Report: Only 36% Begin Local Searches with a Search Engine


Most marketers now recognize that the consumer path to purchase is far from linear. More devices, more content sources have made it, in the words of one startup executive, into a “purchase pretzel.”

Another metaphor being used in a new report commissioned by YP is “zigzag.” The report, “Local Search Unleashing Opportunities for National Advertisers,” was issued last week. It’s based on an IDC survey of 750 US adults (18 to 44). The vast majority of respondents (80%) said they owned smartphones.

There are numerous findings in the document about device usage, search location and content-access sequence. There are also a number of industry specific scenarios and findings (e.g., Travel, Automotive, Restaurants, Financial, etc.).

Local Search Starting Points

Local Search Starting Points YP

Source: IDC/YP (2016)

What was most interesting to me in the report was the discussion of “local search starting points.” The report asserts that the data reflect “no standard path for local searches.”

The graphic above shows the various starting points for local search. While search engines were the most common way people began their process that was only true for 36% of the sample. The next most common way (only used by 15%) was verticals or specific content sites. After that it’s a fragmented buffet of choices.

Yp local search Zigzag

Fragmentation makes sense if one thinks about it because “local search” is an artificial construct in a way. I’m trying to hire a contractor, find a place to eat, plan a trip, get a better deal on car insurance and so on. Each of these potentially suggests a different research process and different content — especially on a mobile device.

Beyond local search starting points, the IDC report maps out the subsequent consumer “action path,” which can vary by vertical. The graphic immediately above shows generally how consumers move from broader lookups to content sites and later reviews before making purchase decisions.

Some consumers use more sites and sources; some use fewer. Indeed the report identifies local search personas. Across the board, however, smartphones were heavily used. Yet they weren’t dominant; respondents also used a full array of screens and devices (tablets, laptops, desktop PCs) in conducting local lookups.

Somewhat surprisingly, most search tasks were initiated and completed by respondents relatively quickly — most in under an hour according to the report:

The ubiquity of the smartphone no doubt contributes to the speed of search tasks. Typically, the smartphone is the device nearest at hand and the tool of choice for instant gratification . . . most searches are completed quickly. Even including relatively complex or high-consideration products like insurance or financial services, 63% of the survey respondents told us they completed their searches in under an hour.

(emphasis added.)

There’s a good deal more information in the report. To dig into the material more fully, download it (registration required) here.

The unavoidable (and perhaps unpleasant) conclusion of the document is that marketers need to be present in all the places consumers look for local information. The Funnel Is Dead, Long Live the Local “Zigzag”

3 Responses to “Report: Only 36% Begin Local Searches with a Search Engine”

  1. Michael Murphy says:

    I’ve been in business over 15 years. Last year i opened a new company. I have since spent a small fortune trying to launch it. I’ve been let down by the phone book, Yoodle, Local Splash, Home Adviser, Angies List and i could go on and on… I am intrigued about your Zig Zag theory. Do you have any suggestions on what i can do to make people go to my web site or which inexpensive search engine would be the wisest to use? Would really appreciate your help. Thanks for listing to me. Really frustrated small business owner.

  2. Greg Sterling says:

    This is a longer conversation but: you need to be in Google and on Yelp. Look at Moz Local and Yext (others too) have data syndication services. Consider paid search for mobile users (although that can be costly). You need to generate reviews — this may be most important when people are looking for plumbers; they’ll want to see positive reviews and enough reviews. You should also be on Facebook and maybe consider FB ads (although plumbing isn’t an “awareness” category).

    Traditional media also still work — offers/direct mail perhaps (depends). You also need a credible website. You might consider attending one of our Bootcamps if we’re in a city near you: Only $30 for the full day.

    This probably doesn’t address your situation directly. But happy to answer specific questions.

  3. Greg has provided a good starting point. In addition you need a website with proper architecture, quality content in order to achieve domain/page authority. A high emphasis on the user experience.

    My agency provides local SEO for small businesses. If you’ve lost visibility with Google’s latest algorithm update or need to increase visibility in local results, contact us for a free consultation.

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