SEARCH marketing; Can it rescue Kenya's Malls from a risky digital future?

18 August, 2018

With a largely young population that is highly digital, It is not unusual for many Kenyans to spend the whole afternoon/evening at the mall during the weekends. However, they are not just shopping all day long. But have Kenyan Malls figured out what others in the rest of the world have already?

Future of Shopping Malls

From Brazil to China, Madrid to Newyork, India to Dubai, Australia to South Africa, people no longer flock to the mall just to shop. They are searching for value. They visit the mall to attend concerts, visit arts centers, spas, fitness clubs, farmer’s/Maasai markets, aquariums, theme parks, museum walks, play arcade games, skate, ski slopes, go-karts, balloon rides, bowling, dining or watch movies and while there, do some shopping.

Welcome to the world of “retail-tainment”.

Changing Trends

In a recent interview by McKinsey asked what are the biggest consumer trends they’re seeing? Alain Bejjani, leader of Majid Al Futtaim Group which owns & operates The Mall of the Emirates & and the Carrefour franchise in 38 countries remarked, the shift in consumer focus from product to experience.

Here in lies the problem with most Kenyan malls. Their online marketing strategies on their Websites or Social Media are product heavy instead of Experiential.

Pushing product selection (retailers/stores), offers, sales & convenience of 'all under one roof' as their value propositions.

Sadly, these plus price comparisons and always-on nature of online are the strong points of E-Commerce. Malls will never be able to compete neither should they try.

Market it as a destination

VACANT. This is a common sight now when you visit many Kenyan malls and around the world too. With dwindling foot traffic numbers, empty parking slots, retailers filing for bankruptcy, product oversupply and the rise of e-commerce squeezing margins. Times for shopping malls and the major retailers who serve as their anchor tenants have never been tougher. With one in three malls in the US reportedly set to close within the next decade.

In the brutally competitive destination & retail business, staying top of mind with consumers is a difficult challenge.

Develop cross-promotional campaigns: These encourage your customers. For example, you could work with the Movie theatre & Uber to have an offer for Couples. Have a photo booth where the couple can take photos, share the photos & about the offer with friends on social media & leave a review of their experience on the mall's Social Media pages. Award them with a Ksh.500 voucher to use at a participating restaurant at the mall, for every couple they invite to the mall that day.

You could also create a promotion in which a person who is visiting a certain restaurant, receives a 30% off voucher to use at one of your fan activities such as the gaming centre.

This shows that your destination is willing to work together in order to enhance the experience for all those who visit.

These experiences are what people want to see on social media or when they search, about your mall. Otherwise posting a mall’s opening hours or a map of retail locations doesn’t exactly encourage liking, commenting and sharing.

Bringing Search Marketing into the mix

The primary objective is to make your visitors interested in your location before they arrive using search engine marketing.

First some stats;

  1. In the world, Google is the market leader amongst all Search engines with a market share of 80% and others such as Yahoo, Bing and Baidu etc averaging between 5-10% market share.
  2. There are 3.5 billion daily searches on Google with over 50% of all Google searches taking place on smartphones -- outpacing laptops, desktops and tablets combined.
  3. In 2017, 50.3% of all web traffic generated worldwide was on mobile phones.
  4. A study by Internet Marketing Ninjas found that branded queries have higher CTR (click through rate) however, non-branded queries have a steady decline in CTR. This means that, often users will know what brand they are searching for probably from other channels, social and TV etc.

Google My Business: This is a free business listing service on Google that will enable your mall to start building visibility in Google Maps and Google Search in your local community. This is where you can upload photos of your location (mall), your mall logo, see and respond to reviews from visitors to your mall, your phone numbers, your opening days and hours, your physical location, directions and a link to your website. Think of what Yellow Pages Business Directory was for businesses afew years back, and you'll have an idea why and how important this is for your mall.

Google Maps: You are a destination, and with more and more Users on Google directly searching for a company on Google Maps instead of its address, if your mall appears on Google Maps, you will gain more visits. Think about it, users are looking for malls that are close to their location. For a more Kenyan scenario think like a tourist or a Kenyan about to take an Uber, they will be searching for a Map location not your address so the harder it is for them to find and select your location the less traffic you get. How do you get to appear on Google Maps? Your Google My Business listing is all you need.

Google Reviews: Search engines love online reviews, so much so that Online reviews make up 10% of how search engines rank your website ( So, this means, the more regular and more recent your reviews, the more they will impact your results in search engines, and push you up towards the top. Also the sentiment type whether positive or negative plays a significant impact into the probability for recommendation of your business to searchers by Google. How do you get to moderate your Google Reviews? Your Google My Business account is all you need.

Google+: Pronounced “Google Plus” is a social media network like Facebook.The more you are keen to publish your mall's content on it, perhaps shared from your website. It will improve your SEO, by moving you up the ranks in every other Google product. It essentially helps your organic search ranking in Google.

Keywords: The first priority is to invest in branded keywords for the shops you have in your mall and the products they sell. You can also attract users in the researching/planning stage of the funnel using non-brand searches, search terms like 'concert', 'arts center', 'spa', 'fitness club', 'Maasai market', 'skate', 'go-kart', a movie title. Invest more budget here primarily to drive more searches and ultimately more visitors for your brand—what we call “brand lift.” This you can do by running paid search advertising campaigns on Google targeting those keywords.

When it comes to the online travel industry, one company stands above all others and receives more traffic than any of its competitors in the OTA travel space. This website is who have had over 4 billion visits over the last 12 months. Kenya's malls should borrow a line from's playbook. The company is widely acknowledged as the largest spender of advertising on Google as a result of their investment in Paid Search Traffic by bidding on both branded and non-branded keywords while advertising on Google.

Content: Search engines love consistent fresh content creators but more importantly they love to see traffic to this content. However more people are spending more time in apps like Facebook, Twitter, WeChat, Pinterest, Line, and Snapchat — and these people aren’t easily reached by Google. Therefore you need to think about consistent creation of content on your website and/or blog which is then indexed by search engines. Distribute it to your different social media channels to ensure there's high traffic and engagement with your content.

Facebook is the most attractive - as well as other products it owns, such as Instagram and WhatsApp — courtesy of its scale. It is great at re-messaging and re-targeting ads, make use of these. Boost your content once you post it here, with a link back to your mall website/blog.

  1. Photos - Tap into young Kenyans new found photography addiction. For example have a Mall photo-booth near Fashion Stores, let your visitors ask their friends online to help them pick new outfits by voting on their photos online. Give the persons with highest engagement on their outfit photos a discount.
  2. Video - Lest you forget, YouTube is the second biggest search engine and is part of Google itself, you need to be thinking about using video marketing. Incorporate Influencers who are natural storytellers, have a more intimate relationship with their fans and are in a better position to package the stories about your mall to their audience.
  3. Articles -What makes your destination attractive and unique? What makes you stand apart from hundreds of other similar malls? As a mall your website/blog should be buzzing with content around these as well as content covering past, current and upcoming events, influencer activations, visitor experiences for major activities at the mall, offers and much more. Remember to pack in the photos and videos into these articles too. It'll leave your readers whetted enough to visit the mall and share in the experience.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO): All the above activities are part of & should be done guided by a proper search engine optimization strategy to ensure that maximum impact is derived from all the search marketing initiatives at play.

Need someone to help you stitch an SEO strategy together to market your mall? Drop us a line, just click here.