Forget Social Media: Why Search Traffic Is Still King
If most of your business is local, you are probably familiar with Google's local results pages. However, you may also have been told that Facebook and Twitter are great ways to promote your business locally. Which marketing strategy should you focus most of your attention on?
Facebook pages are sort of a subset of Facebook. Once you set up a page, you can advertise it, and get people to "like" your page. The value of this is that you form a community on Facebook, which can help you create "buzz" about your business. This type of thing works great for boutique product and service businesses. You can even set up your Facebook page so that only people who "like" your page get special promotional offers and invites to special events that you host.
In this sense, you can create a sort of "buyers club" or "VIP club" without the hassle of a bunch of paperwork and plastic cards.
Search Is Still King
For most business who only operate local, then local search may be your best bet. Even though social sites like Facebook and Twitter allow you to connect with your customers, a recent study indicates that organic local search trumps social sites as a source of information about a business.
According to Pew Internet & American Life Foundation, 55 percent of the people they interviewed say that they get news and information about local restaurants, bars, and clubs from local search. A stunning 60 percent of people say they get news and information about local businesses other than restaurants and bars from a search engine.
While 51 percent of the people surveyed in this study said they use the Internet to find out information about bars, restaurants, and clubs, 38 percent of respondents said they use search engines, 17 percent said they use a specialty website (i.e. Google reviews, Yelp, etc.), and only 3 percent of the respondents said they use social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
This ratio is pretty consistent for all types of businesses with 36 percent using search engines, 16 percent using specialty websites, and only 1 percent relying on social sites. It seems that social media is good for being, well, social. It's not so good as a source of information. What does this mean for your business? Don't bother using Facebook and Twitter to tell people about your company. You might use it as part of your marketing strategy, but people are unlikely to use it as a source of information for hours of operation, what type of products and services you offer, or even whether you're a trustworthy business.
Not Just Search. Local Search.
Another interesting twist to this study is that 47 percent of the respondents said they used their mobile device to get information about local businesses. This makes perfect sense, if you think about it. When people are going out to eat, or they are going out for a night of drinking, they want some place local. Most search engines are catching on to the whole "local search" idea and allowing you to use the GPS in the phone to find businesses near you.
The lesson to be learned here is actually twofold: fix up your website and marketing strategies so that people can find you on sites like Yelp and also hire a good SEO firm to help you rank well in the local search section of major search engines. Finally, hire a computer nerd to fix up your site so that it displays nicely in mobile devices. Some sites look broken or dysfunctional on smartphones, and yours shouldn't be one of them. Look at Amazon.com. That site looks amazing on a mobile device.
All of this is consistent with a previous study conducted earlier this year by Pew which showed that 83 percent of adults own a cell phone. Out of that 83 percent, 35 percent of those people own smartphones like the iPhone or Blackberry, or Android devices. A full 58 percent of smartphone owners use what Pew refers to as "geosocial and location-based services." What does this mean? Well, have you ever been searching for something on Google and had a pop-up notification appear that your iPhone (or whatever mobile device you use) wants to use your current location for the search you just did? That's a location-based service.
This means that, if you're searching for a business, then the search engine will give priority to local businesses. While only 12 percent of smartphone owners use sites like Foursquare or Gowalla, 55 percent use maps on their phones and other applications which use location-based services. All of these cell phone users aren't ignorant or passive about using location-based services either. Only 14 percent of people allow automatic location tagging. That means that most people must actively "OK" the use of location-based services. These people are actively choosing location-based services when they search.
Pew's study may be somewhat conservative though. For example, Google conducted a similar study about search trends and found that 90 percent of mobile users preferred not only search, but local search. Out of that 90 percent, 87 percent took action after the search was completed. Amazing.
This kind of information could make a dramatic impact on your business. If you're not optimizing your website for mobile devices, you should. The data clearly shows that mobile users aren't just kicking tires. They're searching for things on the Internet with a purpose. They take action. In other words, they're probably buyers. Are you getting their business?