Local search sites have traditionally been a tremendous lead generation tool. Strategies around SEO, listings management and SEM have long helped businesses generate clicks, calls and store visits. And while this remains true, search sites have recently begun putting more emphasis on adding tools and services that look to accelerate the purchase process.
The latest to make this move is HomeAdvisor. A few weeks ago, the company rolled out a new on-demand scheduling technology called Instant Booking. The tool makes it easier to schedule services with home professionals online and will launch in Denver next month.
Sites like HomeAdvisor seem to be attempting to reinvent the way consumers use search results, and this evolution in local search is taking place all over the web. Both major search engines and vertical-specific sites are adding features that actually facilitate the purchase process.
This is being done in a variety of ways. Most commonly, it’s through partnerships and acquisitions. Yelp says the company is adding “partners in order to bring consumers more ways to transact directly on Yelp.” OpenTable has really embraced this trend, having partnered with Google, Yahoo, Facebook and many more. Meanwhile, recently YP and GrubHub partnered, Zomato bought Urbanspoon, MapQuest partnered with Urgent.ly, and the list goes on and on.
The partnership/acquisition route seems more common amongst these large search sites. For the category specific sites like ZocDoc (doctors) or HomeAdvisor (home services), sophisticated customer relationship management (CRM) tools are popping up more and more. Much like the horizontal reaching search sites, these vertical sites are similarly moving away from discovery via search and towards transactions.
However, this evolution in search didn’t happen overnight. The initial priority, which still seems to be a challenge, was to merely display accurate business information in search results. Then, due to the explosion of mobile devices and as a result of consumer behavior, these sites began adding in click to call, click to directions and a variety of other buttons and features that made it easier to interact with local businesses.
Today, the emphasis is on closing the loop. The consumer movement from online research to the offline purchase has made it difficult for publishers and marketers to quantify the value of digital marketing. That is where scheduling, reservation, appointment, ecommerce and similar online tools can come in.
More importantly, a consumer search is rich with intent, no matter how fleeting this intent is. The Internet is a great place to accomplish something in seconds and then get distracted and accomplish nothing for hours. For that reason, these search sites are looking to capitalize on intent by creating search results that easily and effectively take consumers through important moments of the purchase process in seconds.
From the consumer perspective, this movement from simple search results to transactional tools and services is great for those ready-to-buy. Better functionality, improved ease of use, and an overall better experience.
But the process introduces a new set of headaches for small and medium-sized businesses. In addition to claiming and managing listings on an overwhelming amount of local search sites, integrating with the transactional tools found on these sites becomes important. This is particularly troubling for the SMB.
If the SMB isn’t actively managing its business listings online, I wouldn’t expect that it would start integrating with these new CRM tools anytime soon. While this is definitely problematic for the SMB, it creates a new opportunity for marketers to help these businesses manage their adoption and integration with these tools.
One possible path for listings management services is to help SMBs integrate with these new transactional tools like HomeAdvisor’s Instant Booking. Regardless, we’ll see more local search providers, local verticals and directory sites and apps integrate booking, payments and other transactional or “on-demand” services.
It’s what competitors are doing, it’s what consumers want and it’s a powerful retention tool for those SMBs that climb aboard.
Joe Morsello contributes to the Local Search Insider and is the Communications Manager at the Local Search Association, a trade organization of print, digital, mobile and social media companies that help local businesses get found. Follow LSA on Twitter @LocalSearchAssn.