The Local Consumer Review Survey by BrightLocal has been a part of the data-driven gold standard that helps local marketers understand annual trends since 2010. And since 2017, the driving force behind the survey, as well as all of BrightLocal's other pieces of outstanding research-based content, has been Rosie Murphy.
Rosie is BrightLocal's Research & Content Manager. She is responsible for planning the research, conducting it, compiling it, presenting it, and promoting it. She can tell you all about the nuts-and-bolts of doing all of it.
And she did, after sitting down with me. Or, at least, she told me about quite a few of those nuts and bolts. If you've ever wondered what it takes to create content other content creators quote, this might just be a Q&A you'll want to pause for.
On the Local Consumer Review Survey Content Marketing Research
Carmen: Let's start with the Local Consumer Review Survey. What was the inspiration that kicked off that research effort?
Rosie: We've been doing the Local Consumer Review Survey since about 2011, long before I was at BrightLocal. So we kind of wanted to look at how online reviews for local businesses have changed over the years. And what local marketers could learn from it. So it's something we've been doing for quite a long time. And it was a small thing to begin with, but now it's become our biggest piece of research by far. And it's just something we really think has proper use for marketers.
Carmen: How has it grown and changed, over the years?
Rosie: It started out with a few kind of more basic questions. They're still questions we use now, but they were a bit more based on what people were using, which devices. Now we've expanded, focusing also on the hot topics and the breaking use. So one year we talked about fake reviews, and this year we talked about responding to reviews.
So we just want to keep on top of what's changing in the online reviews news, and keep adding to it and making sure is useful.
Carmen: What do you think you'll be doing next year? What are the trends telling you?
Rosie: That's a really good question.
So, there's a lot of stuff out at the moment about fake reviews, still, and spam, and reviews, and keywords. It might be something around that, but we've still got 6 months to go till the next one, so I'll have to wait and see what people will be talking about most.
Carmen: How has your research process gotten refined over the years?
Rosie: So we've always done it as an independent thing outside of Bright Local, so people don't know this is what they're answering. It's become such a big study we don't want people to realize that's what they're a part of, and possibly skew their answers. So, we use an independent panel.
In the past we looked at the US and the UK, whereas now we just look at the US. There's such different trends happen over the different countries. I'd love to do every country, but unfortunately that's not possible.
Carmen: Only so many hours in the day!
Rosie: Yeah. I'd love to do every single one, but this is the one we picked.
On Advice For Producing Content Marketing Research
Carmen: Switching gears a little bit, what advice would you provide to a business that wants to produce research-based content like you guys do?
Rosie: First piece of advice I give is to know what's out there. Make sure you understand what's being talked about. Just because something is being talked about doesn't mean you can't talk about it. But there's no point repeating the same information. You need to know what's been talked about in the whole industry and figure out how it's useful to your customers.
And I think be aware you can only do so much.
When we write the questions for the surveys, there's so many things we'd love to know. And I start with a long list of questions. We really have to narrow it down to see what you're going to get the most value from. What are the headlines you're going to be able to pull out.
Whether that's for the media, or for the piece itself, or for your own business development people. What will the people reading this really find useful?
Carmen: So it sounds like you spend a lot of your day staying on top of that news. Are there resources you recommend?
Rosie: I love Twitter! I follow all of the local SEO experts, really keep an eye on what they're saying and what they're producing, and making sure we're keeping on top of that.
I also have Google Alerts set up. I have email newsletters forwarded from things like Search Engine Land so I know what's out there.
I'm a big reader! I try to keep on top of stuff. Asking our customers what's important to them so we can stay on top of that and create research that fits into those gaps.
Carmen: A big part of producing great research is making it accessible and consumable. How do you approach that?
Rosie: We always try and keep our things on our site, we don't stick anything behind a paywall so everyone can read it the way they like. We try to keep a mix of images and text so different people who consume media in different ways can get it at a glance. Lots of key findings and tweets so people can get the key information if they don't have time to read the full report.
There are also reports we've done in the past where we've done PDFs and they can get the key facts from that.
And our social team will then cut out the key figures and push those.
On Trends in Research and Consuming All of the Information
Carmen: What is your favorite piece of research, and what are some of the trends that surprised you?
Rosie: My favorite piece, I would have to say, is the Local Consumer Review Survey. It's really rewarding, how people use it, and the media coverage we get from it. But my favorite one I've done that is mine from start to finish is a Google Review Study. We looked at our own BrightLocal database and we looked at how many reviews businesses in each industry got and how that impacts their rankings.
And from that we created a nice little interactive infographic so people could go in, have a play, and see how their industry was trending.
And I really loved that because it was tens of thousands of businesses, all condensed down into one-easy to-read page.
Carmen: I'm curious. How do you get all that into something you read and sift through?
Rosie: A lot of condensing, a lot of time in Excel, to really sit and figure out what the stories are there. I really enjoy analyzing data, so that's a great thing. Sometimes I can spend hours just trying to figure out what the key stories are and what we can learn from it.
Carmen: Did anything surprise you on that Google review study?
Rosie: It wasn't so much a surprise. It was great having the data behind the idea that businesses with more reviews tends to correlate with high rankings. Of course, we can't directly say one means the other, but we have so many hunches about these things. It's great to know the truth is there. That's really what it is.
On Listings Management and Citations
Carmen: Listings management has evolved a lot over the years. There used to be a "say and spray" strategy, trying to get your links, listings, and citations on every directory and review sites. Links don't seem to have decreased in rankings but some people don't feel it's important to be everywhere anymore. Based on your research, what do you think is going to be the best listings management strategy in 2019 and moving forward?
Rosie: So, based on my experience, it seems that citations for businesses and things are still incredibly important, but everyone's working toward that. It's table steaks. It's something that needs to be done, but it can't move the needle as much as things such as backlinks, that not everyone's already doing.
Citations definitely do have an impact on your local SEO, but there are so many other things. If you look at Moz's Local Ranking Factors study, there are so many other factors local search marketers need to be working on.
On Which GMB Features Agencies Should Keep Their Eye On
Carmen: What are some of the biggest challenges you see ahead for agencies, based on your research?
Rosie: So the most recent piece we did was about how people use GMB and local business websites. From that, we questioned a bunch of consumers about which features they were currently using on Google My Business.
The big ones, looking for directions and checking for opening hours were obviously quite regularly used. But there are so many amazing new features in GMB that aren't really being used by consumers, currently. So these things will become more and more important (perhaps), and it means there's just more and more things for local marketers to have to pay attention, to have to keep on top of, to keep optimizing for their clients.
On Content Marketing Research Pitfalls, Ideation, and Methodology
Carmen: When somebody is setting up something of their own, whether it's a survey, a data project, or any sort of research they want to try and perform, what are some of the pitfalls that are common that they really need to avoid?
Rosie: One, as I already mentioned, is doing something that's already out there. Many times I have a whole long list of questions I want to research, and I'll have it coming up and someone else will release it! It's knowing what's out there and not being too disheartened if someone gets there first.
Other pitfalls include...you have to be really careful not to try to sway people. I've seen it done in the past where a question is a bit too leading, or you go in expecting a certain answer and don't get the answer you want. I think you just need to be truthful and let people know exactly what the findings are and exactly what you can learn from it. You might want to say: 100% of Local Marketers think Local Marketing is amazing.
And only 5% said it...
There's a lot of people who would want to hide that sort of thing. But I think it's important to be honest, and make sure the questions you're going to ask are representative of what you want to find.
Carmen: You said you had a long list, what are some of the—I don't want to invite your competitors to jump ahead of you—but in general terms, what are some of the unknowns you're excited about pursuing?
Rosie: I'd like to look into business listings more generally. I did a piece last year called the "Local Services Ads Click Study." And it looked at how people are using local services ads and clicking on them in SERPS. From that we got a whole host of questions being, "It would be amazing if you could do this, but look into listings!"
And I just thought, "Yeah! It really would be amazing." That's one that's at my list that I'd like to do.
Jason Brown also messaged me the other week with a great idea for a piece of research which I'd love to do. Based on reviews. A lot of them are just figuring out how I can actually do it. The methodology behind things and figuring out if it can be done and if it can be done correctly.
Carmen: So actually structuring and figuring out how to do these things is a big part of it, then?
Rosie: Yeah, absolutely. There's a few ways we tend to get our research. There's surveys, like the Local Consumer Review Survey, that comes from consumers, there's a big set of data such as the Google Review study, there are quick-polls we do on our site, which we tend to ask 5 questions about something newsworthy. We did one on the mobile-first index to get answers really quickly.
We did the LSA click study using mechanical turk to find out how users really click on SERPS, and then we also do ones where we ask a panel of experts what they think on a certain topic that isn't the only way we do research, and the only way we ever do things, but I tend to be given a thing we'd like to figure out, a thing we'd like to solve, and then figure out how I could possibly do that.
So I try not to be limited too much to what we've done before and I try to look at how we can find the real answers...rather than people's opinions.
Want to get all of Rosie's insights? Follow her on Twitter at @rosiemurphy.