Retailers Should Use Local Search to Snag Holiday Shoppers

It’s widely reported that 40 percent of retail spending occurs between Thanksgiving weekend and Christmas Day. Every year retailers pull out all the stops to maximize consumer spending on Black Friday and, more recently, Cyber Monday.

Despite their need for local foot traffic, however, they don’t seem to be taking advantage of the extra marketing power that local-search optimization offers. For the most part, strategies consist of getting consumers into the stores through big sales, sweepstakes, and coupons for future visits.

By skipping over local search, however, they’re missing a big opportunity, especially when consumers are hunting high and low for popular products in their local stores.

According to Internet audience measurement firm comScore, spending on Cyber Monday and Black Friday increases yearly. Advertising tactics have evolved to encourage spending during this critically important time.

A recent “Wall Street Journal” article examined how J.C. Penney updated its Web site to enable consumers to check whether nearby stores had certain items in stock. This tactic is certainly a move in the right direction to further support and integrate local search into the retailer’s overall strategy. The same article outlined a large, upscale department store’s initiative to drive consumers to local stores, buying such keywords at Google as “cashmere,” “boots,” “coat,” and “Cuisinart.”

After reading the article, I searched Google for these keywords, and this store had the top spot in sponsored results. They appeared to be highly competitive keywords based on both the sponsored and organic results, and most likely expensive purchases. It struck me as very odd that such a tactic would be used to drive traffic to local stores. It makes more sense to use this tactic to generate online sales. But I reread the quote and, sure enough, the company’s CEO wanted to drive brick-and-mortar store traffic.

Despite the CEO’s intentions, however, adding a geographic modifier to keywords being purchased by this retailer resulted in no sponsored results. Equally interesting, none of the local-store locations appeared in the organic results in either the general or local SERPs (define). In other words, if you were a consumer who relied on local-search results, you’d pretty much bypass this retailer.

Of course, you can obtain store locations from the retailer’s Web site. But why leave potential customer visits to chance, not to mention the ability to provide a better user experience? Just as important, why not maximize the retailer’s entire campaign by building out business profiles for each brick-and-mortar location across the local-search marketplace? It’s a large missed opportunity.

What would local-search optimization accomplish? When doing a local search for the products being promoted, consumers would see not only a sponsored result that would drive clicks to the corporate site but also, within the local SERPs, they’d see a map with a few keywords equal to or greater than what they see in the sponsored results. This would surely drive more store traffic and certainly round out the campaign.

As search engines adopt universal-search features, imagine how a fully integrated campaign could perform for any department store or retailer. A retailer could essentially own the first page of the SERP: a sponsored result for specific keywords, listings with an address and phone number, a local map plotting the store’s locations, and a link to its site in the organic results.

This raises the question: why aren’t retailers focused on this aspect of local search marketing? The answer is twofold. First, they don’t know how to positively address the local-listings aspect of local search. Second, they are, for the most part, focused on paid search and optimizing their sites to push organic results. These are critical components to search marketing and certainly drive value, but they don’t address the entire opportunity.

At last week’s Kelsey Group and Search Engine Strategies Interactive Local Media conference, my colleague Gib Olander outlined three primary components of a SERP during the SRO panel, “Local Search: Why Your Business Needs to Be There and How.” The components are sponsored results, organic results, and the business listings section. For the most part, the business listings section isn’t being adequately addressed. Yet it can provide a unique competitive advantage for retailers and chains.

To address business listings, reach out to a company that specializes in this part of the local-search equation, just as you already do for sponsored and organic results. It stands to reason you should do it for business listings as well.

Businesses that optimize this last component will have a competitive advantage in their categories across the online space, plus a huge head start in the mobile-search space. If they don’t, they’re likely to lose mindshare to merchants that understand local search.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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