For decades, business owners have understood that a company’s website is the most important digital property a business has, and that investing in it is the primary way you drive customers from the internet to to your doors. This is no longer true.
While your website is still very important to your business, a shift in consumer behavior in the last few years has changed this calculation. Company websites are no longer the primary site of online engagement. Search results, including digital maps and listings, are where customers engage with businesses the most, and it’s not even close.
According to an exclusive study of data retrieved from Yext Analytics of 20,107 business locations’ listings profiles across the search engines, local directories, maps and apps where their brands live, brick-and-mortar-only businesses actually receive 2.7 times as many views of listings on maps, apps, search engines, GPS systems and social networks than they do on their own websites. In some industries this disparity was even higher. In fact, in food service it ranged up to 10 times more impressions in listings than on websites for some.
Why? Because when you can pull out your phone to search for coffee, click a coffeeshop on the map that pops up and get directions without ever scrolling through a website, why wouldn’t you?
This new order has huge revenue implications, because engagement drives transactions. Seventy-six percent of location-specific searches result in a business visit within one day, and 28 percent result in a purchase, according to Google.
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What does this mean for your business? Driving in-person business using online tools requires you to fundamentally re-examine your digital strategy.
There are three guiding principles you need to know in order to modernize your digital strategy:
1. Embrace the decentralization of your brand.
Brands don’t just live on a business’s website anymore. They are defined across 100-plus different maps, apps, voice search tools, digital assistants, search engines, GPS systems and social networks. It’s tempting to throw up your hands at the daunting task of maintaining your brand in all of these places, but if you don’t have a strategy for updating the content on these platforms, out-of-date information will define you in the eyes of your customers.
2. Don’t confuse ease of measurement with value.
Customers are engaging with you in places you may struggle to measure; this does not mean these places don’t matter. While interactions with customers off of company websites have historically gone unreported and underleveraged, they are only becoming more vital as customers turn to Google Maps, Yelp, Facebook and other sources to decide whether to visit you. New tools are emerging every day to shine a light on this activity and empower you to use it to grow your customer base.
3. Invest in rich off-site content.
You spend significant resources to have a deep, helpful website that gives your prospective customers the information they need to choose you over your competitors. But, your website is probably not where the action is; you need to do the same in search. Almost all the information you have on your website needs to be visible right in your search results, or your customers are unlikely to see it and engage with it. Search is moving away from the 10 blue links on a page we all remember and toward the structured data that shows you accurate results when you search “gluten-free Italian restaurant near me open now.” Accurate name, address and phone number are no longer enough; you need to have up-to-date hours, product information like food menus, customer reviews and other information in your search results, not only to convince customers to choose you, but to show up in search at all.
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Why? Because the trend away from the traditional website is only accelerating. In fact, the day will come when businesses no longer need websites. In China, many businesses don't even create websites, finding that listing on WeChat, Baidu and the other dominant Chinese search platforms is the best way to reach their customers. This trend is coming to your customers, too, and your strategy needs to anticipate these changes in consumer behavior.
Advances in search technology have changed the way we explore the world around us. It started with mobile search and GPS, but artificial intelligence, voice search tools like Alexa, self-driving cars, augmented reality and hundreds of other new technologies are creating a future of intelligent search in which the digital knowledge about your brand will define your business whether you control it or not. The years to come will see consumer engagement increasingly move to these new platforms. If you haven’t tailored your strategy to the new digital ecosystem, you are already behind.