While beacons were initially popularised as a retail-marketing tool that allowed retailers to target customers with coupons, of late they have started playing a critical role in location-based marketing. With the latest updates to Eddystone, release of Eddystone Ephemeral Identifier (EID) and launch of Android Instant Apps and Google Nearby, Google is fast shaping the location landscape to its specifications while creating a seamless micro-location experience for its users. Seeing this major shift in what beacons are directed at, many proximity marketing experts have been voicing their opinions on how beacons could affect local search.
Why beacons are poised to help increase the importance of local search
Now, if you are new to the beacon market, chances are that you might not able to find the connect between beacons, tiny devices that can transmit a signal to any Bluetooth device in range (mobile devices, fitness bracelets, smart watches etc.), and local search. The answer to this lies in one of the basic capabilities of bluetooth beacons – to pinpoint a location down to a few meters.
Until recent times, localisation was largely limited to areas that were defined by the coordinates of a map. While these worked really well at locating buildings, they weren’t of much use once people actually entered a space. This is where beacons come into the picture.
These proximity detection devices hold a huge advantage here as they allow marketers or brands to pinpoint a location down to a few meters and transmit and receive data in realtime. For example, say a user is standing next to an artifact at the museum. Marketers can use beacons to push an audio that dwells on the historical reference of the artifact in detail, thus enhancing his/her visitor experience.
And given that these interactions can only be triggered when consumers are within a specific geographic range, beacons hold huge potential at increasing the importance of local search. Many proximity marketing experts predict that beacons may even force businesses to make local search more of a priority. Going forward, brands can use beacons to influence potential customers on where they would want to go to obtain the products or services that they frequently search for in their near-me moments, on their mobile devices.
Now that we have covered why beacons are poised to enhance local search, let’s take a look at the 5 different ways in which beacons can help optimize local search.
1. Beacons could help enhance hyper-local search
While there is an adoption curve among small businesses on the local search front, a major portion of local search isn’t exactly aimed at being contextually relevant. One of the primary reasons behind this is the lack of familiarity and time among local businesses on this front. Most people who are busy running something related to hardware, say an Auto Repair Shop, for example, wouldn’t often have the time or money to really concentrate on good SEO.
However, with the rise in beacon adoption, this situation is going to change for the user on the ground. With 400 Million beacons forecasted to be deployed by 2020, beacons are heading fast on the path to being deployed as a general infrastructure across locations. This would open up local optimisation to more players, making local search a priority not for the locations themselves, but for the companies that sell through those locations.
At the same time, since beacons are tied to certain specific locations, it provides enough scope for contextually relevant interactions.
2. Beacons could result in more personalized search results
Inspite of the huge hype around beacons, many marketers still look at beacons as an interruptive marketing tool. In reality, beacons equip brands for the exact opposite of interruptive marketing – contextual marketing. In fact, some of the major advantages offered by beacons revolve around their capability to help brands reach out to their users, at the right time at the right place. For instance, say a customer was recently searching for handbags online. With beacons, brands can now send alerts informing him/her that a nearby store has handbags on sale.
According to recent reports, retailers have found beacons to be extremely successful in connecting customers with the products they are searching for. So much so that, 42 percent of retailers are already using search marketing and beacons and another 39 percent plan to use them by 2018.
For instance, year 2015 saw quite a few campaigns that leveraged beacons to enhance personalization – one such brand was Elle magazine. As a part of the beacon-powered ‘Shop Now’ program, Elle made its editors’ product picks available to users on ShopAdvisor, a personal shopping concierge app and RetailMeNot, a mobile coupon app.
Any consumer who had opted in for push notifications via RetailMeNot was notified when he/she was already at a store that was listed with one of the products suggested by Elle, via beacons. The program delivered 500,000 in-store visits and more than 12 percent content engagement rate for participating retailers, Barnes & Nobles, Levi’s, Guess, and Vince Camuto, across the country during last September and October.
3. Beacons could pull in data from devices to showcase better search results
As beacons evolve, brands could integrate beacon data with data on a user’s mobile device, such as Contacts or likes on Facebook etc., to provide more relevant social interaction in real-time. In other words, beacons would pull in such critical data that is unique to a consumer profile and in turn, search engines could use that data to serve better search results based on the current location of the user. Thus, this will act as an extension of the current scenario in which consumers receive personalized results based on their search histories and locations.
4. Beacons could help marketers get better at anticipating consumer needs
A major part of this technique revolves around the basic concept of the ‘Physical Web’, a project via which Google is aiming to enable users to interact with their surroundings. And now, with the recent updates to Eddystone and the release of Android Instant Apps and Google Nearby, Google is fast heading towards making the ‘Physical Web’ a reality.
As Physical Web continues to evolve, SEO could become as much about providing answers even before the user asks, as it is about search. As a result, it will become highly critical for marketers to be good at anticipating the needs of a user and delivering messaging accordingly in real-time.
This kind of implicit search, or search that doesn’t involve the user explicitly typing a query, opens opportunities for brands and marketers to be the brand of choice when a consumer is looking for something. In fact, the opportunity is already out there. For instance, say your smart fridge runs out of milk – which brand does it place an order for?. Or, say you ask Siri to find a good Italian restaurant nearby , which one does she direct you to?
And with the rise of Artificial Intelligence and IoT, we will soon see an explosion on the implicit search front. Another important thing to note here is that, while these implicit searches may look different than today’s Google search, they still involve a computer algorithm selecting one business over another. This means there is enough opportunity for brands to compete for the ‘chosen brand’ spot.
5. Beacons could provide better opportunities to optimize open networks
Now, if you are someone who has been following the beacon market closely, you would already know that one of the things that sets Eddystone apart from iBeacon, is its ability to broadcast URLs. This exposure of beacon data to the mobile web could result in a huge opportunity around leveraging beacon data for SEO.
And once beacon networks become a part of general city infrastructure, brands could lease a space on a beacon network to interact with their users. For example, CPG brands could lease space on a beacon network of a retailer such as Carrefour to serve relevant content to in-store consumers.
Another important thing to note here is that, going ahead, SEO will play a critical role in determining which web based content should be served to users who access a certain beacon network. And given the pace at which beacon adoption and deployments seem to be picking up, that day is not far.
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