Google Store Visits Feature Can Help Bridge Gap Between Online and In-Store Metrics for Small Businesses

Although the power of the online purchase has revolutionized how consumers buy things, getting people into the store still has value, especially for smaller businesses. Now, these small businesses can gain access to a Google AdWords feature — Google Store Visits — previously only available to larger, multi-location retailers whose ads generate more than 100,000 clicks per month.

The premise of Google Store Visits is simple. The tool tracks users from the click of an ad to shopping in the store. Nestled between that click and store visit are a number of questions and contingencies. Understanding the intricacies behind the feature is the first major step in realizing the benefits of the tool and paid search as a whole for smaller retailers.

How do they track actual store visits?

Google uses two main data sources to estimate store visits: opt-in web histories and opt-in location histories. Web histories allow Google to track a particular user’s clicks, while location histories allow them to follow a user’s visits to physical locations. They combine these two sources to compile aggregate statistics regarding actual store visits that can be traced back to individual clicks.

What ensures these are valid in-store visits?

Google uses multiple touch points, technologies and methodologies to assess the validity of possible in-store visits. They only count a visit when enough of the below factors combine to ensure confidence:

  • Time spent at retail location
  • Google Maps searches
  • Navigation routes accessed
  • Google searches
  • Strength/accuracy of location-based signals (GPS, Wi-Fi, etc.)
  • Google’s historical visitor identification accuracy

Google has unparalleled information as it relates to the location-based geometry of stores. They have data on hundreds of millions of buildings globally and have registered more than 5 billion store visits since the feature’s inception. Accuracy is a valid question, though. At this time last year, when Google launched this same feature within their Google Display Network (GDN) offering, they noted 99 percent accuracy at “200 million stores globally.”

Their ability to scan and map out a retail store’s Wi-Fi signal strength also helps them confirm the difference between someone standing inside a store and someone who merely passed by the store or visited an adjacent store. Additionally, they have a consumer survey panel with over 5 million opt-in users constantly asked to evaluate the accuracy of their own visit-based data. This allows for constant refinement and helps ensure their signals are as accurate as possible.

What keeps it from being 100% accurate?

Despite these measures to ensure accuracy, it still isn’t an exact science. Google still struggles with accuracy in scenarios such as densely packed cities and multi-tiered shopping malls. To combat this, they rely heavily on machine learning to model out the inconsistencies, but accuracy is still affected.

Why is wider availability of the feature important?

Provides access to smaller advertisers

As mentioned earlier, this was previously a feature only open to large retailers. Granting smaller retailers access means Google’s faith in their data has expanded. They’re filling in the gaps (i.e., non opt-in users) with machine learning and modeling, while opening their data up to a larger audience.

Strengthens the overall accuracy of Google’s offering

The feature’s expansion benefits more than just small businesses. Opening up the feature to more retailers and an increase in data means their machine learning capabilities will have more information to base modeling on. The more data their internal teams and algorithms have to work with, the better their overall accuracy will be.

Potential advancements in other aspects of targeting

Google trusting the value of tight geo-fencing means they may soon extend this type of targeting to tactics such as YouTube. Google has sat idle while smaller digital vendors have brought tightly geo-targeted services to market — offerings geared towards sophisticated retailers and local advertisers looking to gain foot traffic and store-level insights. Unleashing building-specific targeting within search would give advertisers granularity beyond Google’s default one mile radius limit.

Possibilities for advertisers without physical locations

Google could look to expand Store Visits by linking them to affiliate extensions. This would allow advertisers who may not have a physical location to gain value from this — perhaps via a time-decay model in cases where products are sold via larger, high SKU retailers (i.e., Home Depot).

Proving the value of paid search for smaller retailers

Wider adoption of this feature is a big win for small retailers who have difficulty matching site-based conversion metrics with in-store purchases. The idea of tying paid search dollars to actual foot traffic would often require capabilities beyond what they have in-house. Store Visits can help these retailers demonstrate value at physical locations without additional heavy-lifting.

The expansion of Store Visits serves to benefit all parties involved. The tool and the data that accompanies it will continue to evolve, but the time for small businesses to gain big insights from their Google advertising is now.

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