Opinion: My Love/Hate Relationship with Google’s “Walled Garden”Megan Malone
As Google has advanced as a search engine, it has rolled out many features aimed at getting users information as fast as possible. Included in Google’s search engine results are things like the Google Knowledge Graph, which appears if a business has an updated Google Business listing, showcasing information like the address, phone number, business hours, reviews, and even a nifty feature that tells you how busy the location is, powered by GPS location data of people within the store. Other things you may see when typing in a business category are the Google Snack Pack, which shows you the closest businesses related to your search, as well as Google Snippets, or information about weather, sports scores, definition of terms, event information, etc. that appears at the top of its search. What’s not to love!
All of these features are designed to get a user information fast, even without ever entering a website. Here comes the hate part. Google is creating what some marketers call a “walled garden” of sorts, where users may never have to even enter a business’s website to get the information they need. Google has long preached that “content is king,” and websites should employ the EAT strategy, or build a website that showcases Expertise, Authority, and Trust. But with many users never even getting to a business website to begin with, Google is only hoping to increase its Pay-Per-Click Google AdWords value by keeping people outside of websites and only within the search engine.
As a digital marketer, measurement becomes very tricky. In order to track advertising conversions, Vici employs a container tag through Google’s Tag Manager, and when someone gets to a conversion point, we stop advertising to them and measuring the goal. However, if someone gets to a conversion point through Google’s search itself, like hitting the Knowledge Graph and calling or getting directions to a store, we can’t attribute that back to the actual ad. And even though the Knowledge Graph and Tag Manager are two Google-owned technologies, you can’t link the two technologies together to know that an ad a customer saw caused a search, which then caused a conversion in the Knowledge Graph/Snack Pack. The only way you can tell a conversion happened within a search engine results page is if someone clicks on a Pay-Per-Click ad, which only tells half the story of the true customer journey.
The one work around I’ve found is to monitor the Knowledge Graph during a campaign itself and see if there’s a lift in overall traffic. You can’t tell what ad caused the lift, but you can see increased traffic, clicks to call, clicks to map, etc. Once a Knowledge Graph is registered to a business, the only way for a marketing partner to monitor the traffic to it is to get the business’ email and password. One major drawback is that unlike other Google products, like Google Analytics, you can’t log into the Knowledge Graph and assign a user to “read and analyze,” meaning the end business owner has to give up password information if they want their marketing partner to have access to their Knowledge Graph data, which many choose not to do. This means a lot of useful marketing data is not being incorporated. At Vici we manage 600 campaigns a month and less than 1% of business owners choose to monitor their Knowledge Graph.
So, what’s a digital marketer to do? Know that the conversion reports are only showing website conversions, not conversions happening through Google’s “Walled Garden;” understand that Pay-Per-Click is getting an unfairly high conversion status because it appears in the search engine; continue to do Search Engine Optimization on a site, but give equal importance to conversions points outside of the website in the search engine results; plead in online forums to incorporate Google Tag Manager into the Knowledge Graph and Snack Packs, so I can get a full understanding of the marketing analytics for each campaign. Pretty please?