Learn the Local Search Behavior of Consumers for your Local Business Clients
Society today has never been so dynamic. The phrase “keep up or get left behind” has never been truer, whether it’s being able to multitask on multi-screens or to stay relevant in the ever changing online landscape. As people are now more reliant on their devices for their daily grind, marketing focus has now shifted from flashing lights and signs out on the road, to what people can easily access from the palm of their hands. There’s a joke going around that millenials today are an apathetic generation because they don’t look at you when they talk and are always staring at their PC or mobile screen. While humorous, there is certainly some truth to this anecdote, and it brings up again just how much people are paying attention to what their devices display, and what potential there is to optimize any brand or business in this medium.
None have the biggest potential to take advantage of this than local businesses.
Consumers Search for Local Businesses Everyday
Studies continually reveal online consumer search behavior in relation to local businesses.
These range from how often they search, the devices they use – and what times of the day. Geo-location in relation to users, and whether or not they would recommend the business or service to others.
Fifteen percent (15%) of people search for a local business online every day in 2014 from only seven percent from last year. While fifty-seven percent (57%) of people searched for businesses online six to ten times in the year. (See Figures 1 and 2)
And when they search for businesses online, they have expectations on what information to find regardless whether they are searching from a local search site, a major search engine, or a Yellow Pages site. They want to see a map and directions, name address and phone number, hours of operation, the business website, promotional offers, customer reviews, and methods of payment.
Lifestyle businesses have always attracted the most searches. People do the most queries for dining, healthcare, general goods and clothing.
Restaurants have always dominated in this area and despite a dip in searches this year, they still remain on top because people don’t always need new clothes or get sick, but they do have to eat every day.
It goes without saying that we have become much more accustomed to using the Internet to search for local businesses. Local businesses, on the other hand, are becoming more aware of the importance of having a strong online presence.
Consumers Use Multiple Devices when Searching for Local Businesses
Consumers tend to favor certain types of devices when searching for local businesses in certain categories.
This makes sense. What would you most likely use to search for restaurants to dine in when you are already out and on-the-go?
PCs, laptops and tablets are used more for searches in the health and fitness category. The entertainment category is dominated by searches using the PC or laptop alone, while mobile phone searches dominate the travel category. (See Figures 3 and 4)
And yes, you got it right. Based on the research, people search for local restaurants via mobile phone the most at thirty percent (30%), followed by tablets at twenty-eight percent (28%). PC and laptops trail at 24%.
Consumers Read Reviews to Consider a Purchase
So where do we eat tonight? This is where online reviews have a more prominent role, as people have become much more reliant on the word of others regarding these places. Think about the last time you heard a glowing review of a new restaurant from a close friend or relative. As a trusted source, you take their word for it and when you go and try it for yourself; you are most likely to agree with their declaration. The same could be said for an aggregation of reviews of a single local business. You may not know anyone who’s eaten there yet, but based on what a handful of reviews are saying and what the average star rating is, it’s probably worth checking out (or not.)
This doesn’t just mean restaurants either. Online reviews will help consumers make a decision on whether or not an establishment is worth their time and business. Imagine seeing some great reviews of a business that you’re looking for. Three possibilities are likely: Make an online purchase. If it’s within your means and your vicinity, you would most likely visit the physical establishment to learn more about what you are looking for and make a purchase. For most local businesses, relevant and fresh content on a mobile-friendly website that is e-commerce and m-commerce enabled is a must. (See Figures 5 and 6)
The significance of reputation varies for every local business. On the surface, consumers like the charm and friendliness that “mom and pop” stores often have. But professionalism, expertise and reliability are traits that should be put more focus on as these traits not only keep already established customers, but also earns the trust of potential new ones.
For instance, any business in the healthcare industry or related to people’s well-being considers reputation their bread and butter. It is something that they should value above all else when they know what people are searching for online. You wouldn’t trust a dentist whose rates are cheap, but carries a two-star rating online when a costlier yet more trusted one is available. For anyone in this industry, it’s about instilling trust in people and letting them believe that their health can be put in their hands.
So how does reputation spread? Despite all the talk of the importance of online reviews, people will still initially share their thoughts and impressions with those they know and are familiar with. Rather than post what they want to say in a review aggregator to total strangers, they are more likely to talk about their experiences with friends or family first. This means that word of mouth among friends and family is still vital in getting a local business known. Take note that word of mouth has also taken another medium – social media usage has amplified the power of word-of-mouth experiences and recommendations. Be it on Facebook or Twitter, customers will share their experiences with any business, good or bad, for all of their close connections and followers to see. While less formal than word of mouth, the reach it has can’t be denied and any business can build their reputation from a good word at first before the aggregate reviews from directories like CitySearch, MerchantCircle or Yelp start pouring in. (See Figure 7)
Think for a moment also as a consumer, not a marketer. What would get you to recommend any business to your friends or rave about it online? This goes back to the earlier point of both professionalism and friendliness.
Of course, you want the best product, the best service, and the best experience a business can deliver and any business that provided you with delight is certainly worth telling others. As a friend or as a family member, you also would not choose to send anyone you knew to a place that was not up to your standards.
Perhaps the most telling statistic is that since 2011, there has been a constant increase of customers that look first online for reviews to determine if a business is worth their time or not. Those that occasionally read reviews have maintained a steady pace, while those that are apathetic towards any online review have been in a steady decline. (See Figure 8)
With the emergence of more mobile friendly sites and directories, customers can now make quick decisions based on a business’ vicinity and reviews.
It’s a tired trope to hear and say, but the core of every business should always be to perform to the best of their resources for maximum customer satisfaction. The graph above tells the entire story of the current online landscape: people are reading online reviews more, and trust them with more confidence than they did three years ago. With people being able to now share their experiences to a much broader audience, it is much more important now that businesses ensure their customers have positive experiences with their product or service, as this will certainly factor in their online reputation.
Your local business clients have much more opportunities to engage with established customers who will put in a good word for them, which then shape the potential to draw in new customers.
It may sound like a daunting task to get people to pay attention to your client’s business online, but a little know-how can go a long way. We know what visibility, relevance and engagement mean for SMBs, which is why we’ve always been aware of how important it is for your clients to release regular promotions, have strong social media presence, encourage happy customers to write positive reviews and have them published in the right channels. We cover these aspects in our Local Buzz services for your clients. We’re realistic in believing that no business can please every person, but we also believe that with the right focus and optimization of your client’s brand, their local business can get found and be talked about with delight.