For omnichannel brands, there has been a gradual blurring of online and offline. Consumers have changed their habits and upped expectations, from waiting for a few days for delivery to wanting it right now.

Over the past couple of years, Amazon has launched their one hour Amazon Prime delivery service and Sainsbury’s has completed an acquisition of retailer Argos in the UK. Both of them are squarely aimed at satisfying the demand of customers to get the products they want the very same day.

In order to keep pace, online advertising has had to adapt too, with search being the very last step in this process. Customers at the end of their journey are looking for a particular product, the location of a restaurant or their nearest store. Presence during these searches is essential to bringing customers to a physical store and search is proving to be the bridge between these two worlds.

Mobile first

Data from the search giant Google shows that the average smartphone user checks their device 150 times during the day, and whilst the frequency of online visits has increased, the duration of each visit has reduced.

Think about a time when all consumers had was a laptop at home to go online; the typical buying phase consisted of a few extended periods of research, followed by a conversion on the very same device. Now that we all have a smartphone in our pocket there is no longer a need to go online as most of us are already there, living online.

In order to capture the demand in this mobile-first world, businesses must ensure that they are present across multiple touchpoints and give users the option to purchase online or to visit a physical location. On a mobile device, ad listings for search have taken over the first page so promoted presence in the top three positions is essential to ensure presence in front of these users.

Local intent

Searches that include phrases such as “near me” have jumped massively during the past couple of years. Consumers searching for products are including intent information to seek out the nearest location they can purchase from. Businesses should look to take advantage of these triggers and make the most of ad formats designed specifically to bring customers to a physical location.

At the very bottom of the purchase funnel are product keywords. When searched on Google, these would typically trigger shopping results where advertisers compete to show detailed product information, including price, item ratings and images. Up until 2015 these products would have to be able to be purchased online to appear. This changed when Google introduced local inventory ads, which not only shows products that are available in store but gives the consumer relevant information such as how far the store is away, stock levels and a map to get there.

Google built on this intent by announcing local search ads at last month’s Performance Summit. These new ad formats are displayed when users interact with the physical world by either using maps or searching for a business and including local information. Promoted pins and a route to the nearest location can then be displayed, helping to drive consumers to stores.

Looking beyond metrics

The ability to track and optimise store visits is essential in proving ROI on these campaigns. Typically, digital campaigns have been judged on online sales and performance, with footfall and in-store purchasing seen as a welcome but untrackable byproduct of campaigns.

The industry has made good strides in the past few years, and starting to track these conversions as well as the introduction of store visits in to the AdWords platform is a big step towards this. By using smartphone location and local Wi-Fi data it’s now possible to tell if a customer has been in to a store off the back of a search click.

Through utilisation of these store visits, Ecselis and Google put together a case study for car manufacturer Hyundai showing that 3% of all paid search clicks resulted in a visit to a dealer. This information is now being utilised to push more spend towards the keywords that have driven a consumer to a dealership.

What’s ahead of us?

At present, a great deal of effort is going towards getting closer to the holy grail of tracking every single purchase, whether online or in store. We need to ensure there is parity between the way we treat online and offline conversions, so that full sale, revenue and ROI data from a sale in-store can be pulled back in to an online campaign. 

Search is the vital last touch point of this connection, but the technology is clearly still a work in progress. However, advertisers cannot wait until there is a perfect solution to start driving consumers in store and tracking their interactions. The search demand for consumers is there now, and businesses need to be there with a clear local strategy to make the most of it.