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.