two women searching for couches online
PHOTO: Kobu Agency

As the web matures, we search less for our top tasks, and we search more for our tiny tasks.

When you move to a new city, you’re going to do a lot of searching. You’re going to search for supermarkets, local shops, local cafes and restaurants. The longer you live in the city, the less you’ll search. You’ll know where the supermarket is. You’ll know where your favorite cafes and restaurants are. You’ll search for exceptional things like getting a picture framed. And you’ll search for stuff like whether your favorite café is open over the holidays.

The same happens on the web. Nearly half of US consumers start their product searches on Amazon, according to 2018 Adeptmind survey. Amazon is that super-supermarket you go to. The web is settling down.

“Ah, yes! Definitely,” Jono Anderson told me recently when I discussed this subject with him. Anderson is a digital strategist and search expert. He gave an excellent talk at the superb GPeC ecommerce conference in Bucharest in May 2019.

“So,” Anderson explained, “the role of 'search' gradually becomes more and more focused on either being purely transactional on commodity stuff ("Compare X," "Find me the cheapest Y"), or for research before the problem is defined ("Why is my TV sounding weird?" "How do I drain a radiator?" "What is decreasing term life insurance?"), etc.”

Over the years, I have noticed that on badly organized websites, there was a lot of search for top tasks. However, on websites with great navigation and information architecture, the top tasks are easy to find through the navigation, and thus they tend to be searched for less.

Search is a tactic, not a strategy. Long term, you need to become part of the ‘neighborhood’ of your customers. This will require a very different culture, a very different way of thinking. You have to stop obsessing about conversions. You have to become a regular place, a website or app that people want to come back to. How often are you going to go back to that supermarket where they are constantly trying to ‘convert’ you to buy cheese when you came for milk? If the customer can’t find parking, if there’s always a long checkout line, if the products that they want are always out-of-stock, that supermarket is in trouble.

The organizations that don’t become part of regular life, that don’t establish themselves as a reputable, reliable, good value, good experience places in the neighborhood, are really going to struggle. More and more advertising spend will chase less and less attention. It’ll be a vicious race to the bottom for those trying to buy attention and chase conversions.

You’ve got to be useful. You’ve got to serve a purpose. You can’t engage people in your café if the chairs aren’t comfortable, if the tables aren’t clean, if the service is slow because staff are too busy putting up huge banners in the windows while the customers are waiting impatiently for their coffees.

The web is fast maturing. We need service cultures. Not marketing cultures, or tech, or design cultures. We need people who know how to make a place worth visiting, and more importantly, worth returning to.

What’s a top marketing conversion rate? Five percent? Wow! How truly pathetic! In what other universe would 5% be seen as excellent? If you want to thrive in the future, you need to start focusing on the 95%. And not to convert them, but to serve them.