Why online search is foundational for a post-cookies environment

Derick Jaros, head of industry, commerce, Yext

If there’s one definite thing about the past two years, it’s that consumer behavior changed significantly throughout the pandemic. From the shift to online-only life in early 2020 to the frantic Googling for new hours, policies, and stock updates in the first phase of reopening, consumers turned to the internet and relied on it in new ways.

Meanwhile, marketers have also been contending with the ever-impending demise of the cookie, as Google extended its deadline to 2024. This means that in an increasingly digital world, marketers can no longer rely on one of the primary tools that dominated conversations about personalization and customer experience over the past decade. 

What else is certain is that digital adaptability and agility will be required for the long haul, especially in search — an essential way to stay relevant in the cookieless future.

Understanding digital agility in 2022

The pandemic accelerated digital transformation to unprecedented levels. Gone are the days of being digital-first as a marker of innovation. To thrive in 2022 and beyond, businesses are shifting to an approach perhaps better described as “digital best.” 

However, digital best will not mean being best at any one online trend — whether that’s adopting a particular e-commerce platform or trendy app. Instead, digital agility — the ability to adapt as consumer behaviors shift, regulations become stricter and consumer expectations for e-commerce heighten — will be critical.

This customer-centric approach is fundamental as brand loyalty decreases. According to research from McKinsey, 75% of consumers explored new shopping behaviors during the pandemic and 39% of consumers, mainly Gen Z and millennials, deserted trusted brands for new ones. 

In 2021, when the world was already a year into the pandemic, fact updates surged. Businesses were keeping their online information current and communicating with their customers more frequently — with Yext clients updating their facts 75% more than they did in 2019. The more updated facts a business offered to customers online, the more customer trust increased — and so did customer engagement. Customers trusted that they could find what they were looking for when they were looking for it.

How search informs personalized experiences

For all the hand-wringing about the cookie’s demise, it’s important to remember that cookies were never the goal — just a means to an end. 

Brands spent years relying on cookies to improve the quality of push marketing — where marketers served up a variety of messages to consumers. If marketers are going to show someone a banner ad or send them an email, they want it to be relevant to the consumer’s browsing history.

But push marketing is now on the decline. As brands have delivered message after message via billboards, commercials and display ads, many people on the receiving end of those messages have said something amounting to “enough” — opting out and trying to avoid ads. According to GWI, 42.7% of internet users now use ad-blocking software. 

However, customers are also telling marketers everything they need to know to deliver them a relevant, personalized experience on their terms. For example, every time customers search online, the questions they ask — from “Japanese restaurant near me that’s open now” to “buy a mid-length dress with pockets” — reveal their preferences and interests. People search to access information or take a specific action; thus, searches are a window onto intent.

By embedding search into digital experiences, marketers deliver more relevant, personalized content — no cookies necessary. When marketers can see (and understand) what customers are searching for, it’s easier to understand them better and deliver more of what they want. To help, the knowledge graph — a data structure optimized for answering questions — has become foundational for marketers seeking to deliver quality search experiences wherever customers ask questions: on the company’s own website, in the app, on the customer support page and Google. 

Finally, it’s critical that marketers pay attention to what people are searching for, both so that customers are served the correct answers when they ask questions and to highlight more important and high-value things in other business efforts. Marketers who do this see an estimated 1.4x increase in conversions, according to Yext customer data — a significant outcome in a world increasingly impacted by ad blockers and email unsubscribes.

Instead of adopting one digital trend, marketers who are prepared to adjust and adopt solutions are developing the digital agility necessary to prioritize true personalization through search, not ads. 

Sponsored by: Yext

https://staging.digiday.com/?p=469105
Ad rendering preventing in staging

Ad position: web_bfu