, airport, or mall. Additionally, 26% of all clicks come from queries that include ‘near me’ or some variation.

That still leaves 18% of traffic that doesn’t include a local reference directly in the query, but much of this traffic comes from Google Maps, where it’s implied that the user is searching for a physical location nearby.

Comparing the likelihood that a searcher clicks on the ad unit, those queries that include a reference to a specific place have far and away the best CTR, a trend observed within each advertiser studied.

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Nearly All Queries Directly Mention a Business Category

Very nearly all queries studied include a reference to some variation of the business category of the advertiser, such as ‘clothing store’ for an apparel retailer. This indicates that Google is currently leaning heavily on business category in Google My Business to determine relevance for searches.

One exception popping up here and there is a category of searches that includes both a location as well as general terms for shopping, such as ‘best Williamsburg shops.’ Naturally these queries aren’t as tightly tied to the offerings of a particular business as those that include the business category, but certainly in the case of someone searching for the best shops in a particular location, most brands would nonetheless be happy to appear among the results. Regardless, the amount of traffic coming from queries that aren’t specific to a business category is very small.

Still Very Early Goings for Local Search Ads Experiment Campaigns

These are some of the high level trends we’ve noticed so far from the very limited traffic that has trickled in since April 27. All in all, the early queries driving traffic seem to be perfectly relevant to the advertisers showing these ads, with the added benefit of also being non-brand.

We’ll continue to keep an eye on things and report back on any shifts, but so far, so good.

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