How Do Customers Search Online for Local Businesses?

By Randall Orser | Small Business

Laptop.Most small business owners and marketing managers remain fixated on their website’s ranking in the big search engines. They know that local search helps grow businesses, and they also know that the major search engines have features that attract people who research local companies on the internet. Still, many of these companies cannot enjoy the true benefits of local search because they don’t fully understand what it means. In other words, too many marketers don’t know how customers are likely to find them online.

Local search does not just mean searches on the largest search engines. By learning how potential customers find information about businesses, marketers can attract more business from shoppers who research purchase decisions with their computers and smartphones. In turn, the businesses should enjoy a better return on their efforts to attract customers from their communities and neighborhoods.

How Do Consumers Research Local Businesses Online?

While top rankings in Google, Yahoo, and Bing can lead to extra business, a lot of consumers begin their online research for products and services elsewhere. One recent study uncovered some surprising facts about the ways that consumers look for businesses in their cities, towns, and neighborhoods:


Only about 36 percent of consumers used a big search engine to begin online research about local companies.


Just about 13 percent of searches for nearby companies began with a site that focused on a particular community, topic, or industry.


Some other sources of local searches include review websites, directories, deals or promotions, web or mobile apps, and different sorts of content that mentioned a specific business.

In addition, certain kinds of shoppers tended to favor one method of researching over another. For example, frequent consumers of certain products and services often preferred research from a topic-related website over a search engine. It’s likely that these kinds of shoppers had already done a lot of research on the topic and knew where to find good information without having to Google it.

It seems as though frequent consumers should be the type of customers that most businesses would like to attract. It’s possible that a majority of people who use one of the bigger search engines to find out about your business don’t use your products or services often.

If you own a local restaurant, you might benefit from making sure your restaurant gets listed in online dining guides or reviewed by a local dining blogger. If you own a hotel, getting a page on popular travel sites could help draw in guests.

Where Does Your Target Market Research Online?

If you have limited time and money, you’ll probably want to target your efforts where they are likely to do the most good. You might conduct some of your own market research to learn how your existing customers found your business and how they usually look for local products or services. If you don’t care to survey your customers, you should be able to buy marketing research or simply search around for popular business platforms that feature other businesses like yours.

Even if you’re not sure that your own target market might search for information on a variety of digital platforms, the effort of targeting more properties should also help increase your company’s online visibility. Of course, adding more links and citations to your business can even help increase your search rankings in the bigger search engines.

You won’t lose anything by adding your businesses to quality directories, review sites, and social networks. You likely will enjoy more local search traffic that visits your website and more customers that walk through your front door. It’s unlikely that you’ll waste your efforts, and if you don’t do it, your competition might already be there to attract your customers.

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