Micro-geographic Targeting: Usability and SEO Concerns

One of the most complex industries for ecommerce is telecommunications or “telco.” Telcos may sell any or all of the following services: home telephone, cable/satellite television, dialup/broadband Internet/mobile broadband, mobile phone service. A telco may be “double-play” (offering any combination of two services), “triple-play” or “quad-play,” and often seek to bundle services to their customers.

Not only can services be bundled through online purchase, but often the services themselves are bundles within bundles. A digital TV service requires hardware, basic and premium channel subscription, length of term and may also involve promotional discounts.

Mobile phone bundles are most complex – with selection of device (with hundreds to choose from), selection of plan, services, accessories, length of term and warranties/device insurance. Add to this that customers may want to port over a number from another wireless carrier, and needs to pass a more extensive credit check than a one-off sale. Current customers also need self-service tools to update/change their plans and services at any time.

If that isn’t complex enough, telcos also need to handle micro-geographic customers (regions and territories within countries). Available services, product selection, pricing and promotional offers vary by state/province, zip code, even down to home address for telephone, cable or Internet. The telco must employ targeted selling in order to show the content and offers (before checkout) to the right customers, collecting information either from the customer or through IP geolocation tools.

A telco or any other online business with micro-geographic customer segments (like grocery/fresh food delivery) has several options:

1. Ask customer to enter zip code or select region before viewing product, direct customer to geo-specific subdomain/subfolder
2. Ask customer to enter zip code or select region and filter product catalog or pricing/plan information accordingly
3. Use IP geolocation to automatically redirect to a geo-specific subdomain/subfolder
4. Use IP geolocation and automatically filter product catalog or pricing/plan information accordingly
5. Do nothing (because do nothing is always an option, but usually not a good option)

Some examples from telco:

1. Ask customer to enter zip code or select region before viewing product, direct customer to geo-specific subdomain/subfolder (Bell.ca)

2. Ask customer to enter zip code or select region and filter product catalog or pricing/plan information accordingly (Verizon, ATT)

3. Use IP geolocation to automatically redirect to a geo-specific subdomain/subfolder (have not found a micro-geographic example, but many retailers already use this for country redirection)

4. Use IP geolocation and automatically filter product catalog or pricing/plan information accordingly (Rogers Wireless)

So now the question is – which is best?

Reducing Friction

Friction refers to anything in the sales or sign up process that causes psychological resistance to proceeding. Certainly interrupting the customer journey with a page or popup asking for personal information is going to cause some psychological resistance — especially when you’re asking for a home phone number or exact address.

Geolocation and filtering avoids the interruption that may cause landing page abandonment. Whenever you can cut out a manual step for the customer, you can expect better usability – provided your technology is working properly. Showing the wrong products/prices is worse than asking for customer input. But sometimes you cannot avoid asking for information, as geolocation don’t provide exact addresses or phone numbers, and are not 100% accurate all the time. So automatic redirection is not necessarily the best option in every case.

If you do need to ask the customer to select a region or provide personal information, I offer 5 tips:

1. Use a lightbox, not a page. Bell.ca’s lightbox shows enough of the product page underneath to assure the customer they will see the right page after providing the information. Verizon Wireless’ gatekeeper page is not unlike the forced registration page that customers loathe in the checkout process.
2. Include, in as few words as possible, the reason why you ask for this information.
3. If you ask for a telephone number or address, have a clear link to privacy information.
4. Allow existing customers to sign-in from the lightbox, and redirect them to the appropriate subfolder, or apply the catalog filter.
5. Store the customer preference in a cookie (rather than a session) as customers may research one day and come back to purchase on another day.

Search Engine Optimization

Whenever product pages exist under multiple URLs, you have a duplicate content concern. If you’re a Canadian telco with a sub-site for each province and a large product catalog, for example, search engines may not index your site fully because its allocated bandwidth to crawl your site is limited. If a product page is not indexed, it cannot be found in search engines. The best approach is to choose one region as the “canonical” region (perhaps Ontario), and apply robots.txt to the other pages.

If you’re using geolocation, you can automatically redirect a customer to the geo-specific subdomain or subfolder, or if you’re not using geolocation, prompt the customer to select his/her region.

What if you’re using geolocation plus a filtered catalog and a visitor arrives through search, comparison shopping engine, email or social media links and lands on a product that’s unavailable in his/her region? This is a good case for a lightbox that cross-sells similar items: “We’re sorry, this item in unavailable in your region. You may be interested in these similar products, or click here to launch our “Phone Finder.”

Okay, that’s nice but which is best?

Best solution depends on what’s technically possible for your site. The most advanced solution combines geolocation with catalog filtering – but again, geolocation cannot recognize street address or phone number. Often you can’t change a site structure quickly (or there may be a strategic reason you maintain subdomains/subfolders), or your ecommerce platform may not accommodate customizations like catalog filtering. The key is to make sure your solution is not too interrupting to the customer journey (check if your request for information page has high exit rate or bounce rate) and doesn’t cause search engine issues.

Upcoming Telco Webinar October 27

Ecommerce best practices for the telco industry

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Selling wireless and media products online is a complex challenge which often results in a frustrating user experience and falls short of the expectations of seasoned online shoppers. Wireless and cable operators, wireless resellers, and handset manufacturers try to mirror the online shopping experience of their online retail peers, but despite their best efforts the complexities of backend provisioning processes and legacy business rules often surface for customers to see. For those telcos who have mastered selling online, the rewards are high—significant reductions in call center operation costs and increased ARPU.

In this webinar Product Manager Peter Sheldon of Elastic Path Software will discuss the best and worst practices that the top global telco brands employ in their online stores.

Webinar Takeaways:
- What are the biggest causes of shopper frustration and store abandonment?
- What best practices have emerged and what can we learn from other online retailers?
- How can complex availability, compatibility, and provisioning rules be simplified for a better online experience?
- How does the experience differ for new vs. existing customers?
- How can triple play and quad play operators simplify and streamline their online experience?

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2 Responses to “Micro-geographic Targeting: Usability and SEO Concerns”

  1. Terry says:

    Another top notch article. However there are a few more options than those described from an SEO standpoint:

    1. You kind of hinted at this, but didn’t explicitly state that you can use the “rel=canonical” tag to make sure Google is aware of the original page.

    2. I like T-Mobiles approach, seen here: http://www.t-mobile.com/shop/Phones/Cell-Phone-Detail.aspx?cell-phone=BlackBerry-Curve-8900 – I searched Google for “blackberry 8900″ and got this. After you click “buy”it redirects and requires geographic information. This approach would work well for product oriented sites.

    3. For a service oriented site this is focusing on queries such as ‘service + location” – for which it gets a bit trickier. However, big brands generally have sufficient trust and authority to leverage in order to achieve good rankings for these for the major metropolitan areas they service. With a nice declaration of geographic service area on the site and citations and congruent information from Google’s major data providers there shouldn’t be much of an issue here.

  2. cristino says:

    Thanks for this useful information and good to know this SEO Tools and Resources, I also do online marketing through fullservicead to promote my site and i find your blog very helpful. I really admire your post.

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