Data Suggest Local-Intent Queries Nearing Half of All US Search Volume

Apple maps mobile

Last week Google disclosed that “more Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries including the US and Japan.” It goes without saying this is a watershed moment for marketers and local search marketers in particular.

Google wasn’t any more precise than that, although it did clarify that “mobile” means smartphones and not tablets. Google groups tablets and PCs together. If tablet-based search were included in the “mobile” category, presumably mobile’s lead would be greater — although we don’t know relative numbers beyond what Google has said above.

Google also suggested without stating it explicitly that at least in the US market the crossover came in Q1 of this year.

We’ve already been hearing for some time that many companies are seeing 50% or more of their traffic and/or ad revenues from mobile. Such companies include:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Yelp
  • Pinterest
  • YP

The Q4 2014 comScore search volume numbers for the US (below) are called into question by last week’s mobile search announcement. But because we don’t have comparable data from other sources, let’s assume they’re accurate for the PC and put aside mobile for the moment.

comscore Q4 search figures

What the chart above shows is that there were 45.5 billion search queries (across Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ask, AOL) on the PC in the US in Q4. The numbers likely undercount actual mobile query volume, in view of Google’s recent announcement.

Google previously said in 2010 that roughly 20% of PC-based search queries carry a “local intent.” (It’s larger but Google was being conservative in issuing this number.) Using that 20% formula across the industry, about 9.1 billion of those 45+ billion PC queries in Q4 would have been “local intent” queries.

Let’s assume that PC search volumes are flat Q/Q and focus only on Google, which controls 67% of the US search market according to comScore. That would mean Google saw roughly 30.4 billion PC-based search queries in Q1 2015.

We can assume that at least that number of US mobile queries for Google, given the company’s recent statement. So let’s assume mobile queries are barely more than the PC (31 billion) in mobile in Q1 for Google.

Previously Google has said that 40% to 50% (based on two different statements) of mobile search queries carry a local intent. Let’s use 45% and split the difference. That would mean 13.9 billion local-intent mobile queries, out of 31 billion, in Q1 2015.

Using the figures and rationale above the following chart compares local-intent and general search queries on the PC and smartphones for Q1 2015. Once again, this completely excludes tablet search volumes.

Local vs. non-local queries

Given that more than 90% of retail transactions happen in stores, I’ve previously argued that a much larger percentage of PC-based searches should ultimately be considered “local intent” queries.

However using the basic assumptions and crude calculations above, we find that local-intent queries represent roughly 32% of combined search queries across the PC and smartphones for Q1 2015. If we factor in tablet queries — using the comScore numbers above and an assumption of no growth from Q4 — we find that combined mobile (smartphone + tablet) queries are roughly 42% of all Q1 US search queries.

I would assert, however, if we had complete transparency and online-to-offline attribution we would see that local-intent queries across platforms exceed the total volume of non-local queries.

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10 Responses to “Data Suggest Local-Intent Queries Nearing Half of All US Search Volume”

  1. Street Fight Daily: Verizon Buys AOL, Facebook Tests Search | Street Fight says at

    […] Suggest Local-Intent Queries Nearly Half of All US Search Volume (Screenwerk) Greg Sterling: Last week Google disclosed that “more Google searches take place on mobile […]

  2. David Mihm says at

    Greg, I’m trying to understand the math above…looking at your graphic I get

    20.0B local intent queries
    41.5B general queries

    20 / 61.5 is closer to 30% of all queries?  Even throwing in tablet searches, it seems a stretch to say it would be higher than 35%?

  3. Greg Sterling says at

    I think you’re right. I did this quickly yesterday. Will go back.

  4. Greg Sterling says at

    With tablets (using comScore above) it comes to about 42%, which is low given the low desktop number. Years ago Yahoo told me that roughly 1/3 of all their PC searches carried a local intent. Using a 30% number for Google’s PC searches, we’d get to 37% (smartphone % of total) and 47% combined (smartphone + tablet)

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  13. MiriamEllis says at

    Hi Greg,
    Would you happen to have current statistics for estimated local-intent Google queries for late 2015 or early 2016, by quarter or by month? Thought if anyone might, you would!

  14. Greg Sterling says at

    I will get that info to you shortly

  15. MiriamEllis says at

    That’s so kind of you, Greg! Thanks very much. I’m eager to see. Your statistical reportage is second-to-none.

  16. Greg Sterling says at

    I wouldn’t say that and I probably don’t have it quarter over quarter. I can give you a few data points however.

  17. MiriamEllis says at

    Greg,
    I really appreciate that. What I’m trying to get a handle on, specifically, would be something like you did some time ago in which you were using math to estimate the monthly volume of Google local queries, based on some statistics you’d gathered. This was the post of your I remember:

    http://screenwerk.com/2016/03/22/why-we-should-treat-most-commercial-intent-search-queries-as-local/
    From those numbers, are you able to estimate what a monthly Google local query volume might look like in mid-2016?

  18. Greg Sterling says at

    Sorry Miriam that I haven’t gotten to this . . . will do this later today. Google has thrown around different numbers. They publicly said at one point that 40% of mobile search queries were local. Their number now is 30%. The truth is that they’re not sure and they’re being conservative. Bing said a few years ago that 53% of the queries in their search app carried local-intent. Forrester consumer survey data says 40% of mobile queries are local. On the PC Google has never raised its 20% estimate. But I was told privately that was very conservative to be safe. Yahoo told me years ago that a third of their search queries on the PC had a local intent.

  19. MiriamEllis says at

    Hi Greg,

    No worries … this is the trouble I have had. The figures are all over the place. I really appreciate you attempting to share this with me. I agree with you that many of these seem conservative. Again, thanks, Greg.

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