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The Rise of Non-Branded Search

Non-branded search for brick-and-mortar businesses is skyrocketing, with searches like “coffee near me” or “grocery store near me” up 113% year-over-year, according to a new branded vs non-branded search study produced by my company, MomentFeed.

A graphic with a simple graph that reads "113%: The acceleration Rate of non-branded search in the past year"

While on the surface, this trend may be concerning for large multi-location brands that have invested heavily in building their brand awareness, being a known brand is still important of course. Showing up in a “near me” non-branded search is all very well and good, but ultimately, to be chosen by the consumer, brand awareness, loyalty, and your online rating is critically important too.

Optimizing for non-branded search can also be a great marketing strategy to attract new customers — provided you understand how to take advantage of this trend. The key to success with non-branded local search is to ensure your brand is visible locally when nearby consumers conduct relevant searches.

How Consumers Find Businesses Locally Has Evolved

It wasn’t that long ago that branded ad campaigns in traditional media channels like TV, newspaper, and radio were the best way to attract new customers. To reach local consumers, brands would ensure local listings and ads were up-to-date in The Yellow Pages; once a household staple for finding nearby businesses.

Today’s consumers have the world in their pockets. Finding and comparing local businesses takes just a few seconds — and those seconds are often a brand’s only chance to earn a customer’s business.

Branded vs. Non-Branded Search

Consumers today are searching for categories rather than brands. For these customers, proximity, immediacy, and convenience are paramount.

Local Non-Branded Search

  • A non-branded, local search is a product or service search like “coffee near me” or “barber shop near me.” These local category searches are becoming more common for frequent purchases like food, gas, and household items. For these types of purchases, consumers typically won’t travel more than 15 minutes. While a consumer may ultimately choose a brand they know, they won’t go out of their way if there is a more convenient option nearby.
  • Non-branded searches are also common among un-decided consumers. For example, if my washing machine breaks down unexpectedly, I may want to do some research before deciding what brand to buy and ultimately what retailer to purchase from. In this case, quality, price, proximity, and availability may factor into my decision.

Local Branded Searches

  • A local branded search is a search for a specific business or brand name that brings up a list of locations for that brand, i.e. “Starbucks near me” or “Bank of America ATM near me.”
  • Local branded searches are common when consumers favor a particular brand, maybe a specific bank ATM so they don’t incur a service charge for a cash withdrawal.

Regardless of whether or not a consumer uses your brand in their search query or searches using a non-branded search term, the key is to make sure your nearby locations are visible and can be found easily.

Should You Optimize for Local Non-Branded Search?

For any location-based business, the short answer is, YES. Non-branded search is critical in order to be found by new customers and even loyal, returning customers. Here’s why:

  • Approximately two-thirds of impressions on local listings originate from non-branded keywords or discovery searches.
  • Eighty-two percent of consumers perform unbranded searches.
  • Focusing only on branded keywords limits your brand’s ability to be found by new customers or an existing customer in an unfamiliar area, who may not know to search for your brand.

You may have read that branded keywords result in higher conversion ratios. While this is true, it’s important to look at this trend in context. Customers searching on branded instead of unbranded keywords are typically further along in the buying process. Optimizing for non-branded keywords allows you to target a larger pool of potential new customers who may turn into loyal customers.

Non-Branded Search on the Rise

The evolution of non-branded search is clearly linked to the change in customer behavior around mobile searches. Local, mobile searches focus on instant gratification. In fact, searches for keywords like “open,” “now,” and “nearby” attached to non-branded categories have grown 200% over the past few years. Think “diner open nearby” versus “Denny’s open near me.”

Additionally, across all brick-and-mortar industries, year-on-year growth in unbranded search is growing exponentially.

MomentFeed data indicates that specific industries stand to benefit greatly when they optimize for non-branded search. In fact, 92% of consumers searching for local restaurants used a non-branded search term.

Industries like retail, convenience, and grocery are also significantly impacted by the non-branded search trend. Download the MomentFeed report The Skyrocketing Growth of Unbranded Search to learn more.

Decision Factors in Non-Branded Local Search

When consumers conduct non-branded local searches, the parameters are a bit different from more general web searches. The consumer’s goal is to find a local business to fulfill a specific need. Remember, consumers value three factors above all else when they conduct local searches:

  • Proximity – location of the business relative to the searcher.
  • Immediacy – is the business open right now and does it have the desired product in stock, or service available.
  • Convenience – convenience vs. perceived quality of the brand or value. In other words, the consumer may be willing to forgo convenience, but only if the perceived quality and/or value of the brand is significantly higher.

Keeping these central goals in mind, there are several ways brands can create local listings that entice customers to go a few miles out of their way.

  • Local Reviews – Consumer reviews are one important element of local listings that brands can leverage to drive conversion. In a recent survey, around 90% of shoppers said they consider online reviews more important than input from salespeople. Eighty-seven percent said they check online reviews for brick-and-mortar purchases. To put reviews to work for you, make sure to continuously monitor and respond to reviews. This shows potential customers that you care about customer feedback and might also help you turn around a negative review by making things right for the customer.
  • Complete, Accurate, Inspiring Listing Information – If you had a store on Fifth Avenue in New York City, you wouldn’t leave your window bare, nor should you leave your listing information sparse. Think of your listing as a small digital window into the brand experience consumers can expect. A well-maintained listing should include pictures; online menu information or in-store inventory; accurate location information – phone, address, hours of operation, and any additional amenities or attributes like free wifi, pets allowed, that might help you gain preference among potential customers.

Not only are well-managed reviews and complete, accurate listing information good for consumers considering your brand, both factors are also important signals in the Google local search ranking. This brings me to my next point, how big brands can compete.

How Multi-Location Brands Can Compete

Multi-location marketers face the challenge of showing up in local search results alongside local mom-and-pop shops. These local businesses inherently send Google extensive local signals that influence how they show up for nearby searchers.

For Multi-location businesses to compete and appear in the Google 3-Pack, the first three results that display above the fold on mobile devices, they must monitor and optimize for the five known local SEO ranking factors:

  • Local Listing Accuracy: Is information accurate and consistent across all networks?
  • Local Profile Completeness: Are all applicable fields filled in for each discovery network?
  • Ratings and Reviews: Are you responding to reviews and taking care to foster high customer ratings?
  • Local Facebook Publishing Activity: Have you frequently posted over the last 30 days using ideal keyword density?
  • On-Page Local SEO: Does your website offer the quality Google requires to show up higher in search results?

Multi-location brands need to focus on their local non-branded search strategy to ensure they are benefiting from the non-branded search keywords that matter most in their industry. MomentFeed can help. In fact, many of our best-in-class clients rank in the Google 3-pack 99% of the time for relevant, unbranded keywords.

Learn more about MomentFeed and speak to a consultant to find out how we can help your business dominate when it comes to non-branded search.

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