Customer loyalty: A key ingredient for successful local search results

Customer loyalty is often overlooked in local search. The thinking is that people are searching for new places to shop or for things they don’t know about already. If they were a regular or loyal customer, they wouldn’t need to search.

But that’s not entirely true. Due to the  “Google effect” or digital amnesia, consumers process information differently today. We’ve become so inundated with information we have adjusted to relying on search outlets like Google to find information instead of remembering the actual content.

For example, instead of recalling the name of the coffee shop I enjoyed the last time I visited Washington, D.C., I remembered that it was near the train station. Once I pulled up search results for coffee shops on Google Maps, the choices of names and locations triggered my memory.

Loyalty in local search is about being top of mind when choices need to be made and friends ask for recommendations. Below are six ways to build customer loyalty and drive traffic to your local search results.

 1. The social value of loyalty

Social media’s impact on local search is growing incredibly fast, and I am seeing it play out on my own Facebook news feed. Here are two posts from the last few weeks seeking recommendations for plumbers, lawyers and restaurants:

Friends seeking suggestions has become so popular that Facebook now offers an “Ask for Recommendations” option for those writing a post or updating their status. And in true local search form, the function asks for a location and shows any suggestions posted on a map.

According to studies by Edelman, 87 percent of committed customers will recommend a brand through liking and sharing. Your loyal customers will respond to recommendation requests and put their reputation on the line for you if they like your brand.

And they do so enthusiastically. The image above looking for recommendations garnered significantly more engagement through comments than typical posts. A friend who asked about restaurants received 87 comments — that is significant!

The potential for such social media recommendations to disrupt traditional local search channels is huge. There’s an intrinsic value in the personal relationship and word-of-mouth recommendation the Google algorithm can never duplicate.

Consumers trust their friends and can gauge deeper insight on a recommendation without reading a lengthy review based on what they know about that friend’s taste in relation to their own. Businesses likewise rate word-of-mouth the most effective marketing because of the trust factor and weight usually attributed to a personal recommendation.

Facebook is extending the merit of word-of-mouth recommendations by proxy, too. When searching for businesses on Facebook, search results include a list of friends who have recommended the establishment.

As this functionality grows and social media is increasingly used for local search, boosting customer loyalty will pay off in a big way.

2.  Loyal customers are both your cheerleaders and your bodyguards

It used to be that once you were found through a local search, you at least controlled the narrative from that point, as the search result would link to your website, ad or owned content.

Today, that control has been wrestled away by consumers. Search results now show up on private Facebook newsfeeds seeking recommendations. Even a Google Knowledge card populated by information from a Google My Business (GMB) account can be hijacked by bad reviews.

This is why loyal customers who actively engage online on behalf of a business they patronize are highly valuable. Studies have shown committed customers who recommend a brand presumably write positive reviews and will also defend a brand against criticism. I’ve seen this brand defense firsthand!

A friend of mine was quite vocal recently after reading a negative review of a restaurant he liked on Facebook. He and other loyal customers spoke up and supported the restaurant. Whether it be on Facebook or Yelp, local businesses benefit when loyal customers share their views.

3. The core of loyalty

For a local business, loyalty means being selected despite the customer having other local choices. This is especially helpful for small businesses but works for national brands as well.

In the case of Chick-Fil-A, the brand has been so successful in getting diners to visit their stores no matter where they are, the company’s biggest challenge now is how to squeeze $5 million in sales out of a kitchen designed for $2 million.

I see Chick-Fil-A’s success in building loyalty whenever I travel through the airport and find myself in a dining area with a Chick-Fil-A. There are always different eating options nearby, yet customers line up 30 deep and wait 15 to 20 minutes to order and receive their food.

Brand loyalty travels with you, no matter what the wait!

4.  The economics of loyalty

The economic benefit of loyalty is not just the “per capita” increase in volume of business brought in by a return customer. Loyal customers cost less to convert, spend more when they do and upsell more frequently.

  • According to Google, it costs up to 10x more to acquire a new customer compared to retaining an old one and,
  • Existing customers are three to 12 times more likely to buy from a business than a new customer.
  • Existing customers are 50 percent more likely to try new products says data from Koyne Marketing and they spend 31 percent more than new customers.

So, spending to retain customers and keep them coming back is a good investment.

5.  Data intelligence from loyalty

Data is key to understanding business performance and consumer behaviors. Getting data from repeat customers is easier and yields higher quality.

Most customers who participate in loyalty programs voluntarily turn over personal information about themselves. Those programs provide an opportunity for the business to ask questions and get a deeper understanding of behaviors and preferences. And while loyalty programs seem to provide the most opportunity for capturing data, there are other less formal ways to do it, such as stored payment accounts or CRM databases tracked by phone or address.

Once that type of information is incorporated into operations, it helps track valuable data, such as what actions are done by which customers, what products they purchase and what times they shop. Attribution of online marketing efforts to offline purchases can be captured. And the business can see the way those customers engage with it.

This is all valuable data that will help provide better service and improve local search marketing.

6.  Targeting improvements from loyalty

While there are a variety of uses for customer data, it’s the improved targeting capabilities that are key to local search marketing. The preferences of repeat customers help build profiles of your ideal and most valuable audience.

Whether it be through a loyalty program or records of return customers, even some basic data can help narrow down your best audience and understand what works.

For example, tracking the spending habits through your loyalty program can help identify young professional women on Pinterest to see if they are responding to local search marketing efforts. Your loyalty program can also be used to look for additional demographics and opportunities to target local advertising and promotions.

A loyalty program can answer key questions and provide data for a targeting strategy developed from that information:

  • Who? Your demographically profiled targeted audience, as well as return customers with two or more visits in the last month.
  • How? Via customer email, direct mail and those channels getting the best response, such as Pinterest or Instagram.
  • Where? Geotargeting around gyms and natural food markets might be at least tested. Address information may also help define the radius of how far your marketing reaches.
  • When? Spend most at times when your audience engages on social media — whether it’s at lunchtime or late at night.
  • What? Use content your best audience most frequently responds to.

Ready to reexamine your strategy for engaging with loyal customers? Here are some simple tips to help you get started on building customer loyalty:

  • Provide a great customer experience, a consistently good customer experience is why many remain loyal to a brand and share positive experiences on social media.
  • Reduce friction in transactions, and beware of drastic changes. Convenience as an important reason customers remain loyal to a brand.
  • Stay engaged with your loyal customers. According to CitiGroup, 86% percent of emotionally engaged consumers want brands to be engaged and reciprocate their loyalty in two-way interactions. Social media and email are great ways to do it.
  • Stand for something.  American consumers show loyalty to brands that share their values, Chick-Fil-A is a prime example of this. The company also wears its values on its sleeve, staying closed on Sundays and still beating many of its competitors multiple times in revenue per store.
  • Use loyalty programs to identify your customers. Loyalty programs help tie your customers with data that is useful in helping reach them and serve them better.
  • Make it easy for your customers to participate. With all the technology we have, sometimes we overcomplicate things, don’t make it hard for to sign up for a loyalty program.
  • Offer valuable perks. A loyalty report from Bond Brand Loyalty states redeemers are twice as satisfied with loyalty programs as non-redeemers, and those who enjoy the program are 10 times more likely to be satisfied. The economics of loyalty discussed above make it worthwhile.

In closing, as control over local search listings and the content served in results becomes ever more diluted, reinforcing the relationship with your regular and loyal customers will help compensate for some of that loss. Loyal customers are great ambassadors for your business.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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