Search engines continue to represent the most popular method of finding specific information about companies and products online. It's how people find out what to do when they are in a new city. It's where they find addresses and phone numbers when they need to contact someone at a gallery or museum.
But search engines don't do it alone. Not any more.
People's habits are changing. The way that they manage their lives are changing.
Consider this situation: A family of 4 is planning a vacation to Houston, TX. They live outside of Texas so they don't really know anyone in Texas to ask for direct advice. How do they plan this trip?
Not so long ago they'd probably use a travel agency and get some sort of package that offers discounts to family-friendly activities in Houston. And for the most part they'd have a good time. Maybe they'd stumble upon a cool local eatery or a smaller gallery but probably not. They'd more likely end up going to the major attractions, which is fine, but the casual discovery ended up being serendipitous at best.
Now, it's different. Karen (who plays the mother in this script) is in her late 30s and works with a computer all day. She can use Google pretty well, has a good handful of Facebook friends, and is pretty active on Twitter within the book reading communities.
Today, Karen may or may not hit Google or Bing first for her vacation planning. She might make a post on Facebook about her trip asking her friends for advice on family-friendly activities in Houston, TX. She'll likely do the same on Twitter. She'll end up getting a handful of responses about the stuff she'd probably never find on search engines if she just searched for "family-friendly things to do in Houston" or something similar.
Now she has a list. From this list she's going to then hit Google or Bing and do her research. She'll find out prices and addresses. She'll note ratings and reviews from Yelp and other review sites. She'll also be re-defining her search terms along the way as she get's a better grasp on the types of things to do in Houston. She may end up heading back to Twitter and Facebook to ask specifically about a park or museum. Or she may ask about good restaurants near the Children's Museum.
Oh, and by the way, her husband (we'll call him Jack) has been doing the same thing with his Facebook friends and on LinkedIn. He's active in photography as a hobby and has been asking in the forums he frequents. He is able to add a gallery opening featuring a children's book illustrator. Nice find Jack! You couldn't have done it with search engines alone. Not today.
This happens all of the time. How often? This is what I found using keyword research for "family-friendly things to do in Houston" and I'll rank them by relevancy and provide monthly searches. This is not comprehensive and only aims to give a glimpse as to how many people are looking for things to do in Houston.
- things to do in houston - 49,500
- things to do in houston tx - 9,900
- fun things to do in houston - 5,400
- family things to do in houston - 390
- houston attractions - 19,000
- family fun houston - 1,000
And, of course, there are various other search phrases that will provide relevancy and results for people who are looking for something new and exciting to do in Houston, TX. That's a fraction of how many people are looking online. In one month.
So when your art gallery or museum has thousands of fans and followers online, and you are participating in an active conversation with them, you have the opportunity to allow your current patrons to pass along your name as a fun thing to do in Houston.
But you have to stay relevant in their minds. You have to provide good services and be active on Facebook and Twitter. You have to update your website and send out your newsletters. Your past and current customers and members should have you in mind when someone from Arkansas asks them on Facebook "Does anyone know anything cool to do in Houston? We're visiting next month and we're looking for something different."
This is how social media and search work in today's world. Are you in the driver's seat? If you own or manage a gallery in Houston can you afford not to be relevant online? If you manage a museum who relies on tourism can you say that you're getting found when people are really looking for you and they just don't know it yet?