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Local Search Shifts to Online, Mobile Platforms

Internet search engines and print directories are the primary sources for finding local business information and account for 31% and 28%, respectively, of all local searches conducted in the US, according to a study from TMP Directional Marketing (TMPDM) and comScore, Inc.

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The annual study, which examined the year-over-year growth of local search and the shifts in consumer behavior and media usage,  also found that though local search is definitely moving in a digital direction, online and offline media still work together to play differerent roles in the consumer research and purchase process, MarketingCharts writes.

Interactive Media a Growing Force

Though the percentages of use for the larger information sources (search engines, directories) remain virtually unchanged from last year's findings, it has become more clear this year that online media and new platforms - such as mobile and social network search - are increasingly fueling growth in the overall search market, which grew to 21.9 billion total US searches in June 2009, a year-over-year increase of 31%.

Among the sources for local business information, local search sites increased in usage, from 11% in 2008 to 12% in 2009. Also, internet Yellow Pages (IYP) sites gained ground, from 19% usage last year to 21% this year, while print directories declined 3%.

Mobile Search Takes Off

The study also found that, as the number of mobile internet users grows, mobile search is becoming a growing force in the local search arena. Some 32% of searchers with internet-capable cellphones now search for local business information from the mobile internet, an 11% increase from 2008

Additional mobile search findings:

  • Of mobile searchers with internet-ready devices, 60% of smartphone owners search on internet browsers or via downloaded applications.
  • Only 5% of mobile searchers send text messages from their cellphones to directory assistance. But overall, the number of mobile users who look up local information via SMS grew by 27%.
  • The most popular local content categories searched on mobile platforms are online directories (42%), maps (41%), restaurant information (37%) and movies (30%).

Print Yellow Pages Still Relevant

While a majority of consumer search behavior has shifted toward the use of interactive resources, print Yellow Pages and other offline directories are still referenced in the consumer purchase process, especially when coupled with IYP. The study found that 30% of consumers who first use IYP turn to print directories as additional resources in their searches.

Online Search Used Earlier for Research, Offline Later

As was also the case in 2008, this year's study found a continuing and complex complementary relationship between the use of online and offline search in the research and purchase process. Online search continues to be used earlier in the process than offline search, primarily because consumers go online to research the best brands to buy and to identify businesses that offer those brands, TMPDM found.  Some four in 10 consumers, or approximately 39%, engage in online research to aid in purchase selection. Only 17% of consumers go offline to research.

However, offline search is often performed in the later stages of the consumer purchase process. Four in 10 (40%) of consumers engage in offline search to get specific business details (for example, hours of operation, addresses and phone numbers) about the places they have selected for follow-up activities and/or making purchases.

In terms of post-search activity, TMPDM found that 83% of local search users contacted businesses offline (a six-percentage-point increase over 2008 results), with 4% of consumers making contacts over the phone and 37% visiting the businesses in person.

Additional study findings:

  • Nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents in 2009 say they expect their search results to reveal businesses within 15 miles of their homes or places of work. This statistic is significantly higher compared with 2008 (59%) and 2007 (52%), indicating that consumers expect more relevance in their business searches.
  • Though print directories remain an important source of local business information, they are giving up some ground to online sources.  While 84% of local business searchers own a print directory in their homes, this population has been steadily declining since 2007. 41% of local business searchers spend the vast majority of their time searching for local businesses online instead of offline, up markedly from 26% in 2007.
  • At the same time print use is declining, the use of internet Yellow Pages (IYP) is growing, perhaps spillover effect from loyal print Yellow Pages users transitioning to digital.
  • Google, which started as a general search site, has developed applications that have overtaken online business directories in both IYP/local and local portal searches, with market shares of 26% and 45% respectively. IYP and local sites split share of IYP/local searches, with local searches growing from 40% to 51% over 2008, primarily because of Google Maps’ growth.

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  • Search preferences vary by generation. Approximately 41% of youth, ages 18-24, use search engines for business information. At the other end of the spectrum, 49% of searchers ages 65+ rely on print directories.

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About the study: TMPDM's local search usage study includes data from 4,000 online survey responses, as well as observed online behavior of one million consumers who agreed to have their online searches monitored anonymously.

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