How search and local SEO improve your omnichannel strategy

The way we engage with technology and ecommerce has changed - it’s even influenced how we behave in the real world. We search for stores we want to visit, look for landmarks to check out, read reviews for restaurants and more. Our online presence and real-world activities have become more and more intertwined, so it’s no surprise that omnichannel commerce has become a major focus both for consumers and merchants alike. 

Today, we’re going to look specifically at how local SEO can play into omnichannel strategies for merchants looking to connect all those touchpoints between their ecommerce and physical retail stores. 

What is omnichannel?

Omnichannel is an approach to commerce focussed on providing customers with a seamless experience as they move between channels. Those channels include search, mobile, desktop, brick-and-mortar stores, social media, and more. Rather than treating each channel as its own separate entity, omnichannel is about how those channels interact and the role they play in the customer journey from discovery to purchase. 

This is different to multichannel marketing, where you’re focussing on engaging customers on several channels, but those aren’t necessarily interconnected. They often have their own strategies and are treated as separate experiences, with some overlap for example ads on social media to direct the customer to your online store. 

Omnichannel is the entire experience and how each channel plays into that, treating every channel as equal parts of the same machine. To use the same example, it treats social media and ecommerce as part of the same experience, and strategies look at how to best allow customers to move between both channels as part of the one experience. In other words, if a customer finds a brand’s online store and browses some of their products, they may then get personalized ads on social media and are able to shop those products directly in the platform’s app without returning to the ecommerce site. A further extension of that would be then giving the customer the option to pick up in-store. Or perhaps they’re browsing in-store, but the item they want is out of stock; a shop assistant may then be able to order online for delivery to their home address. It’s all the same experience, even though there are different channels involved.

It isn’t simply a new trend, but something that’s becoming the expectation for many customers. Purchase frequency is 250% higher on omnichannel vs single channel, and average order value is typically 13% higher. Consumer purchasing journeys frequently feature an average of six touch-points, with 50% of consumers regularly using more than four. The reason it has grown so much is due to the nature of how we use technology and engage with commerce in our everyday lives. People often have smartphones on them at all times which makes it likely they’re switching between social media, messaging apps, and internet browsers all on one device. Moreover they may also have a laptop, tablet, or desktop which they also use regularly, and they’ll likely go to physical stores now and again. We’ve become used to the convenience that mobile and ecommerce offers, and so it makes sense then that people want to be able to move fluidly between these different digital and physical touch points.

The relationship between search, local SEO, and omnichannel

Search plays a big role in omnichannel commerce, though it often goes more under the radar than the likes of ecommerce stores or social commerce. In the last year alone, 93% of consumers say they’ve used search engines to find a local business. Search is not only huge for brand discovery, but also forms a large part of the customer journey in general. Consider how many pre-purchase touchpoints may involve search; they discover the brand through Google, they browse the site, maybe they return to search for reviews, then see on Google My Business that the store offers in-store pick-up, so they go back to the ecommerce site and order for in-store collection. Then they may also use Google to find directions to find out how to actually get to the store. According to Google, 88% of local searches on a smartphone visit a store within one week, and 28% of searches for something nearby result in a purchase.

This is just one example of many of the importance of search and specifically local search to the customer journey and omnichannel commerce. By optimizing for local search, you’re essentially optimizing those vital connections that link up various parts of the customer journey. These touch-points on search engines form a big part of the omnichannel experience, so by implementing local SEO best practices you can attract both more online and offline traffic while also delivering the experience your customers want.

How to optimize local SEO for omnichannel

While search plays a big role in omnichannel in general, today we’re going to focus on local SEO. Having a solid local SEO strategy with omnichannel built into it can make a big difference in how your physical retail outlet connects and interacts with your online channels. This can then drive not only discovery, but also traffic both online and offline. 

#1 - Online-to-offline fulfillment and in-store availability

Options like buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) and curbside pickup are becoming increasingly popular with customers. These fulfillment options blur the lines between your in-store and online channels, making it easier for your local audience to choose the option that best suits their needs. For example if it’s during the holidays, they may need a last-minute gift and can’t wait for delivery. Traditionally, the online and brick-and-mortar stores would be treated as two separate channels with their own inventory, and it’d be difficult for the customer as they won’t know if they can definitely get the product they want if they just go to the physical outlet. The option to instead order it online and collect it in person solves their issue and makes the experience much easier. To make it even better, say your BOPIS option takes anywhere from 24 hours upwards to fulfill and the customer really can’t wait. You can also display in-store stock availability on your site, allowing the customer to see before they leave their home if the product they want can be found in-store without placing an order. 

Displaying these options and having them clear on your store will make it more likely that Google and other search engines will rank your store higher for search terms that revolve around local queries. When a customer searches for “running shoes pick up now”, or “where can I buy running shoes near me”, it’ll be more likely that Google will favor your store as it can more confidently determine it to be a good fit as you offer local fulfillment options. Search engines thrive by delivering the best user experience, so the better your own experience is for local customers you’ll stand a better chance of Google taking notice and boosting your ranking. 

#2 - Google My Business

Another way to improve your local search and drive traffic to your site and physical store is through a well maintained listing on Google My Business. Many users turn to GMB listings to find the information they need, therefore being the top result for a SERP feature like the local pack can make all the difference in driving more traffic to your store. It can be a vital touch point in the customer journey, as between the information available and reviews, it can be a deciding factor in whether or not they choose to make a purchase.

The best way to make the most of Google My Business is to keep it as up to date and packed with information as possible, as well as ensuring that you engage with any user interactions such as questions and reviews.

  • Update opening hours as they change 
  • Update with any temporary closures e.g. over the holidays
  • Add any services you offer in-store 
  • Post any in-store promotions and events
  • Respond to reviews - good or bad
  • Respond to questions 
  • Make sure your NAP is accurate (name, address, phone number)

Keeping your listing detailed, active, and regularly updated will demonstrate further trust signals both to Google and search users. If a user has a choice between a business with similar reviews but they see that you’ve recently updated opening hours to reflect holiday closures, they may ultimately choose to shop with you as they can trust you’ll definitely be open.

#3 - Local Keywords and Modifiers/Qualifiers

We’ve mentioned already that search is great for discovery, and a big part of optimizing for that discovery phase of the customer journey involves knowing exactly what people are searching for. Keywords are a key element of any SEO strategy, but identifying the right ones all comes down to search intent. Intent can completely change the purpose of a search query, and that typically comes from the modifiers and qualifiers attached to the keyword. Modifiers and qualifiers can mark intent, for example ranking for “cocktail glassware” there isn’t too much to tell us what the user wants from that term. Do they want to buy something? Do they just want more information? Whereas if it instead becomes “best cocktail glassware” we know they’ve got research intent, or “history of cocktail glassware” is informational. These help us to understand the kind of content those users are looking for, and create the right content to deliver a better experience.

With local SEO and its role in omnichannel commerce, those modifiers and qualifiers include terms like “Near me”, “In [place name]”, and “buy now”. They may also include more long-tail keywords, for example “where can I buy [product] near me collect today”. Identifying the modifiers and long-tail keywords your target audience are using to discover brands and products locally will give you a clearer idea of what to include on key pages throughout your store. For example, you may want to add a store locator and stock availability finder to product pages to help address search queries that include your product keywords along with “buy near me”. You may also want to create a local landing page that includes the details of your physical retail locations along with available services such as BOPIS and in-store returns for online purchases. 

Answering local search intent will ensure your store provides the best experience to local search users, and this will help you to climb the rankings. By considering the different ways in which customers use search engines, you’ll make your local SEO a much more efficient part of your omnichannel experience. 

#4 - Voice Search

Search alone isn’t just one single touchpoint - there are several ways in which consumers access search engines and this means you need to take each channel into account as its own touchpoint. It isn’t just limited to desktops and mobile devices, but also voice search. With the development of voice recognition AI and higher adoption of voice technology, people are increasingly using voice search as part of their daily routine. This is especially true when it comes to local search - 76% of consumers who own a smart speaker say they use it to find a local business at least once a week. 

In order to optimize your local SEO for voice search, you should first find the long-tail keywords that your audience uses when searching using a voice enabled device. These will be slightly different to the modifiers and long-tail keywords we mentioned earlier, as with voice search they’ll be more conversational and will typically follow a question format. On a typical screen based search, a user may search for “buy sneakers near me” but with voice it may be “Hey Google, where can I buy sneakers nearby right now?”, or “Which stores open near me sell sneakers?”. If step one in you local SEO strategy for omnichannel is to identify local search modifiers, the next step is to adapt those to questions and conversational language for voice search. Once you’ve identified the language your audience is using to find local businesses through voice search, implement them on key pages throughout your site.