As Google continues to refine its search results to better serve users in their moments of need, columnist Adam Dorfman looks at how recent developments in contextual search may impact brick-and-mortar businesses.
More than a year has gone by since Google introduced the concept of micro-moments, which Google defines as times “when people reflexively turn to a device — increasingly a smartphone — to act on a need to learn something, do something, discover something, watch something, or buy something.”
Micro-moments constitute a consumer behavioral shift with implications for businesses that operate brick-and-mortar stores. Merchants need to be more agile and relevant to convert micro-moments to revenue, especially at the local level. For brands, the question is not whether micro-moments are important, but where micro-moments are headed.
Micro-moments are becoming more contextual
We know that micro-moments at the local level are getting bigger. According to Google, mobile “near me” searches have increased by 146 percent year over year. These kinds of searches are intent-based moments of immediacy. For instance, Google (citing data from Hotels.com) indicates that 74 percent of mobile hotel bookings are for same-day check-in.
These “near me” micro-moments are becoming more contextual, too. As Google notes, consumers are not just looking for “hotels near me.” They’re also seeking “pet friendly hotels near me.” They’re not simply looking for “auto dealers near me,” but also “Chevy Silverado for sale near me.”
I believe those contextual searches are often based on three elements: your specific needs as a consumer, where you and the business are located and the time of day or season. Google understands this reality and is taking steps to help businesses and consumers respond to context. For example…
Google Maps and dwell time
As reported in Search Engine Land, Google Maps is using crowdsourced data to show searchers typical dwell times at specific locations. The dwell-time data still requires refinement — as SEL reported, estimates can consist of a precise number (say, 15 minutes) or a wide range (15 to 45 minutes, which is less helpful).
Still, combined with the hour-by-hour peak time data Google has already been collecting, dwell time data should give businesses more insight into how much time consumers are spending in a store and at what times.
With this kind of data, businesses can anticipate that searchers are using their smartphones to make time-based decisions and respond to those micro-moments with contextual content. For instance, a Starbucks could alert a consumer searching for “Frappuccino near me” about locations nearby that have the shortest dwell times, too.
A business could also use that data to troubleshoot customer service issues that might be turning away customers during micro-moments. For a high-end retailer, short dwell times at certain hours might be a sign of a service issue that needs addressing, whereas a coffee shop that lives and dies by volume might uncover a problem with slow service by examining this crowdsourced data.
Google recently unveiled hotel smart filters that give people the option of filtering search results based on their specific context. As Google noted in a July 12 blog post,
[T]ravelers can filter based on rating or price with one tap on their phones. We’ll make it easy to search for exactly what people want, like “Pet-friendly hotels in San Francisco under $200” to find the perfect hotel for them.
Google also noted that it’s going to be easier for consumers to track flight prices on Google Flights.
Smart filtering and smarter searching clearly point to more contextual micro-moments, and it is unlikely Google is going to stop with travel. To be found during these kinds of searches, brands that operate locations need to be present with more contextual data that combines location identity data and attributes, such as payment methods accepted, accessibility, specialty services (for a restaurant, any specialty food served), and, yes, pet-friendliness.
Businesses also need to think of their local ad spend more opportunistically and contextually. Google has cited the case of Red Roof Inn, which tracked data about flight cancellations at airports to serve up ads for nearby Red Roof locations just at the moment the hotel anticipated that delayed travelers would be looking for a place to stay. As a result, Red Roof Inn realized a 60-percent increase in bookings across non-branded search campaigns. What’s happening with hotels is just the beginning.
Micro-moments are evolving in other ways as well, such as becoming more visually oriented, especially as Google responds to different ways people find businesses, goods and services. They need to create more contextually based data to be present — and contextually based content, such as mobile wallet offers — to turn those micro-moments into next moments of business (the moment that occurs after someone finds you during a search).
By creating next moments in context, businesses will flourish in the contextual world Google is shaping.