Over the past five years we have seen dramatic shifts in how consumers select businesses in the local marketplace. For example, as recently as 2007 the printed Yellow Pages was still the number one source of information used by consumers to select businesses. Your Sunday paper contained five pounds of coupons and promotions to sort through and prioritize. And the killer app on your mobile phone was SMS. Oh how the world has changed.
To help us track these developments, in 2008 my company designed and conducted the first Local Search Usage Study with comScore.
Now in its fifth year, the 15miles/Localeze Local Search Usage Study conducted by comScore provides insights into changing consumer behavior that can be leveraged by marketers to better understand how to incorporate local tactics into their comprehensive marketing plans.
Finding vs. Searching
Developing a local strategy begins with an understanding of what consumers cite as their primary source for local business information:
Source: comScore custom research - 15miles/Localeze Local Search Usage Study (IYP = Internet Yellow Pages)
It is not just what media type (print vs. online or IYP vs. search engine) that consumers have changed; it's how they use these resources to select businesses. To use a traditional media analogy, users have shifted from "white page" information searching behavior of "finding" listings to more of a behavior of "searching" and "shopping" to determine what and where to buy products and services.
Evidence of this concept can be found in the frequency with which consumers interact with the media options and most importantly the type of content they use to form purchase decisions.
Static information lists and directories have seen a decrease in frequency of use, while more dynamic content sites containing recommendations, reviews, personal opinions, and ratings show increased frequency.
In effect, local searching - searches that contain a geographic term - has transformed from buyers searching for "where to buy" location information for businesses they already know the name of into shoppers seeking information on "what to buy" in order to select a business they did not know prior to their search.
It's Not Just About the Search Engines
In years past, marketers were concerned primarily with searches on portal search engines, local search specialty sites, and IYPs. With the rise of social networks and daily deal providers introducing location-based services, consumers are becoming savvier about accessing local business information. In fact, local business search on social networks has increased 67 percent since 2010 and 35 percent of individuals that primarily use social networks for local search do so on a daily basis. Also, local business searchers are heavily engaged with social local content through consumer reviews, with 45 percent of social network local business users submitting reviews online for local businesses.
Consumers' use of non-search sites for locating and selecting local businesses has continued to increase dramatically throughout 2011. Fully 15 percent of local searchers accessed social networking sites for their local search needs, up from 9 percent in 2010; a 66 percent increase. Facebook continues to dominate social network sites used for local search with 91 percent usage by social network users, nearly 146 percent more usage than the second most-used site, Twitter.
Local Search Results Are the Most Trusted and Relevant
According to this year's findings, 61 percent of online searchers consider local search results to be more relevant and 58 percent consider local search results to be more trustworthy. On the contrary, only 10 percent of online searchers indicated paid search results were more relevant and 9 percent felt they were more trustworthy. Also, local business information is important for today's social networkers. Sixty-three percent of social networkers are more likely to use a local business if the business has information available on a social networking site.
Practical Tips for Advertisers
When searching online for local businesses, basic business Name, Address, Phone Number (NAP) information is still the most critical search data sought out by consumers. Additionally, from a practical standpoint NAP forms citations, which are the basic enjoiner that search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing use to optimize. More information on business listings management can be found here.
The changing local media environment requires marketers to evolve their marketing strategy and execution plans to leverage the consumer migration from traditional media vehicles to local online resources and their accelerated adoption of mobile devices, including tablets. Because local searches are largely tied to consumers seeking physical business, NAP information and business listings identity management are the foundational elements for marketers seeking to add local into their marketing arsenal.
Jason Burby put it aptly when he wrote earlier in the month "…keep in mind that local is an opportunity that should be part of a more comprehensive strategy - not an end in itself."
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Gregg Stewart is president of 15miles Local Marketing, a full-service marketing agency specializing in digital local solutions, headquartered in Connecticut. 15miles is a local search agency supporting the offline, online, and mobile solutions for businesses of all sizes, including Fortune 500 companies. At the helm, Stewart applies his successful, tenured career in interactive advertising and local search to the ongoing development of digital solutions for his clients' online-marketing campaigns. Through his strategic counsel, national and local brands become better equipped to target and reach niche consumers for increased leads and sales. In addition to his Clickz columns, additional columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.