How multi-channel search marketing has become more social

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Guest blog post written by Andrew Rayner, founder of internet marketing agency e-mphasis.Welcome to Google Places_1282572526342

The phrase “Multi-channel” has been a buzz word for some time now in the retail sector and this has led to 3 main changes in the market:

  1. With e-commerce capabilities accessible to even the tiniest of single-store independent retailers, the ability to shop across different channels has become almost universal.
  2. The consumer has became more confident shopping across channels (e.g. researching online and then purchasing in store,  or reserving online and then collecting in store) and is becoming increasingly demanding about their online  shopping experience.
  3. The use of social media means that consumers are no longer relying on the brand’s own marketing messages to make key purchasing decisions - they are looking to “people like them” (ie, other customers) to help make decisions.

Typically retailers have been working on a multi-channel strategy that ensures customers who already shop with them get the expected brand experience at every touch point. There has been little regard for those who have not yet committed to any one specific retailer or store. So what is the best way to capture these prospective customers?

The answer is to apply  multi-channel retail thinking to search and social media marketing. This means providing access to all channels from the moment when consumers start searching for products and services online, enabling the retailer to present a comprehensive search result to consumers that satisfies their exact requirements.

And with the consumer leading the purchasing decisions of their peers and influencing purchases through social media channels like Twitter, Facebook and product ratings and reviews, retailers need to ensure they also tap into the social media as part of their multichannel strategy.

One approach to this could be to use Google Places Optimisation (GPO). GPO works for retailers because it returns results for location based searches. In excess of 43% of all Google searches return a local result and so the opportunity for businesses with multiple locations is phenomenal.

GPO also provides a great opportunity for multi-channel retailers as it can link to a retailers transactional website, and if that website allows it, the complete customer journey, from search to basket, can be tracked. It can also provide all other relevant information to the customer, including contact details, opening hours and even information like parking facilities or food outlets. Google Places will also contain that all-important consumer review and feedback information – a vital feature of the consumer decision making process in the age of social shopping.

Effective GPO will not only save SEO and PPC costs, but will also deliver more relevant impressions and enable retailers to leverage social media more effectively. And as most consumers searching the web for a product or service are often not brand loyal (yet), they do not have a destination store in mind. But by using GPO as part of your multichannel search strategy you will put all routes to market in front of shoppers who are actively looking to buy.

Google soft-launches commenting - UGC search results

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Google Lego 50th Anniversary InspirationImage by manfrys via Flickr

People are often comparing Twitter with Facebook. They’re wrong to do this. Facebook is about connections, friends and contacts. Twitter is not about this at all. It’s about information and search.

The real value of Facebook is when you have a group of friends with who you share ideas, experiences and content. Twitter, on the other hand is not really built for connecting with people - its real value comes from the comments and contributions that are added to its database and that can then be searched.

That’s why I’ve always preferred to compare Twitter with Google. On Google I search for information and get a set of results based on which sites score most highly in their algorithm. On Twitter I search for information and get a set of results based on which links are most often read and forwarded by other users. Google produces mathematical search results. Twitter produces UGC ones. Until now.

ZDNet is reporting that Google has soft-launched public comments on search results:

Google’s Searchology press conference unveiled a boatload of new features including different ways to visualize results, better support for semantic markup, and more. But when I was looking at the results page, I noticed a little comment icon. There was no mention of this.

The article goes on to describe how some users can now comment on search results and this is made pubilc to others. I cannot see this yet and so it is probably being rolled-out across the user-base slowly.

This is a huge change and shows that Google is taking seriously the potential threat of Twitter and other UGC search sources. Allowing users to comment on search results really could combine a solid algorithm with user’s own expertise. And we know that people are more likely to trust peers when making purchase decisions, so why not when searching online too.

There is obviously a lot to know about how this might work - who can comment, are these comments moderated (and if so how and by whom, will rating of sites be included too, how will Google cope when many thousands of people review one site. But these will no doubt be resolved as people start to comment on search results and use these to inform their own search.

For now we just know that UGC search is serious business. Twitter has integrated search into its main page and now google is allowing comments on it’s own search results. This really does show the power of social media. Once an algorithm would show the those results that were mathematically best suited to our query. Now users influence this - either by searching user content and links on Twitter or, perhaps, the potential for comments on Google itself.

Exciting times.