For national brands to win at local search, they need to do more than be present. They also need to compel searchers to become customers at the local level. Enterprise brands need to own the “next moment” of search, or the action that occurs after a consumer finds your business.
I thought a lot about the next moment of search as I read Google’s latest report, “I-Want-Go Moments: From Search to Store.” The point of view, authored by Matt Lawson, Google’s director of marketing and performance ads, shares some stunning data on consumer local search activity, including the fact that Google “near me” searches (i.e., for products and services in one’s immediate vicinity) have increased 34 times since 2011 and have nearly doubled in the last year alone. And 80 percent of Google’s “near me” queries came from mobile devices in the fourth quarter of 2014.
For national brands to truly capitalize on those near me searches, they need to be visible in the “near me moment.” But I also believe brands need to own the “next moment,” by providing contextually relevant content and experiences that compel consumers to take action.
In some cases, consumers are not taking a journey at all; the consideration and transaction occurs on the mobile device, with an in-store experience to follow. According to the report, a major change in search is under way. Using their mobile devices, customers are not only conducting more local searches, but they are making quick decisions to engage with brands faster. Half of consumers who conduct a local search on their smartphones visit a store within 24 hours — and 18 percent of those searches result in purchases within a day. Nearly half of consumers trying to decide on a restaurant do their local search within an hour of actually going.
“With a world of information at their fingertips, consumers have heightened expectations for immediacy and relevance,” Lawson writes. “They want what they want when they want it . . . It’s essential that brands be there in these moments that matter — when people are actively looking to learn, discover, find, or buy.”
But customers are moving from research to consideration quickly, whether they are looking for a snow shovel on a cold winter day or a new garden hose on the first warm week of spring. To capitalize on the moments that matter, brands need to:
Be visible in the near-me moment. Organize and distribute your location data to ensure your brand locations — including accurate name, address, phone, and hours of operation — are findable, in those mobile moments where and when people are looking for your products or services. It sounds like a fundamental assumption, but many brands are more focused on audience data than their local data. As a result, they struggle to be present for the mobile searcher at the beginning of their “near me” journey, especially national brands with thousands of locations.
Create the next moment. Create search-optimized local landing pages that accelerate the path from search to service for customers who are searching and considering a purchase — or “intent-rich moments.” Lawson cites the example of Macy’s and REI, both of which display local inventory ads to show nearby availability of products based on a consumer’s search behavior.
According to a Macy’s executive, “. . . [W]e’re able to expose local in-store inventory to customers when they’re on the go. We know that what’s really going to drive them to action is to see that there are eight [items] in their size, in the color they want, right now in the store that’s five blocks away.”
In September 2014, Forrester analyst Julie Ask asserted that “micro moments are the next frontier for mobile.” She wrote, “The moments that characterize the mobile mind shift are getting shorter. Simple triggers — messages, sounds, even tactile sensations — spur consumers to take action, both on devices and in the real world.” Ask advises that to capitalize on these micro moments, brands need to focus on the customer journey and their needs — not on the devices and platforms.
Local and mobile search, combined with the wearable tech like the Apple Watch, will accelerate the velocity of these “near me” and “micro moments” along the customer journey at a dramatic pace. To win, brands need to be visible and findable, but they also need to provide the right content and experiences in the “next moments” to win.