With 90% of consumers reporting that they use search at every stage of the customer lifecycle, it's clear that search has become fundamental to the customer journey. Your brand has probably experienced this first-hand. You've likely had customers ask questions across diverse search experiences — Google, Amazon Alexa, your own app — in a way they wouldn't or couldn't have just 10 years ago. Your customers are searching for essential information about your brand more often, and in more places, than ever.
But search is more than just one important aspect of your digital strategy — it's going to be the most critical issue for your brand this year. From the unprecedented changes wrought by COVID-19 to the high-ROI nature of organic search, here are the four major reasons why.
1. The COVID-19 crisis has your customers asking new questions.
As the spread of COVID-19 has thrown out so much of the information around daily life that we once took for immovable fact, people are taking to their phones and computers with more questions than ever — many of them directed at brands. Naturally, consumers want to know how companies are responding to the crisis, and how they are operationally adjusting to the ensuing closures and social distancing measures. The searches they're performing reflect this.
And this recent uptick in online queries isn't limited to any one industry. Beyond questions about health and safety, the basic details of society's day-to-day operations — facts that most people wouldn't normally feel compelled to question — are suddenly unclear and thus subject to a high volume of online searches. Recent Yext research shows that grocery stores, pharmacies, and retailers are seeing big spikes in searches about store hours and what's in stock. The same research also found queries spiking for key practical questions like "Is it safe to eat takeout during COVID?" The answers to these questions change rapidly, requiring updates in as close to real time as possible.
As your customers search for this information, it's clear that your brand needs to be able to deliver accurate, up-to-date answers around the topic of coronavirus and how it's impacting your business. But this crisis also raises questions on the macro scale: Even beyondtimes of crisis, how prepared is your brand to quickly update the information on your website? And can your customers trust you to give them the answers they need?
People are more dependent on accurate and up-to-date online information than ever. Our present moment highlights how fundamental a well-executed search experience is to a brand's core customer service and conversion strategy — not just during a crisis, but always. The time to up your search management game is now.
2. Delivering answers in search has a profound impact on consumers' perception of your brand and how much they trust it.
Your customers are asking more questions online than ever, and the answers they find influence their decision-making processes all along the purchase funnel. It's a pretty simple concept, right? But imprecise search management can lead to brands delivering wrong or missing answers to these questions, causing not just a poor service experience in that moment, but possibly a lasting breakdown in brand trust.
The impact of brand trust on buying decisions is clear. Second only to product quality, a majority of consumers (57%) say they trust brands based on how that brand treats them when they need help, according to the 2019 Edelman Trust survey. And within this category, the most important reasons for trusting a brand include that it has always treated the consumer and others well (39% global, 46% U.S.), and that it quickly addresses questions and customer service problems (36% global, 35% U.S.). This actually has a massive impact on your business' bottom line. Trust is almost as important to consumers in their buying decisions as quality and value.
Addressing customers' questions to give them the essential information they need, everywhere they search, is key to winning and keeping consumer trust — during a crisis like a pandemic, or any other time.
3. Customers who search on your website are more motivated than you realize.
Most marketers have long understood the importance of turning clicks to their website into conversions. But you might not know how far careful management of the search experience on your website goes towards boosting conversions from some of your most valuable customers.
The 15% of customers who use search on a website account for a full 45% of e-commerce revenue, and site search has been shown to be 1.8x more effective at producing conversions. These highly motivated customers know what they need, and they are looking to brands directly to help them get it. And because on-site searchers are engaging with stronger intent to act, the emotional stakes are higher. Neglecting to have site search that easily surfaces information in line with customer intent isn't just leaving revenue on the table, it's actively eroding that customer's relationship with your brand.
The fact is, site search isn't separate from the rest of your search marketing. You need to create and manage a holistic search experience that helps you deliver highly targeted, responsive, conversion-optimized answers wherever your customers are searching, including your website.
4. Focusing on high-ROI sources like organic search can help your brand weather economic uncertainty.
It's easy to understand why more people are asking more questions of essential services as a result of COVID-19. But it showcases a wider trend: People rely on businesses to provide them information via search. More than 80% of U.S. internet users say a search engine is their top choice to find local products or services.
So putting your best foot forward in search is critical — but it's also cost-effective. Recent Yext research finds that organic search contributes, on average, to a more significant portion of online revenue than other channels: 5x more than email, 23x more than social, and 37x more than display advertising.
This matters even more during times of economic uncertainty, when marketing budgets are often slashed first. Over the next several months, we will likely see marketers move ad spend from low-ROI sources like display or TV to high-ROI sources like organic search. This reallocation of marketing resources can help brands weather the financial crisis in the short term, but it will also set them up for future success. It's also a telling exercise in understanding which channels are most essential to a business's core KPIs.
In other words, what you do during a crisis can tell you a great deal about what you really should be doing all the time. Prioritizing your search experience helps you meet your customers at moments when they need you, and optimizing search performance during times of crisis will illuminate what strategy you should be employing as a baseline.
Learn more about how customers' heightened emotional responses during a crisis can permanently alter their perception of your brand — and how you can prioritize your search experience accordingly.