We could bore you all day with stats about how important online search is.
But take it away from stats for a minute and think about it on a personal level. When was the last time you looked up a product or a business on your phone? Maybe you were looking for a specific product or for dinner recommendations or a new takeout coffee spot.
Whatever it was, you did exactly what millions of people do every single day.
You looked up information about a local business. You did your research. You found a store that had the product, you booked a dinner reservation, or you ordered coffee from a café because you liked the photos of the storefront on Google Maps.
This is exactly why brick and mortars are losing out if they’re not paying enough attention to online search.
Why online search matters for brick and mortar stores
If you don’t do e-commerce, it’s very easy to dismiss online search. After all, SEO is confusing, right? So why waste all the time and energy figuring it or running digital ads or paying someone to do it when you already have too much to do?
Well, for one: how customers shop has changed.
Only a decade ago customers didn’t have nearly as much choice. They went to a mall or local stores and bought what they wanted. If they wanted information or recommendations, they’d talk to friends or staff. Which is exactly what customers still do – except on a massive scale. The internet is the great connector.
Customers can go online to find better deals or faster deliveries. They can take to Twitter or Facebook or search engines to look up reviews or product information.
Now, they don’t need you anymore. If you don’t have what they want or if they can find it cheaper somewhere else, they can get it online or use their phone to find somewhere that has it.
Before, that wasn’t an option.
Now, you need to play to that.
Remember those stats we mentioned early?
Well, Google’s Global Retail Insights Survey found some interesting things:
- 36% of online searchers wish retailers would do a better job of sharing product inventory information.
- 45% said that they go to the store instead of buying online when they want something quickly.
It’s pretty clear why this matters to brick and mortar stores: not doing online search means you’re losing out on customers – which means you’re losing out on revenue.
Which means running your store gets that bit harder – and being an independent retailer is hard enough already without making it even more difficult!
In short, brick and mortars need to work on online search because it:
- Helps customers find information they’re looking for.
- Creates new traffic for your website – which can lead to new customers in your store.
- Makes you look more credible. With more people than ever using their devices to find store information, having a website helps enormously in building trust.
- Creates a better experience for customers.
- Gives customers a new way to find you.
When you look at it like that, why wouldn’t brick and mortar retailers consider improving their online search presence?
So how should retailers reach customers with online search?
While in-store marketing is super important, it becomes even more powerful if you get more people in your store.
Makes sense, of course!
So what tactics should you use? Two stand out.
1. Search engine optimization for brick and mortar stores
Search engine optimization (SEO) helps your store get found online – which is to say: it helps more potential customers find you.
SEO can be complicated, but it’s often sold by experts as being more complicated than it is so that businesses will hand over their hard-earned cash.
The big thing you’ll want to rank for is ‘[your type of store] near me’. Ideally, you’d also want your products to turn up in search too, though that can be difficult and time-consuming – especially if you have thousands of products.
Search engine optimization breaks into three main types:
- Technical SEO.
- On-page SEO.
- Off-site SEO.
Technical SEO can, as the name suggests, be quite technical – it involves URL structuring, how pages link, and site structure. Most brick and mortar stores won’t need to get into this side of it.
Instead, on-site SEO and off-site SEO should be your calling cards.
You want to use SEO to tell Google and search engines like it what you do and who are so that it knows to show you in relevant search results. At the very basics, your website should have a homepage with information on who you are and what you do, as well as an ‘about’ page.
You’ll also want to make sure that you have certain keywords – words people look up – appearing in important parts of your site: in meta descriptions, in title tags, and more. If you’re not sure how to do this, ask whoever developed your website.
Having a blog is super-useful for improving your on-site SEO if you blog about topics relevant to your industry. It helps Google to see that you know what you’re talking about, and gives potential customers more ways to find you. Plus, it gives you more things to talk about on social media.
Off-site SEO includes tactics that aren’t on your actual site but that helps people find you – so for example, using social media or paying for advertising that sends traffic to your site.
If you want to know more about SEO, start with this blog:
2. Get your products and store online
One of the hardest things for retailers – especially if they don’t do e-commerce – is getting all their products online.
Finding photos, information, and descriptions can be very, very time-consuming, especially if you have thousands of products.
Up-to-date product information is a big missing step for a lot of retailers. Think about it: have you ever looked up a certain product near you only to be shown an Amazon result or a product that doesn’t say if it’s actually in the store?
Tools like Pointy join the dots for retailers as it shows up-to-date stock information on a Pointy page – an online storefront that shows the store’s products, stock levels, and directions to the store. All a retailer has to do is connect Pointy to their POS and scan their products as normal.
Brick and mortar retailers should also set up a Google My Business profile. This is a free Google tool that create a profile on Google and Google Maps to show valuable store information like opening hours, contact details and more.
Of course, it’s also useful to ask customers to leave a review on Google as more reviews shows that the store is trustworthy and helps with appearing higher in search.
Online search is a potentially huge avenue for retailers to reach new customers. Other digital tactics like social media are still very important but the big bonus of online search is that it has intent: if someone is searching for “bookstore near me” or “bbq grill California”, they’re probably thinking about buying a book or a BBQ.
It just becomes a question of do they see you or a competitor in the search results?
While figuring out the basics of SEO and improving your online presence can be a big learning curve, it’s super worth it for brick and mortar retailers who are looking to reach a new audience.
This blog was written by Lisa Sills. Lisa is a content strategist at Pointy. She’s passionate about the world of digital, books, and all things retail. When she’s not in world, you’ll find her cycling, traveling or curating her cat’s Instagram.