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Study: Multi-Location Brands Still Confused about Local Search

You wouldn’t think that multi-location brands with sufficient advertising and marketing spending power would still be behind when it comes to local search strategies.  But according to a new report from Forrester Consulting commissioned by SIM Partners, the brands surveyed had multiple, sometimes incorrect definitions of “local search.”

Given the small sample size of just 13 participants in the study, it is difficult to extrapolate the results with confidence.  However, the lack of a concise, widespread definition among these brands is interesting.

From confusing SEO and paid search, to, more drastic still, assuming “local search” meant advertising in area newspapers, the study showed that there was hardly any consensus around what local search is and what it does.  We often talk about the confusion of the SMB, but it seems multi-location brands are in a similar boat, at least in regards to local search.

Also, much like the SMB, the study found that the biggest obstacle to implementing and optimizing a local search strategy is a limited or nonexistent budget for it.  On the other hand, unlike the SMB, these brands have spending power, but these funds remain tied up in traditional advertising mediums.

“The biggest reason we haven’t implemented a local search strategy is trouble justifying the shift in marketing budget from more traditional advertising,” the head of online banking at a US financial organization said.

The interesting thing to note here is that, according to LSA’s recent study, 61% of consumers have used search engines in the past week to find and select a bank. The traditional media outlets measured in the study didn’t come close to search engine usage at least in regards to the bank category.

To further drive the importance of local search strategies, let’s look at other high level data.  Using Google’s conservative and outdated 20% “related to location” figure, and comScore’s monthly search market share study, there were around 3.8 billion searches carrying local intent in October 2014 alone.

Those numbers are even higher in a mobile context, with as much as 40% of mobile search carrying a “local intent” according to Google statements. On a global basis mobile search volumes are expected to exceed those on the desktop next year. Furthermore, ZenithOptimedia predicts that $55.7 billion is projected to be spent on search ads globally this year.

With the continued decline of traditional media due to the incredible disruption caused by digital technologies, “justifying” a shift in budget seems easy enough. Consumers are starting to use digital media more than traditional, and digital media (Internet and mobile combined) eclipsed TV in consumer time spent this year.

Still, the quote above from the US financial organization represents the sentiment of just one brand. It is surprising nonetheless.

Has the value of local search been adequately communicated? What about the way it works? From SEO, to SEM, many reports, studies and articles have been dedicated to defining and explaining the benefits of local search. Educating oneself is merely a search away.

But the report also said that “the marketers [interviewed] for this study have a ‘wait-and-see’ approach when it comes to implementing a local search strategy.”  This makes me think there is something else going on, especially given the overall lack of urgency.

Of the eight main obstacles to the local search strategies of these 13 companies, all of them could, in a roundabout way, be chalked up to a lacking view of what local search is, how it works and the results it can help drive. Given that 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine, showing up in the applicable searches is critical for any business, big or small.

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