4 COVID-Era Local Search Trends that Will Have a Lasting Impact [STUDY]

For many years to come, many people worldwide will look back at the events of 2020 and realize that they are the moments that changed their lives completely.

The digital and e-commerce sectors saw unforeseen and unprecedented growth. Empowered consumers turned to online options to meet their needs, including popular delivery apps for groceries and food. This was also the era that consumers intensified their use of ‘near me’ local search. When a consumer wanted to know what businesses nearby were open, they simply conducted a ‘near me’ local search on a mobile device. Savvy location-based businesses quickly adapted.

The relentless search for local solutions to meet individual needs brought forth the following local search trends that were brought to light in a recent study "The New Face of Local," conducted by my company Uberall, the parent company of MomentFeed. Here is a recap of a few key findings:

Local Search Trend #1 — Google Maintains Dominance … Other Networks Still Important

When searching for local listings, Google search trends remain dominant, with over 69% of consumers preferring to use Google to other search engines. However, changes in user behavior, technology, and the development of new devices in the market also mean that consumers don't entirely rely on Google local search for all their local listing searches.

Local Search Trend - Google Maintains Dominance

Besides Google search, other alternatives for information on local businesses include Yahoo, Bing, Apple Maps, Siri, Alexa, and industry specific websites and apps like WebMD in healthcare, or Opentable in the restaurant industry. The use of these different search platforms widens the competition margin for Google, but it remains the top ranking search engine, and that is not likely to change any time soon.

Local Search Trend #2 — Non-Branded Search Becomes More Dominant Amid COVID

‘Near Me’ search behavior continued to increase during the pandemic, and more specifically “non-branded” searches continued to grow. In other words, consumers search for the what (coffee near me) not the who (Starbucks near me). This shift in consumer behavior demonstrates increasing value consumers place on proximity, immediacy, and convenience. This empowered, and brand-agnostic consumer is likely to persist even after the pandemic breaks.

Local Search Trend - Non-Branded Search

Local Search Trend #3 — Growth of Local Listings

Location-based businesses with optimized local listings likely fared better than others during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, our research found that the pandemic pushed local listings activities by 11% as more consumers conducted 'Near Me' searches. Actions were particularly high for clicks to website and clicks to call. Interestingly, however, driving directions decreased, indicating consumers were searching for local solutions online but were more likely to call or visit a business' website before ultimately visiting in person. Some consumers may have skipped the trip all together leveraging online options like online ordering, or virtual consultations in service based industries.

Local Search Trend - Growth in Local Listings

Local businesses have had to adjust and embrace digital tools to keep up with the consumer needs near them. Consumer behaviors and habits formed during COVID are likely to be lasting, so location-based businesses would be wise to focus on their rankings in local search. In turn, this will play a considerable role in keeping them in business long after COVID-19 is history.

Local Search Trend #4 — Some Industries Fared Better than Others Did

One of the things we can all agree on about the pandemic is that it hit some industries harder than others. Some of the sectors most affected were the travel, restaurant, and entertainment sectors. Many of these sectors faced heavy restrictions throughout 2020, which saw fewer conversions due to decreased clicks.

Conversions for the industries affected depend largely on in-person experiences that are hard to substitute by making a phone call or visiting their websites. Industries that did relatively well during the pandemic include the healthcare and pharmaceutical sector, financial services, telecommunications, technology, and retail sector.

Services, retail, and the finance sector coped well and increased their conversions because it was possible for their customers to reach them through their websites and phone calls. However, website and call clicks remained stable in the healthcare sector, but there was a steep decrease in direction requests, a possible indicator of consumers delaying routine check-ups and elective procedures or possibly turning to telehealth options.

Get these and more findings about the 'New Face of Local'

What Is the Way Forward for Better Local Search Optimization?

During this crisis, many customers shifted their allegiance from popular brands to local businesses and nearby options to meet their immediate needs. Local 'Near Me' search increased and more specifically, non-branded 'Near Me' search grew. Moving forward, this is what location-based businesses with just one location or hundreds need to embrace:

  • Make sure your listings are optimized across top discovery networks and apps in your industry. While optimization of your Google My Business listing is still paramount, depending on your industry, other networks should be a top priority as well. In the hospitality industry this can include Tripadvisor and Airbnb, for restaurants OpenTable and Yelp are critical, in healthcare there is WebMD and Healthgrades.

  • Meet customers where they are by accelerating digital options. Bring your business closer to the customer at their homes and continue to embrace options like online ordering, curbside pickup, buy online return in store, etc. to allow customers to interact with your business in the way that is most convenient and comfortable for them.

  • Understand the non-branded keywords you should be optimizing your listings and local pages for. The empowered, convenience driven consumer is quickly becoming less brand loyal. Make sure that you considering non-branded keywords in your category to show up when customers are looking for products or solutions you sell. Optimize both your listings and local pages to show up for the appropriate keywords, and boost your visibility with for your top local keywords with social posts.

Get ready for an increasingly hybrid buyer journey by embracing technology solutions. MomentFeed, an Uberall company, offers a ‘Near Me Customer Experience solution that helps multi-location brands optimize the entire customer journey from discovery, to engagement, to loyalty.

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