For brands with lots of physical outlets, having precise and accurate information about the location of those outlets – not to mention their opening hours, the items they stock, and even customer reviews – is increasingly important in a world where the number of ‘near me’ searches is increasing by the day.
On top of keeping the information accurate and up-to-date, retailers, hoteliers and restaurateurs also face the challenge of feeding it to the various platforms that consumers might use to search for it. Google, of course. Facebook, naturally. But when you start adding the likes of Bing, FourSquare, Yelp, Yell, not to mention all the other long tail players to the list, you’re up to around 250 providers of mapping, location and GPS services that brands with a lot of physical outlets – or even just one – have to keep fed with accurate location data.
Which is where Yext comes in. Established six years ago, it run a SaaS platform that enables any of its clients to enter details of any changes in location, opening hours or even prices ('20 per cent flash sale today only') just once, in order for the changes to be passed on to those myriad apps and platforms that consumers use to search for it. Yext clients pay a licence fee, the size of which depends on the number of physical location they have to maintain, for the service. In its last financial year, Yext turned over $89m (£72.5m).
It seems such a simple idea, the only flaw seems to be that it might be easy for someone else to replicate. Not so, the company’s MD Jon Buss assures me. “A lot of work has gone into the development of the platform,” he says. “If someone wanted to launch something similar now, there would be a high cost of entry.”
Yext is well established in the US, where its clients include one third of the country's top 100 retailers. Buss, lately of Criteo, has been hired to launch the platform in the UK and northern Europe. The London office is up and running, with Berlin and Paris coming online soon. Not surprisingly, there are fewer European clients to shout about – around 30 to date – but these include some good names Buss can talk about, including Premier Inn, T-Mobile and Ben & Jerry’s, and some bigger ones he can’t.
Such is the strength of the Yext offering, however, he says he’s confident about the task. “According to Google, ‘near me’ searches have increased 146 per cent year-on-year, and 76 per cent of people who use location search visit a business within one day,” Buss points out. “These consumers are high value customers, with 28 per cent of location searches resulting in a purchase, so companies cannot afford to miss them.
“If you spend millions on branding campaigns to create awareness, then someone on the high street searches on their mobile to find out where’s the nearest place they can buy whatever it is they’re looking for, and your brand is not returned in these searches when it should be, then it’s all for nothing.”
And as we move towards a world of voice search, says Buss, it becomes even more important. “If you look at the way Amazon Echo works, it’s not returning a page full of search results, but a single answer, so it’s more important than ever that companies’ location data is accurate and being fed to all these relevant providers,” says Buss.
Presumably, I put it to Buss, the approach most companies take is to focus on the big players and ignore the long tail. “It is, but they can’t afford to, because if Google sees inconsistencies in the accuracy of your data across these various platforms, it will hit your rankings in the search results,” he says.
There are plenty of location data providers in the market, all claiming to have more accurate data than anyone else, and most dealing in the location footprint a user leaves behind as they – and their phone – go about their daily lives. Yext is something completely different. Its data comes direct from its clients, so as long as they don’t mess that part up, it can help them ensure that when consumers are looking for one of their outlets, on whatever their platform of choice, they should succeed in finding it, along with all the associated information to help them decide whether they want to go there.