Let’s go back in time—circa 2000—and imagine you needed a new camera. Using the internet as a research tool, your search probably started with “camera.” From there you navigated to review sites, phoned friends and visited stores. Once you decided on that snappy Canon advertised by a longhaired Andre Agassi, you visited a comparison shopping site to find the best price. Sound familiar?
Today’s busy consumer, caught in a whirlwind of information, has little patience for such a convoluted purchase path. Instead, they want their search to yield exactly the information they need— validation, reviews, specs and price. To ensure they get the results they desire, consumers have modified their behavior in five distinct ways: using more sophisticated search queries, relying on product images, reading recommendations, researching the facts and finding the best price.
Based on these behavioral changes, retailers must in turn adjust the way they think about search marketing and online advertising.
Consumers Shift to More Sophisticated Queries
As the internet and e-commerce have evolved, consumers have been conditioned to be more specific about what they are searching for online. This increases the chance of finding the exact product they desire. For instance, the search “camera” yields a generic result.
If the search changes from “camera” to a specific model such as “canon rebel t4i,” the results are more consistent with shopping rather than browsing.
Studies consistently show that search queries are becoming longer. Hitwise reported that queries that were less than three words were declining and those between four to eight words were growing year-over-year from 3%-20%. What’s more, the longer the query the more likely the searcher was to convert.
Consumers Embrace a Visual Culture
Whether consumers are shopping for a camera, shoes or a specific bolt, one way to verify what they are getting is through imagery. Shoppers, bombarded with data, seek the simplicity of images as short hand. Images validate and capture interest, hence the rise of sites like Pintrest, Instagram and others.
According to the Search Engine Journal, images ranked higher than product-specific details, descriptions, ratings or reviews in driving purchase decisions. Yahoo’s recent billion-dollar acquisition of Tumblr reaffirms that search and content companies believe this is the way of the future.
Consumers Rely on the Opinion of Others
While images help validate that shoppers have found the right product, reviews and recommendations validate the quality of the product that consumers are shopping for. HubSpot found that 71% of people were more likely to make a purchase based on friends’ social media suggestions and 70% trusted consumer reviews. Social media and reviews engender consumer trust.
Consumers Want the Facts
Armed with the information gleaned from social networks and reviews, consumers want specific details about products quickly. Moreover, they want data—not marketing spin.
Customers would rather see “18-mega-pixel” than “crystal clear images.” This information ensures that the shopper is getting exactly what they want, not an imitation or variation of the product.
Consumers Feel that Price Matters
Queries, images, reviews and specs, guide consumers along the purchase path. However, price is critical to that last step—purchase. Consumers are willing to put some effort into this step as is evident by the emergence of programs like Red Laser and the recent trend of showrooming. Whether browsing in store or online, consumers don’t want to overspend.
How Retailers Should Respond
There are a number of things that retailers can do to combat this shift in consumer behavior and meet these new expectations. These days, retailers should focus on long tail keywords, product images, recommendations, relevant data and price comparison.
That seems doable, but that’s not all. As consumer behavior has changed so have the search engines. Online advertising has become more complicated, and in order to maximize online exposure, retailers must adapt to the evolving requirements of online channels. So how can a retailer ensure that they are capturing and converting traffic in such an ever-changing industry?
Retailers Should Embrace Product Data Feeds
As the queries become more specific and consumers become more visual, Google found that a page full of blue links was far from compelling. Therefore, they introduced Google Shopping to improve the online shopping experience.
Google Shopping and other advertising programs across search and shopping engines are relying more and more on product data feeds that offer retailers the ability to create long tail keywords, display images and generate more gripping ad copy to help perfectly align a product with the search query.
An optimized data feed is the key to meeting new consumer expectations and converting a browser into a shopper. Expert feed management has typically been necessary to make shopping programs successful. Those managing search advertising had expertise around keywords and knew little about the feed.
Now, the lines between those two functions are blurring, and the data feed includes all the information—long tail keyword, detailed product information, images and price—that is required to appeal to the curious shopper. In 2013, successful search marketers need to understand data feeds and start thinking about how these programs can work together to improve brand image and online sales.
Sheridan Orr is director of product marketing at ChannelAdvisor.