Local Search Revelations

Shocking news: people buy stuff on the Internet. It’s too bad people still buy a lot more stuff anywhere but on the Internet. The master planners of the world haven’t figured out how to engage their audience with geographically relevant and need satisfying messages.

For as long as I can remember, phone book ads (telephone directory advertisements) have been a mainstay for everything from restaurants to jewelry to ambulance chasing sycophants. Yellow pages ads are categorically and geographically relevant. Search ads allow users to define their own terms.

At some point, the two worlds of directory and search collided. As broadband reached critical mass, searching online became easier and more relevant than digging out the old book. People had to think less and could do more. Nielsen/Netratings and local interactive advertising firm WebVisibile Inc. have shed some light on the developing local world with this week’s full release of a consumer survey (top line results were previously made available to press and analysts last October).

I Want Answers, Not Searches

The notion of balance and comprehensive media planning takes a back seat to generating sales for most local businesses. In other words, most plumbers aren’t using a swanky Madison Avenue shop to manage media buying and creative.

The WebVisible report indicates that 85 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds rely on search engines. It’s too bad they don’t have any money, or care about plumbing. But the young ones are buying their first (humble as they are) cars and a lot of pizza.

Much like other areas of the Web, the older, non-Internet generations are also adopting Web-based need satisfying. Sixty-seven percent in the over 65 demographic turn to search and 80 percent of the 34- to 64-year-old category said they read online reviews. Ninety percent of all surveyed said they would avoid a hotel with a bad review.

Today’s digital economy offers the advantage (and decided disadvantage for some) of choice, and the consuming public has taken full advantage of those choices. Loyalties, and which resources are most reliable, are under constant scrutiny and continual evaluation.

Considering the Sources

I love survey data. It can either reveal or conceal all manner of evil. When asked which sources they use to find a local business in which to make a purchase, the entire audience spectrum responded with resource multiplicity as a constant.

Survey respondents were asked which resources they considered when searching for a local business to make a purchase. The assumption in this instance is that all research has been concluded and a purchase decision has been made.

Seventy-three percent of those surveyed said they used a search engine. Sixty-five percent said they used yellow pages directories and 33 percent said they used white pages directories. Fifty percent used an Internet yellow pages directory.

Newspapers (44 percent) television (29 percent) and direct mail (20 percent) were also mentioned as resources. Oddly enough, wildly popular consumer review sites were only mentioned by 18 percent of those surveyed.

There are a couple of simple truths revealed here that all marketers should consider. People use multiple resources and buying research is still quite separate from seeking a buying location. Either that, or review sites simply do a crap job of providing “where to buy” information.

Achieving Balance and Harmony

Prepare to be dazzled. When users were offered another multiple choice/multiple answer question to compare resources they use today and two years ago, they seemed to be moving backward and forward. Seventy-eight percent said they use the Internet more now, while 69 percent said they use phone books more.

Here’s the wake-up call: only 2 percent are using the Internet less while 52 percent have turned away from telephone directories. Aside from wondering what’s happening with that 2 percent, I would think losing half its audience would be something traditional phone book publishers might be concerned about.

Pick This Up on Your Way Home

Water’s wet. The sky appears to be blue. Death and taxes are inevitable. Holdouts in the traditional media world waiting for the new world to suddenly overtake the old world are consistently disappointed. Rumors of big business taking over the Web are grossly exaggerated.

“Inspiration that leads to purchase comes in many forms,” said Kirsten Mangers, chief executive officer, WebVisible. “While large brands may exercise considerably more buying power in advertising media, small to medium businesses can and should execute smaller, more targeted media placements.”

Getting back to basics is important. The final point of intrigue in this report relates to answers about the quality of Web sites. Eight-five percent said a business owner’s site quality was an important factor in gaining trust.

Note that quality of the site, not the product or brand, is what attracts people. In the end, targeted ad placements are important, but building a quality site is still mission critical.

Compare the cost of building and maintaining a brand like GE with building a Web site and I’m sure you’ll agree there’s still tremendous opportunity for everyone in the growing Web economy.

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