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Optimizing Local Search Campaigns

  |  April 1, 2013   |  Comments

How advertisers both large and small can target and optimize their local search campaign based on ever-changing consumer behavior.

It's that time of year again - we just released the sixth annual 15miles/Neustar-Localeze Local Search Study conducted by comScore at SES New York. Over the years we have collected a treasure chest of information and insight into how consumers search, shop, and find businesses locally, whether they are big box/brand stores or the local mom-and-pop establishments.

I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast some of the progressions and changes we have seen over the years.

Six years ago, the printed Yellow Pages was still the number one source referenced by over 33 percent of consumers to search locally. Boy, how the times have changed. Today only 19 percent mention usage of the print directories, an additional 2 percent drop over last year.


Smartphones were the size of bricks and very little functionality existed to search locally. Today, search is the most popular function on smartphones with more than half of those surveyed stating that search was the number one function used on their mobile browser.

Six years ago, tablets barely existed. Anyone remember the Apple Newton? Today there are over 40 million tablet users in just two years of growth, a feat that took smartphones nearly 10 years to achieve.


And all this time, the importance of local and local search increases. As we continue to dissect the data, it's important to understand that large differences occur with how and where consumers seek out local businesses and branded outlets of major brands.

For example, the following is a list of the top categories that are most often searched by specific name:

  • Pharmacies - 86 percent
  • Doctors - 75 percent
  • Banking & Finance - 69 percent
  • Restaurants - 65 percent


Consumers conducting these types of searches are in effect "finders." Generally, completeness and accuracy of the local business listings is paramount for these types of businesses. That is not to say that this isn't important for all categories, however, because these categories have relatively low "switching" ability, a baseline approach is warranted. Strategies for increasing market share in these categories require hijacking purchase intent, usually driven by price or product promotion. Additionally, convenience can act as a switching mechanism if, for instance, one brand has incomplete listings or fewer purchase outlets and the distance to travel for purchase can be circumvented by showing your locations are closer or more accessible (hours, etc.).

Conversely, the top categories searched by keyword or category name are:

  • Jewelry Stores - 83 percent
  • Home Services - 74 percent
  • Hotels & Travel - 65 percent
  • Arts & Entertainment - 56 percent


In these cases, consumers are "searching and shopping" when referencing these categories, so their ability to form and make purchase decisions is highly influenced by what they find and review in local search.

Yet another dimension is the fact that each of these categories has a media "sweet spot" that needs to be accounted for in the planning process. For illustration here, Jewelry Stores index at 167 for Internet Yellow Pages usage versus an index of 64 for local searches conducted on the search engine portals.


As with most advertising programs it boils down to having the relevant message in the correct spot when the purchaser is making the "buy" decision.

Additional key findings:

Satisfaction with portal search sites is declining in relation to local searches. While portal search sites are most frequently used to make decisions on product/services, searchers have become less likely to return to portal sites to obtain local business information. Instead, there has been an uptick in the use of Internet Yellow Pages.

Mobile phone searches are more likely to end in purchase than PC/laptop and tablet searches. If you envision the devices aligned in a purchase funnel, PC/laptop would be at the top of the funnel, utilized for discover and awareness, tablets are in the middle of the funnel-shaping preference, and mobile phones are at the bottom of the funnel, closest to purchase.


Apps make a strong comeback. For the first year since the study began, mobile application usage grew faster than browser-based local searches. In fact, app search has doubled over just the past two years. To put this in the proper context, this is specifically local search activity.


One of the questions we get from advertisers is, "Should my company build an app or create a mobile browser-based user experience?" I want to be clear, the above statistics relate to consumers using local search applications, such as Google Maps, to find purchase locations. So the decision to build an app for your business should of course be considered based on sound marketing and user process discovery to determine if users will form respective usage of your application. If not, go the mobile browser or responsive design route.

Once again, the data garnered from the Local Search Usage Study enables advertisers both large and small to target and optimize their local search campaigns based on ever-changing consumer behavior. A copy of the study white paper is available here.


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Gregg Stewart

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.

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