Over the past few years, we’ve seen a dramatic shift in the way consumers seek out information about a business: from desktop, to mobile, to voice search (now 20% of searches according to Google).  The information provided in response to queries is also changing, with more precise answers tailored to the individual asking the questions.  We’ve gone from Google delivering 10 blue links on a page to nearly every search we do now returning maps powered by diverse types of data, from menus and product offerings to reviews and opening hours.  If you ask Google for information about Premier Inn, it gives deep attributes & facts about the hotel each having an impact on the customer perception and intent. 

So far 2017 has been the year for digital assistants, with an expected 33 million voice-first devices in circulation by end of year.  The voice landscape is a fascinating environment with huge possibilities and challenges for marketers.  The biggest challenge being that, when a person performs a voice search, they often only receive one answer in response, which means it’s no longer good enough for a business to rank second. If you’re not number one, you won’t be discovered.

This will make the search landscape more competitive than ever.

To accommodate this shift, search engines have moved towards mobile-friendly results across the board, favouring locally-optimised information determined by relevance, proximity and prominence. When searching for a restaurant or pub near me, results are prefiltered based on these factors, with high star rated businesses topping the list. According to Google, nearly one-third of all mobile searches are performed by people looking for businesses nearby. Of these local searches, 76% convert to a business visit within one day and 28% of those visits result in a purchase. Your local search results are your brand in the eyes of the customer.

The question marketers need to ask themselves is ‘are they in control of the digital knowledge presented to the public about their business’. The choice is whether to leave control of your brand image and reputation to search crawlers and crowd-sourced content, or to have a strategy to present the best version of your brand everywhere your customer is.

Why should a business care about digital knowledge management?

Digital knowledge is at the centre of this search ecosystem, powering results that provide searchers with useful information about people, products and places of interest: What time does a restaurant open and close? What are today’s specials? Are there any promotions running? Ensuring the search ecosystem presents the searcher with all the correct information they require can result in increased traffic and revenue, more inbound phone calls, e-commerce transactions and you getting the business over your competitors.

But what if the facts presented about the business are wrong? What’s the impact on a business and the customer experience, especially in a world where people want accurate and complete information in the moment?  Here’s a good example.  If you search Bing, Apple Maps or Facebook for information about the Marlborough Head pub in Farnham it shows the pub is open for business. See the first Bing example below.

On the surface, looks brilliant, all the information in one place. However, there’s one big problem, the pub closed down around six months ago as shown in the second Google example. Frustrating for customers who don’t look at Google and turn up for a night out with their friends.

In a survey Yext conducted among 2,000 UK consumers, 80% said they had encountered incorrect online information about a business, and over half of them said it is not a rare occurrence. This information included data about opening hours, products and services, phone numbers, addresses and promotions.  The most worrying statistic is that nearly half of all consumers blame the business itself for data issues encountered in its online presence, affecting their reputation.

Here are five key things a business can do to ensure it is prominent and relevant at every consumer interaction:

  1. Think about the whole digital ecosystem –  You need a vibrant and active presence.  This isn’t just Google and Facebook, you need to include Snapchat, Instagram, Uber, Bing, car GPS systems, maps, apps, Apple, Yelp etc.
  2. Maintain and manage accurate business data – A business must be able to manage and maintain accurate facts and attributes including locations, opening hours, menu options, reservations, products and ensure this data is accurate and represented on web pages per individual locations.  It’s imperative to have a robust internal system to centralise this data or find partners to automate this.  Managing this data manually is extremely labour and time intensive especially if you have hundreds of locations.
  3. Deploy rich localised content – The richer the information about your business, the better.  Include photos and videos, business descriptions, products, service offerings, local promotions and events, Snapchat Geofilters etc.
  4. Create relevant, real-time content – Create an agile strategy that enables the business to continuously deliver fresh content, as fresh content drives prominence.
  5. Implement a consumer review strategy – Consumer reviews, not just opinion, now impact and affect organic search results.  Make sure your business has a robust consumer reviews strategy in place which includes brand, product and location reviews right down to an individual location level.

Businesses can increase their share of intelligent search, the new way that people are searching, by establishing a digital knowledge management strategy about their people, places and products.  This will help them to take control of the public facts about their business across the whole ecosystem.  These facts will be increasingly influential in signalling to search engines and voice search AI, for example, that you fulfil the needs of the searcher.