After a failed online product search — where a shopper receives items that aren’t relevant, don’t include what they’re looking for, or they’re told a product doesn’t exist even though a retailer offers it — fashion brands have an average of just eight minutes to deliver what the shopper is looking for before they give up. It’s not just a single purchase that’s at stake: poor search results direct shoppers to competitors’ websites, potentially create a negative association with a brand, and reduce the likelihood of consumers returning in the future.
These are the findings of a Google survey designed to convince brands and retailers of the importance of creating the best online shopping experience possible, using Google’s search and shopping tools. The latest is the Google Retail Search tool, which allows brands to integrate Google search into their own websites.
Brands buy pitch from Google. Long a central player in e-commerce and marketing, Google’s outsized role in the space has grown even larger in recent times. With privacy changes and new regulations making it harder to track consumer behavior online, brands are looking for safer bets in the digital advertising space, which has benefited Google.
Return on ad spend is falling across all platforms, even as prices rise – the cost per thousand visitors who see an ad, known as CPM, on Google for fashion businesses has increased by 148% by March 2021 to March 2022, according to marketing firm Varos. But despite those rising costs, it’s a better bet than other platforms: Return on ad spend was down 8% on Google over the same period, compared to a 41% drop on Facebook. Thus, fashion brands increase their advertising spend with Google more than other digital advertising players. Data from Varos shows that fashion brands are spending 114% more on Google from 2021 to 2022 year-to-date, compared to a 72% increase in spending on Facebook.
Developing a Google-centric marketing strategy goes beyond ad placement or optimizing content for search. Best known for its search engine, the tech giant has also beefed up its shopping capabilities, enabling better comparison shopping and discovery, Google executives say. Google has become “the strongest and safest part of the marketing funnel,” according to a recent note from equity research firm MoffettNathanson.
The great moment of research
Brands and retailers can harness the power of search in two ways: through external search engines and search tools on their own sites. Google has moved to the latter with the March 30 launch of Google Retail Search, a new tool that allows brands to use Google’s search technology across their own channels, using Google AI and machine learning combined with the catalog. of a retailer’s products to provide search results on its own website.
Retailers’ own search tools have a reputation for being clunky, delivering irrelevant results, or not understanding a search. The tool is intended to reduce the $300 billion in losses that retailers are suffering from search abandonment in the United States alone, according to Google.
“It seems like a simple problem to solve, but it’s been extremely difficult for retailers’ e-commerce sites to understand a shopper’s intent and natural language in a search query, pair it with imperfect catalog and then deliver the most relevant results,” said Carrie Tharpe, Google Cloud vice president of retail and consumer.
With this tool, shoppers should get solid results even with long and complicated searches, like “long black dress with short sleeves and comfortable fit”, without having to narrow down or shorten their search. The technology works on a retailer or brand’s website on desktop, mobile as well as their app. It allows retailers or brands that use it to retain customer search data and takes an average of three months to integrate into a brand or retailer’s e-commerce site and application. (Onboarding time is required to fully import a product catalog, enable machine learning, and test before delivering the best results.)
“This seems like a simple problem to solve, but it’s been extremely difficult for retailers’ e-commerce sites to understand a shopper’s intent and natural language in a search query”
Macy’s is one of the first fashion retailers to use Google Retail Search on its own website and has so far seen a 2% increase in conversion (demonstrating customer engagement and improved search) and a 1.3% increase in revenue per visit.
While the new retailer search tool is useful for driving results on their own e-commerce channel, search has also grown in importance on a larger scale. Paid advertising and the obsession with one-time purchase conversion have been a big part of the collective conversation around digital advertising over the past decade. But paid ads are less effective than they used to be, especially as changes to privacy regulations evolve and platforms, including Google, phase out tracking tools like third-party cookies, search has taken on new importance.
“This is the first time in five to 10 years that people are talking about organic content, good written content, and PR…the things your audience will relate to and get you to the top of search results,” said Chris Donnelly, founder of Verb, a luxury digital marketing agency. “The whole game has changed.”
In February 2022, Google accounted for more than 90% of the search engine market, followed by Bing, Yahoo and Microsoft’s Baidu in China. (It should be noted that on lesser-known search engines like Bing, “the traffic may not be at the same volume as Google, but the quality of that traffic is very good,” Ed Foster, vice president of GroupM and managing partner of search and social media, told BoF last year.) Given Google’s outsized market share, however, the platform has the most data to power its AI engine, creating a better experience for shoppers who are then more likely to purchase based on better results.
For this reason, it is all the more important for brands to adopt best practices to appear at the top of search results. This means making sure a brand’s website is keyword rich, creating category or topic pages to organize content on the brand’s site (as opposed to articles that are published but not organized with a sort of taxonomy) and ensure media coverage of quality editorial sources that mention a brand or link to the brand, Donnelly said. Displaying high-quality content – both images and text – on a brand or retailer’s website is also important, as Google recognizes that these elements are more appealing to consumers.
For example, Donnelly’s company Verb worked with Net-a-Porter last year to help them improve the copy and content of their watches page. Verb then seeded the content to magazines and journalists. The result, Donnelly said, was a significant increase in traffic and sales.
A suite of shopping tools
Along with changes to Google’s search tools, the tech giant has also beefed up its shopping tools over the past two years.
Brands can now appear in Google’s shopping tab via organic results or paid ads (previously the only way to appear in Google’s shopping tab was to pay to be included; the change, implemented in 2020, was done to reduce the barrier Shoppers can adjust their Google Shopping search to filter in-stock products at a brand or retailer Google Lens, a tool that lets people find products based on an image, is testing also a new feature in beta that combines image search with words.Augmented reality tools also allow shoppers to try on beauty products on Google, a tool that Ulta has implemented.
Google’s dominance in search doesn’t come for free. The company has battled international regulators who have sued it for alleged violations of antitrust laws in search and shopping, particularly in Europe (Google has fought back against lawsuits and due to lack of enforcement of the law, the company has not yet had to undergo any structural changes to help “restore competition”, according to the New York Times.) In the United States, new legislation limiting Google’s reach is unlikely to take shape, although lawsuits against Google may still arise. And despite the legal activity, Google is still likely to set the rules of the game in both search and shopping, forcing fashion brands and retailers to play by Google’s rules, which aren’t always consistent.
“Google is constantly changing, but things change so drastically in search that something we might do now might not be prioritized in search engine six to 12 months from now,” Donnelly said of the struggles people are having. brands are facing due to Google’s dominance. “If you’re starting a business now or if you’re a brand trying to market, you’re building on the shoulders of giants.”