According to a recent survey by the TSIA, 9 out of 10 consumers cited Google as their preferred support channel. This is indicative of a significant shift in customer behaviour over the past decade, and is the direct result of the increasing digitalization of customer support.
With over 90% of consumers taking to Google to troubleshoot their own issues, more traditional methods of support are becoming increasingly obsolete. This trend of self-service support is only expected to become more dominant as Millennials and Gen Z continue to increase in the percentage of the total consumer population.
Subsequently, businesses need to rapidly adjust to the new and expected ways of delivering customer support, or quickly get left behind. Call centers are a thing of the past — in fact, only 12% of consumers state that support via phone is their preferred channel for receiving customer support.
In order for businesses to ensure that they’re keeping with customer demand, it’s important to not only understand how Google works, but also ensure that the support channels offered are compatible with Google. In short, organizations need to ensure that Google can actually find and access the support channels that they offer.
Support Channels and Google
It may still come as a surprise to some, but not everything that’s posted on the internet can be found by Google and searchable by consumers looking to solve their own issues. As you can imagine, this presents a problem; if your support can’t be found, your consumers won’t be able to solve their own issues. This will no doubt have a negative impact on your customer experience, increasing the chances that your customers will switch to a competing brand who can provide them with a better experience.
This begs the question: what support channels can and can’t be found by Google?
The chart below presents two primary pieces of information. First, the chart illustrates the channels that customers prefer to use for support when they encounter a technical
issue (“Google” and “self-service” have been excluded from this chart since we’re interested in finding out what specific channels can be found by Google).
Second, the chart illustrates the searchability of support channels on Google, as seen in the key on the right hand side of the chart.
Channels that can’t be searched on Google/ Are difficult to search on Google
As you can see, the chart identifies 11 channels of customer support (excluding “Google” and “self-service,” which are both present on the original chart) that are preferred channels for consumers. The channels that are displayed in blue are the ones that cannot be easily searched on Google/ can’t be searched on Google, and are therefore not compatible with the search engine.
Social media support channels such as Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook and Instagram are all included in this category as their content is not generally shown on Google. Now, of course, the social media business pages may show up in the results, but it is rare, and even rarer still is the ability to find and search deep content and long form questions. For this reason, it’s strongly recommended that a support channel or support community is not built on a social media platform.
It’s clear that there is a correlation between the popularity of a support channel and their searchability on Google. The support channels that are the least popular are either not easily compatible with Google search (social media channels) or not compatible at all (SMS text chat, video chat, phone, email). This is not a mere coincidence; since Google takes the number one spot, it only stems to reason that the other support channels would need to be found (or found easily) by Google in order to be more popular.
Channels that are searchable on Google
As seen in the chart, there are two preferred channels that fall under this category: community and YouTube.
I should however add that the searchability of YouTube on Google is limited; Google only uses the title of the video and the description to understand the content of the video. The video content itself is not searched unless the description includes a transcript of the video. This means that while a video may appear in a search due to the title and description meeting the search criteria, the video itself may be unhelpful or unrelated.
Community, on the other hand, is entirely searchable by Google (if the community is open to the public). Every post, every discussion and every thread is crawled by Googlebots and added to the search index so that they can be found.
It’s important to note however that just because something can be found on Google doesn’t mean that it will be found. This is where the mechanics of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) come into play. For the most part, due to the nature of community forums, communities are usually extremely SEO friendly and are designed to optimize most key SEO factors. Vanilla, for example, optimizes a number of key factors right out-of-the-box, including:
Keywords in Content
Keywords in URL
SEO is an important thing to keep in mind once you know that your support channel can be found on Google. The better your SEO, the higher your web pages will rank on the search engine results page, which will result in increased visibility and more traffic.
Since we know that Google is by far the preferred method of customer support, you want to ensure that your support channels can not only be found by Google, but also appear on the first page. This is especially important since statistics show that 75% of searchers will not leave the first page of Google.
SEO Done Right
To sum up to this point, effective customer support needs to be found on Google, and of the preferred support channels, only “community” and “YouTube” (to an extent) can be found via Google.
However, as mentioned, it’s simply not enough to be compatible with Google; organizations need to do SEO correctly to actually be found.
Google's goal is to deliver the best possible results to its users. That being said, one thing I’d like to emphasize is the need for organizations to focus their efforts on creating content that is useful and easy to find. Creating and maintaining fresh content is very important, in addition to ensuring that both your on-page and off-page SEO is optimize well.
If you want to enhance your knowledge of SEO best practices, download our free Big Book of SEO. This comprehensive 88 page guide covers all things SEO, including:
An introduction to SEO
Web crawling and Indexing
SEO on-page optimization
SEO off-page optimization
SEO quality assurance
Community forums for optimal SEO performance
Common errors and how to address them
SEO common terms and definitions
I recommend you check it out.