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Local Search Changing with the Seasons

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Ahhh. September is here. The season is once again changing, the economy is finally showing signs of returning from the brink of disaster, and there's the continued emergence of local search in the air.

But all of this actually ties together. Because of recent economic factors and recent broadband upgrades, local search has gotten the breath of fresh air it needed and is once again seen as an important tactic in the marketers' arsenal of tools to gain cost effective sales.

Just because the trees are rapidly changing doesn't mean that your search program needs to change as quickly. Let's face it, there isn't a truly comprehensive search campaign out there that doesn't involve Google.

However, this is a good time to look at the big picture. Google may be top dog in the world of search engines, but consumers still perform searches outside of search engines. A look at the chart below shows us that consumers are rapidly increasing their usage of "other" (meaning searches from portals, directories, resources, multimedia, and social networking sites).


Source: comScore qSearch 2.0 Total U.S. Internet Searchers

Even though these "other" searches take into account sites like eBay and Amazon, sites that by nature are driven by their search box usage, it also takes into account local search sites, Internet yellow pages, and other informational online sources. And these are the sources that are also getting a bit of an uptick this year.

Broadband Growth = Local Search Growth

The U.S. government is pushing to build out the nation's broadband infrastructure to rural and other hard-to-reach areas. Of the federal stimulus money approved, more than $6 billion is going toward broadband improvements. This will transform the online user experience. Some will be obvious -- faster download times and less waiting for consumers, the perfect formula for increased local search usage.

According to eMarketer, because of the $6 billion allocated to broadband this year (which is only used in 69.5 percent of households), penetration of broadband may grow faster than expected. In U.S. households, broadband usage is projected to rise 26 percent from 2008 to 2013.

U.S. Households using broadband 2008-2013 (millions)

U.S. Households using broadband

Source: eMarketer, "U.S. Broadband and Dial-Up Internet Households and Penetration, 2008-2013
(millions and % of total households)

Broadband adoption is increasing overall online usage, but where is it increasing the most? It turns out that the large search engines may have the majority of current broadband users vs. dial-up users, but local search sites are actually seeing a slightly greater percentage of broadband users vs. dial-up users.

Broadband vs Dial-up Users

Even though search engines will grab the majority of consumers from broadband spurred growth, activity on non-search engine sites is still an opportunity area for savvy SMBs looking for cost effective less competitive leads.

SMBs Continue to Shift Their Advertising Mix to Online

With broadband improvements and the economy forcing an increased scrutiny on every advertising dollar comes a turning point for SMB media buying habits. For the first time, SMBs used more online advertising than traditional media advertising, according to the "Local Commerce Monitor Wave XIII," from The Kelsey Group and ConStat. As of August, 77 percent of U.S. SMBs are using online for advertising.

U.S. SMBs that use Online vs. Traditional Media for advertising, 2007-2009 (% of respondents)

U.S. SMBs that use Online vs. Traditional Media for advertising

Of course, this doesn't mean that a SMB's entire budget is going toward online advertising, but according to the same study, it's definitely increasing. SMBs are now allocating more than 36 percent of their budget toward online advertising, up from 22 percent just a year ago.

As more SMBs and national advertisers who desire to target locally crowd into the local search space, look for the competition and potentially the price of placements to increase. If you're new to the local space, dive in and make sure to track your progress. Media channels to trial can be found here.

For advertisers already engaged in local search, make sure you have tracking mechanisms (e.g., call tracking and click tracking) in place to continue optimizing your media buys. Additionally, now is the perfect time to begin a conversion improvement process.

Even though the seasons are changing, the changes are never very drastic. Change happens over a period of time. The same holds true for your local search program -- you may not need to drastically change your campaign based on shifting usage patterns, but you should continually examine and optimize so that you receive the greatest performance.

Remember: if you can measure it, you can optimize it.


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