Earlier today at the SMX conference in San Jose, local search agency 15 Miles and Localeze presented the findings of the “5th Annual Local Search Usage Study” (LSUS) conducted by comScore. This is the first year that Localeze has participated in the study. The report is o’erflowing with data so I’ll just pull out a few select findings.
The findings represent a mix of US consumer survey responses and behavioral data (n=4,000) collected by comScore in late 2011. The focus is on the sites and methods that consumers use to search for local businesses.
The data released today didn’t discuss or compare digital with usage of traditional/print media. The following were three “meta findings” called out in the study:
- Tablets (iPads) and smartphones are “reshaping local search and buying behavior”
- Social media and deals are increasingly influencing consumer local business search
- In search results the “local pack” of listings is the most trusted part of the page
Taking the last bullet first, if the search results page is subdivided into three components (paid, organic and “local listings”) the hierarchy of trust goes like this: paid results are least trusted while general organic (“natural search”) results are more trusted. Most trusted by consumers, however, are the local business listings (“local search results”) near the top of the page.
Hierarchy of trust in search results
The data also show meaningful growth in the use of social networking sites (mostly Facebook and Twitter) to find local business information. There’s limited context for this finding, however. Here’s what the report says:
Use of Social Networking Sites for local business searches has increased 67% since 2010. Facebook proves to be the Social Networking Site most frequently used to find local business information.
There must be a range of behaviors captured and reflected in this data (search, browse, friend recommendation requests). If these data are indeed accurate it shows that Facebook could eventually become a practical tool (provided there are changes) for local business lookups.
Growth of social nets for local search
Late last year the Pew Internet Project found nearly the opposite. Pew survey data showed that only 1% to 3% of survey respondents were using social media sites (FB, Twitter) to find local business information.
Yet in the LSUS comScore discovered that people using social networks as a primary local search tool were highly engaged: “Individuals who primarily use Social Networking Sites for local search conduct searches frequently; 35% perform local business searches on Social Networking Sites daily.”
The LSUS also found that those using social sites for local information were also more involved than others in related social activities, such as writing and consuming online reviews.
A cousin of social media, deal sites came out looking better in this research than the current industry assessment of their health. The LSUS discovered high levels of consumer satisfaction among deal buyers. Groupon, for example, was ranked 12th in terms of satisfaction on a list of deal sites. Yet Groupon still had an 88% satisfaction rating, followed by Yelp at 87% and LivingSocial at 86%.
These numbers suggest consumers will continue to be interested in deals for some time to come, notwithstanding widespread industry perceptions of “deal fatigue.” In addition, many survey respondents indicated an interest in buying multiple deals for the same businesses and split their purchases between new and known businesses.
Smartphones vs. tablets in local search
The LSUS firmly establishes the role of not only smartphones but also, now, tablets (iPads) in local search. Both smartphones and tablets are used throughout the “purchase cycle.” However as the above chart indicates consumers are starting to show preferences for different devices based on context and device characteristics.
What’s also interesting is that mobile users and tablet owners are more inclined to make local business purchases than the average. This is consistent with other data in the market. Tablet owners are also the most active and engaged users among all groups surveyed.
The takeaway? There is no single takeaway. What we now see in full bloom is a fragmented market with many consumer sources of information and at least three digital platforms (PC, mobile, tablet).
Here are a few observations I’d make quickly:
- At any point in their purchase process consumers may be using iPads/tablets, PCs or smartphones. Merchants and publishers must be conscious of this multi-device reality and be optimized on each of the platforms
- People on smartphones and tablets may be much better prospects than those on PCs. Yet people will also move between devices throughout the day and the week.
- Social media appear to be a real and increasingly important source of local business information for some percentage of users. These individuals are also more engaged in other social activities (e.g., review writing). Accordingly, social media strategies are now important to identify and address this group of “socialites.”
- The importance of accurate and enhanced local listings in search results is underscored by these findings.