Why We Should Treat Most Commercial-Intent Search Queries As ‘Local’

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Google admits it doesn’t really know how many local-intent queries come through its search box. That’s because there’s often ambiguity in the string. Long ago now Google said that about 20% of its desktop searches carried a local intent.

In the past couple of years, at different points, Google speakers at conferences have said that between 30% and 50% of mobile search queries have local intent. The company’s official number is 30%.

The desktop figure has always been way too conservative and reflects disambiguation challenges. The mobile number is also conservative. At LSA16 Google director of engineering Chandu Thota said that Google has to be ready to serve local results to most mobile queries because of the “near me” nature of mobile search.

If we take the 20% and 30% figures and map those to comScore traffic data, it would mean there are nearly 5.5 billion monthly “local searches” across the desktop and mobile in the US on Google. That’s more than enough to go around.

But a probably better way to look at this local vs. non-local question is in terms of outcomes. If roughly 92% of US retail sales are conducted in stores — and numerous other kinds of transactions including services and entertainment happen offline — we must assume that a majority of commercial-intent searches conclude in the physical world.

There’s no data I could find about what percentage of overall search traffic carries a commercial intent. Yet most product searches as well as searches on traditional local “headings” (e.g., restaurants, automotive, medical, etc.) would be commercial intent searches because a transaction will ultimately result. And that transaction will in all probability happen offline.

If we take this “real world” view of search, what emerges is a kind of inversion of conventional thinking. Most search queries that carry any buying intent are going to be “local” because their fulfillment will likely be offline. Accordingly the Google “local” numbers should probably be set north of 50%.

Imagine how that would change the conversation around SEO and paid-search if Google were to come out and say something like “70% of search queries have a local commercial intent.” I’m curious to hear your thoughts about this way of looking at things.

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13 Responses to “Why We Should Treat Most Commercial-Intent Search Queries As ‘Local’”

  1. Andy Kuiper says at

    I agree with this assumption —> “Accordingly the Google “local” numbers should probably be set north of 50%.”

  2. Scott Barnett says at

    It seems like the higher the % of local searches go, the lower the value of advertising. Google doesn’t want small businesses to get to the point where they realize there is close to 0 value to paid advertising on search.

  3. Greg Sterling says at

    Not clear Scott on that juxtaposition — higher local search = lower value for ads. Elaborate

  4. Scott Barnett says at

    The click through rate on ads is already quite low. If it’s true that 70% of search queries have a local commercial intent, and I’m a local business, isn’t that where I want to spend my time? So, I stop spending $$ on ads and instead focus on being the “right” answer when somebody does a mobile/local query. Combine that with LSA’s report that 78% of mobile searches for a local business result in a purchase, and it becomes obvious that’s the highest value, highest % focus, no?

  5. Greg Sterling says at

    Yes. Except that in many mobile search contexts there are only ads above the fold.

  6. Scott Barnett says at

    Indeed – exactly why Google switched their ad placement from the right nav to above the search results. But those click through rates are still rather low, even above the fold. I’m not saying advertising goes away completely, but any small business that does the math will realize they are getting a bigger bang by organic visibility vs. ads. This is nothing new, but as this % goes higher, it becomes more obvious and may change perception. 

  7. Greg Sterling says at

    Most SMBs are focused on ranking and not PPC as you suggest. But they have, as a generalization, very limited capacity to optimize their sites without help.

  8. Bharat says at

    Local will always be increasing in anyway. In country like India where still there is internet penetration going on obviously the local searches will increase on go and more commercial queries. 

  9. Larissa says at

    I recall an Ipsos study a couple of years back that found that conversions after a local search were more than twice as likely vs a ‘non local’ search. I think Google presented these findings in a positive light to advertisers, telling them it was an opportunity to use radius bidding to reach consumers who are near stores and give attribution to local searches, and continue fine tuning their ads by location.

    I totally agree that the Google local numbers should go up above 50%. Although we often focus on mobile when it comes to local searches, a huge portion (possibly even larger percentage than in mobile) of searchers research on desktop/tablet before taking local action and it’s important for SMBs to remember that, people are looking for local information with intent to purchase at various points throughout the buyer journey and on *every single device* they own. 

  10. Greg Sterling says at

    Local searches in the sense that I mean them in this post — those that are most likely to convert offline — have always been prevalent on the desktop. The problem is that marketers haven’t been able to track them and so have largely ignored them. Mobile made this online to offline behavior more transparent and as a result people now think of local and mobile as synonymous. They sometimes are but the local-intent desktop searches, as you point out, are still being ignored in many cases.

  11. Aries Marketing Ventures says at

    […] it work properly on all devices? This is must these days, given that as many as 50% of mobile queries may have a local […]

  12. Getting Local Store Locator SEO Right | Fresh Lime inc. says at

    […] it work properly on all devices? This is must these days, given that as many as 50% of mobile queries may have a local […]

  13. Getting Local Store Locator SEO Right | DigitalMarketingBox.co says at

    […] it work properly on all devices? This is must these days, given that as many as 50% of mobile queries may have a local […]

  14. Karan says at

    Well makes a lot of sense. Local searches can help business grow and help share the benefits of online searches equally rather than have the whole concentration of the benefits in the hands of big wide spread entities.

  15. Supramind says at

    Thanks for the post. SEO is a subset of digital marketing and many of the principles concur in each case. Your blog enlightens facts about mobile searches and local searches. Thanks for the enlightening share. Hope to read a more classifying article that distinguish the two.

  16. Brett Cairns says at

    Hi Greg fully agree with your assessment. Local search numbers may be even higher. While people may be looking online most still want to deal with real people when it comes to almost all services and many products and they are local

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