Search Tops Social in Local Business Research [New Data]

by Brian Whalley

Date

December 23, 2011 at 1:30 PM

brick and mortarIf you haven’t been sure in the past about whether investing in website content and SEO makes sense, this new study might help you see the potential value for your business. According a new study released by Pew Internet, 51% of American adults get information about local restaurants, bars, and related businesses from the internet. For other local brick-and-mortar businesses that don't fit into those categories, 47% of Americans obtain information about those local businesses from the web as well. This probably doesn’t surprise anyone reading this, and may even seem a little bit on the low side. But before you start to criticize, remember that half of American adults is still a very significant number, especially considering the fact that nearly 25% of Americans don't have a personal computer at home.

Search Beats Social Media for Local Business Research

What's more interesting is how those adults responded when asked which online services they used to find this information about local businesses. Search engines like Google and Bing claim by far the largest share of Americans -- 38% -- who use the services to find out information about local restaurants and bars. For people looking for information about other local businesses, 36% of Americans primarily use search engines to get information about those local businesses as well. These statistics show how overwhelmingly critical the major search engines remain at a time when social media sites seem very trendy. In fact, even smaller search engines completely dwarf all the social media sites in terms of impact for local businesses.

For both of these populations, search engines were dramatically more dominant than speciality websites like Yelp (which came in around 16%) or any type of social media website (which came in at only 3% for restaurants, and just 1% for other businesses). According to the study, people who are conducting research on local businesses are not using social media very much in their research, despite the fact that almost half of Americans are on Facebook, and a half of them are using it daily.

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Of course, there could be some chicken-or-egg problems with this: If most local businesses aren’t participating in social media or don’t have their information readily available there, people will shy away from using social media services to find local businesses. Most adults who are familiar with their community will quickly realize where useful resources are and aren’t available for the businesses in their community.

Marketing Takeaways

Locally focused businesses should still make sure they have at least a basic social media presence on the major networks -- such as a Facebook business page -- and that they update it regularly. After all, the number of people using social media to find local businesses is only going to rise, not fall. That way, as users start to use social media more for this kind of research, your business will already be present, positioned well, and have content to share on social networks. 

For those businesses that have already invested in building an active, content-rich website using appropriate keywords, this research is great reinforcement that you've made the right choice. Search engines are a much more popular method of finding information about local businesses than any other source, either online or offline. Even smaller search engines are much more heavily used than social media sites for this kind of research. Furthermore, 40% of searches conducted on mobile devices are local in nature. People are often searching for information about nearby businesses from their mobile devices, and with the ever-increasing growth of mobile adoption, an effective local search strategy will continue to play a key role in mobile usage, too.

The only other method that was even close was print newspapers, at between 26% and 29% depending on what type of business was being researched. Great search engine optimization, signing up for Google Places, and creating content is critical for making sure you catch the eye of shoppers in your area.

Is your local business putting enough emphasis on the importance of local SEO? If not, it might be time for a wake-up call.

Image Credit: heliosphan

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By Brian Whalley

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