How a data-driven locally optimised digital strategy can save high street retailers

In a challenging environment on the high street, it is vital for retailers to optimise their digital marketing to attract local shoppers. Yet many big-name brands are failing in the attention to detail needed to properly promote their physical stores in online advertising. Some have paid the ultimate price.

Recent research from PWC showed the stark nature of the challenge for multi-store retailers. A record net 2,481 stores disappeared from Great Britain’s top 500 high streets in 2018. Against this backdrop ensuring local store information is optimised for local advertising isn’t just a ‘nice to have’. it can be the difference between the survival and closure of stores.

Appearing in the ‘micro’ moment of a user search

For several years, all the big digital players including Google, Facebook ect. have been busy making significant changes to their algorithms and results to place more and more prominence on location. The reason they have done this is purely consumer behaviour. Two stats from Google highlight why these changes have been made:

“72% of consumers who performed a local search visited a store within 5 miles” and:

“76% of people who conduct a local search on their smartphone visit a physical place within 24 hours.”

The ability of retail brands to appear in the specific ‘micro’ moment that a user is searching, greatly impacts their ability to be found, and visited, by a potential customer. Understanding the competitive landscape in the more ‘local’ moments empowers brands to really understand the consumer landscape and experience like never before, allowing them to reach customers across multiple devices and platforms and drive in-store engagement.

What the local marketing landscape looks like

When marketers think “local”, often what comes to mind for is simply making sure they are buying localised/geotargeted search terms and ensuring the website is optimised for these same terms, but this is just scratching the surface.

Though not an exhaustive list, the following are all critical aspects of an effective local digital marketing strategy: Google My Business (where any brand should start); Apple Maps; Local inventory ads (paid); Social media – i.e. Facebook Places and store pages & local campaigns; Local directories and aggregators; Local reviews and Location pages.

Taking an incremental approach, starting with ensuring that the Google My Business listings for all locations are accurate and up to date, assigning dedicated resource and budget to localised optimisation will allow brands to enter the ‘local’ conversation with their audiences.

Why are local user reviews important?

User reviews are another key driver of local success: Reviews are important to consumers because they act as a form of personal recommendation – especially relevant when we consider 84% of people trust online reviews as much as friends.

User reviews also help with the prominence of retailers’ listings in the local pack and can directly impact their SEO because the greater the volume of reviews from authoritative sources, the greater the prominence.

There is a plethora of tools out there that can help a brand to solicit and engage with reviews, but despite this, reviews and feedback left by customers often goes unmanaged. Aside from assisting with local pack prominence, the growth and management of Google (and other) reviews can help directly support other digital initiatives such as Organic and Paid Search, so the benefits impact online as well as offline, helping close the loop between the two.

The voice search opportunity

The key to understanding voice is the difference in the searches conducted. Firstly, there are voice commands i.e. ‘turn on the lights’, ‘play X’ and there are voice searches. The characteristics of the second are that they are more likely to be conversational and longer in form i.e. ‘how do I make gluten free banana bread’. Although around 20% of Google searches are voice, there is little evidence on the commercial nature of these searches.

However, that does not mean that these types of searches are irrelevant to retailers. This is because these types of inspirational/informational searches present a great opportunity for early-adopting brands to rise to the surface far earlier in the consumer decision making process than they may have been able to otherwise.

Preventing damage to consumer perception

When we look at local business information (presence, brand, opening times, address) brands must take great care to ensure this information is accurate, up to date and appealing (i.e. using enticing imagery) because if they don’t, users will leave with a negative experience of the brand which can be hard to come back from.

According to evidence from Google 73% of people will mistrust a brand if opening times are incorrect” From an information viewpoint to a vote of confidence in a brand, ensuring local information is actively managed is crucial to brands with physical stores.

Optimising local is also not a ‘one-time job’. Not least of all because anyone who can access Google can make a change to a brand’s GMB listings. They can suggest changes to all that information and change the imagery. As soon as that number scales, technology will be required to support the process, or it soon becomes unmanageable.

Consumers expect to be able to access accurate, honest and useful information from brands, relevant to not just who they are and what they are looking for, but where they are too, and customers will be turned off if what they find is not right. Brands need to be present at the locally inspired point of search to survive and thrive in the present challenging environment.

Emma Lauchlan, client services director, DAC UK

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