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Online research is a key moment in the customer journey.

“The vast majority of the U.S. economy is driven by purchases of products and services offline,” says Greg Sterling, VP of strategy and insights for the Local Search Association.

He says that in the retail context alone, more than 90 percent of purchases happen locally.

Most purchases now include online research or influence, including reviews,” he says. “Thus, the dominant consumer paradigm for everyone under 65 is ‘research online, buy offline.’ That’s why businesses must have accurate and complete information online and be discoverable.”

Because of the large extent to which local search matters in consumer research, we decided to investigate how exactly consumers use local search. Here’s what we found about local search

  •      14 percent of local searchers say they’re immediately looking to visit a business
  •      53 percent of searchers typically visit a business within 48 hours of search
  •      Millennials are twice as likely to be searching with the intent of visiting a business immediately
  •      35 percent of searches have local intent
  •      57 percent of searches are done on mobile devices

How to Optimize for Local Search

For businesses, Sterling says, “They must claim their Google My Business and Yelp profiles and enhance them with additional content. If they have physical locations, they must also have an accurate presence on Apple Maps, which can be done directly with Apple Maps Connect and/or indirectly through Apple’s data suppliers. They must also have Facebook Pages and ensure that their basic data is accurate across sites.”

In addition to claiming key profiles, Sterling says businesses do not necessarily need to be present on hundreds of directory websites for citation purposes. He argues that this is because consumers use specific sites that businesses should pay attention to.

“Among these sites, Facebook is increasingly critical,” he says. “However, there may also be specific vertical sites or apps that are important for a specific industry. For example, TripAdvisor. Those sites need to be addressed as well.”

While local search is important, reputation management is also key, he says.

“Volume, quality and recency of reviews matters for ranking but more importantly, for customer decision-making,” he says.

Sterling says he is not surprised that 53 percent of consumers visit a business within 48 hours after a search, indicating that this finding is consistent with other research.

“Store or offline visitation varies by category, however,” he says. “You’re going to visit a restaurant much more quickly — within a couple of hours or less — compared with a car dealership if you’re doing research on buying a car, for example.”  

Millennials and Local Search 

Jim Kreinbrink, president of SEO firm Hyper Dog Media, was not surprised that 42 percent of Millennials performing a local search will visit the business most of the time. He says that Millennials as a demographic are searching on their mobile devices.

“As an active demographic, they comprise of an important group looking for restaurants, clubs, dry cleaners, and more,” he says. “Smartphone usage is very high among Millennials and many of these local searches are likely performed at stop lights or while riding public transportation.”

According to ReviewTrackers local search research, most local searches are done on mobile devices and the majority of those searches are performed on a mobile Internet browser.

What Local Search Means for Businesses

For businesses, Kreinbrink says that focusing on local search should be at the same level as having a sign out in the front of a store. “Being found in local search is the new version of Yellow Pages advertising, but local search is so much more powerful.” 

Businesses can optimize for local search by managing online reviews. “In a test we were involved with, a restaurant’s Google rankings for ‘wings Louisville’ appeared to be improved by a Yelp review we created,” Kreinbrink says.

He adds that optimizing your website is also important.

“Underlying code such as schema can be added. This communicates location information directly to Google when they scan the site.”

Local search has grown in importance. It’s just hasn’t been as widely publicized compared to the rise of mobile. Businesses should have a plan in place to optimize for local search. But right now, according to research by ReviewTrackers, 58 percent of businesses do not optimize for local SEO, but 31 percent of the businesses surveyed would like to.

Megan Wenzl

Megan is the Associate Editor for ReviewTrackers. She's a writer who is committed to finding useful information to help your business succeed. Megan holds an M.A. in journalism from Columbia College Chicago.

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