Google Tells Brick-And-Mortars To Adapt To ‘Micro-Moments’ Marketing

Consumers’ “near me” searches have surged 34x since 2011 — and doubled since 2014. As mobile grows, potential customers’ demand for speed is intensifying.

momentIf the world of online-to-offline marketing appears to be getting faster, research from Google offers to quantify what that means for local merchants.

Thanks to the supercomputers in consumers’ pockets — and soon to be more common, on their wrists and in their home appliances — a dramatic shift has been created in people’s expectations and demands for detailed information and products.

In the case of brick-and-mortar retailers and businesses, that means ensuring their information shows up clearly, quickly, comprehensively, and accurately when prospective customers search for a particular kind of marketing category or service “near me.”

It all reflects the growing importance of local Digital Presence Management, which directs a process and system for organizing and updating a business’s directory listings, social profiles, store pages, and its websites so that consumers will easily discover them.

It’s an area that Google has been concentrating on more sharply lately. Last month, Google unveiled its “Let’s Put Our Cities on the Map” program, which is aimed at small-to-midsize businesses and has already created customized websites covering 30,000 American towns and cities.

The Impulse Reflex

A search for "ice cream shops nearby" turns up a search ad...
A search for “ice cream shops nearby” turns up a search ad…

Google’s study of this “proximity impulse” search activity finds that consumer behavior moving to a world of what the company has been calling “micro-moments,” where the expectation is for immediacy of finding and getting what a person wants within the instant after registering their interest online.

The topline findings contained in the search giant’s blog post, which is part of the company’s Think With Google research series, include:

  • Searches with “near me” have jumped 34x since 2011, and have nearly doubled since last year.
  • 4 out of 5 searches with “near me” in the query came from mobile devices in Q4 2014.
  • 50 percent of consumers who conduct a local search on their smartphone visit a store within a day — about 18 percent of those searches lead to a purchase within a day.
  • If they’re not sure where to eat, nearly half of people won’t search for a restaurant until within an hour of going (that number jumps to almost 60 percent for millennials).

The most popular “near me” searches are fairly obvious, notes the blog post’s author, Matt Lawson, who serves as Google’s director for Search Ads Marketing. But people have started to search things that are more specialized and “typically in a higher consideration set,” like for “dermatologists near me,” “plumbers near me,” “jobs near me.”

“We live in a world where the notion of ambiguity has become a punchline,” Lawson says. “Turning to our smartphones when we need something — a forgotten word, a better price, a movie time — has become a reflex. We want things right, and we want things right away. As a result, the consumer journey looks markedly different than it did just five years ago. Instead of a few moments of truth, it’s a series of ‘micro-moments’ when we turn to mobile to act on a need.”

... And a search ad directs a consumer to the closest place where they can get what they asked for.
… And a search ad directs a consumer to the closest place where they can get what they asked for.

Near Is Dear

In the not-too-distant past, finding a product or service nearby used to depend on what now seem inconvenient artifacts (e.g., the physical Yellow Pages book, unfolding a paper map, and a landline-based telephone). Mobility, portable connected devices has erased all that.

Words like “near me,” “closest,” and “nearby” are increasingly common across the billions of queries on Google every month. More and more, people are looking for things in their vicinity — a gym, a mall, a plumber, or a cup of coffee.

As noted above, “near me” searches have surged rapidly and the vast majority come from mobile, with 80 percent of such queries being entered in portable connected devices in Q4 2014, Lawson says.

“The consumer has never been more informed because that information lies in the phone in their pocket, in their purse, or on their body,” says Annie Zipfel, SVP of Marketing at outdoor gear chain REI, in a statement.

Straight To The Store

For consumers, this is not about curiosity and it’s not about showrooming and ecommerce. They’re using the information they get online, on their smartphones to make decisions that, more and more often, lead them straight to into physical stores.

“We love when someone comes into the store holding their phone and saying ‘I want this tent’, ‘I want this bike’, ‘Help me find this, I’ve read about this, I’ve researched it’,” adds Zipfel.

Despite the blazing speed of the micro-moments Google observes, that doesn’t mean businesses can’t prepare for them, Lawson says. Marketers already set up decorations around their shops as they plan ahead for seasonal changes and holidays. The same can be done when it comes to their online presences and messaging during other predictable, if mundane, periods of time as well.

“On any given weekend, there are many moments, as new contexts spark new needs,” Lawson notes. “Taking a closer look at location-based searches over the course of a recent weekend, we see that, on Saturday, we were more likely to look for movie theaters and nail salons (treat yourself!). Saturday night was all about finding drinks and late-night pizza.”

Being There Isn’t Enough

The most popular searches in this vein tended to be generic: “restaurants near me,” “breakfast near me,” “coffee near me.” The indication, concludes Lawson, is that “convenience often trumps brand loyalty in the moment.” So, simply being there isn’t enough, brands also need to provide “useful, relevant, and seamless experiences,” Lawson says.

Google points to the adoption of its Local Inventory Ads by REI, Macy’s and PetSmart as a way it can help erect the digital presence building blocks that can match brands’ context and services likely search queries in a given time period.

For example, the Local Inventory Ads show availability at nearby stores.

“If a consumer were to type in ‘road bike,’ it’s highly likely that REI will pop up, and they’ll see a visual of the product itself, but they will also find out that the exact bike is in stock at a local store and how far away that REI store is,” Zipfel says. “So, rather than buy online and wait for delivery, consumers can get instant gratification.

Google claims that 10- to 18 percent of Local Inventory Ad clicks lead to a store visit. As a result of those figures, Lawson says PetSmart plans to spend more on marketing that drive customers to retail stores, like location extensions and directions.

“Businesses are also fine-tuning their location bid adjustments to show search and display ads to people who are within a certain distance from their stores,” Lawson says.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.