Will Text Messages Ever Contribute to Local Search Ranking Factors?

Jen Saunders
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Recently, Google unveiled its first ever mobile phone. Known by the name Pixel, this mobile appears to offer everything. It has the highest-rated camera with a score of 89, a long battery life, and Google Assistant is built right into the phone’s hardware to “enhance user experience”. Right off the bat, digital marketing agencies that offer mobile SEO (and who think outside the box) recognized that Pixel seemed ideal for offering the best local search experiences.  So how does Pixel engage local search? For starters, search queries are pulled from Knowledge Graph–a database that gathers mass amounts of data focusing on keywords people search for, and the intent behind them. Knowledge Graph also interconnects various types of information like places, people, and facts. 

Google Pixel enhances local search

In his ‘Beginner’s Guide to Google’s Knowledge Graph’, Neil Patel said something that is very simple, yet thought-provoking (as always):

“Google is designed to collate data about everything possible and to make it available quickly and easily [….] This is the reason why Google is so passionate about mobile users and their searches. But this is not a new concern for the search giant–it’s the same objective Google’s held from the very beginning”. — Neil Patel

 

Here are facts we can take away from this, and Google in general:

  • Google collates data, and this data both builds its algorithms, and feeds them.
  • Google wants its users to get instant answers that are accurate and local (if applicable).
  • Google’s updates have, over the last few years, paved the way for mobile search–the number one way people look for information online.
  • Google will never stop making improvements to deliver high-quality, fast, accurate search results on mobile devices.
  • Google just came out with their first mobile phone.

Could a text ever have its data sourced?

One way Google can improve local search results is through providing real-time info related to correlated search queries, and what if text data could lead the way? Imagine you enter a search for a restaurant that’s famous for their lobster, and you see a message come up revealing they ran out of lobster 10 minutes ago. Would you still go? Probably not.  Let’s pause for a minute and think about a typical scenario when someone is performing a local search on their mobile. Imagine 3 friends are in the same city, and they are texting one another regarding where to meet up on a Friday night: 

FRIEND 1 : Let’s go to the Moody Lumberjack. They have craft beer and pool tables.

FRIEND 2: But they don’t have cocktails and I want a Manhattan.

FRIEND 3: Let’s go to Monkey Slap Tavern. They have a good original Manhattan with 5 versions, and a good craft beer selection with 25 taps.

Here, we can see the potential for harvesting a lot of vital data for local search improvements. The age and gender of the users would be recorded (if the proposed platform captured this information upon user signup), as well as direct opinions regarding local search options. Theoretically, this data would tell Google which local bars offer the best experiences for people who “like this” but “don’t like that”, and the data could be translated to appear as a “side note” in regards to local search. I mean, what if?

Sorry Google, It’s Not that Easy

There’s just one big problem: a little thing called the Federal Government. The Telephone Records and Privacy Protection Act of 2006 prohibits any information pertaining to someone’s phone calls or text messages being accessed or shared openly. In fact, unless the phone’s owner has a court order, they can’t even get access to their own data or user history. This legislation was signed after Hewlett Packard’s chairwoman hired forensic tech specialists to dig into the texts and phone records of the company’s board of directors, and members of the press to determine a source for information leaked to the media. Any data retrieved from texting would have to come from a platform beyond the Federal government’s domain.

Google Pixel has Google Assistant built into the hardware to improve search.

Is there a Way Around the Feds?

So this is more a game of “What If”. That said, what if Google launched an instant messaging app for Pixel owners that requires user consent for their data to be accessed? It could even stress to potential users that the data would only be used to provide for a better user experience. If launched and proven to be successful with Pixel owners, imagine if the app became available to Android users? Then what if the algorithm reading and translating this data was baked into the core algorithm? If done from an app, the Federal government would have no jurisdiction, and privacy invasion wouldn’t play into the platform.

Will Google Ever Collate Text Messages with Local Search to Enhance User Experience? 

If Google had a way to pull data from text message conversations to strengthen the quality of local search, it seems they surely would. However, their messaging app would have to offer something new, improved, or provide a distinct benefit before people stop texting from their mobile provider’s platform. Even if people don’t like the fact Google would be using their data, so long as the public is in love with the app, not enough people would abandon it. In 2015 when a Snapchat rumor emerged that the popular app would be storing 700 million messages sent each year, the public was outraged, but hardly a dent was made in the number of decreased users–people liked it enough to remain on board, despite the rumor that enraged the masses. Nobody has a crystal ball, but if such a thing ever rolls out, I would imagine that not too many people would be surprised.

Final Thoughts and Takeaways over “Theoretical Search”

I’m not arguing that this will, or will not happen. Really, it’s just an interesting potential forecast worth entertaining. Honestly, I would be all for it. When examining Google’s main objectives, reflecting on its three-year algorithm update history, and considering the fact they dominate search engines and are mobile search focused, it only seems plausible that Pixel is a huge success, something bigger and more central to what Google does will germinate from it. Why not harvest text data to improve local search results? How amazing would it be if you did a search for MacLeod’s Ale to see what’s on tap, and a message posted 23 minutes ago reveals they ran out of ‘The King’s Taxes’ on cask. I think this would be pretty amazing. But how would Google authenticate that data? Would it be based on frequency, text quality, or something else? Google will continue to dedicate itself to improving Internet searches, especially on mobile, and since texting is central to mobile use and relevant to communicating search results, this “what if” doesn’t seem to be too far out in left field. Just something to think about.

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