Local Consumer Behavior Breakdown

Consumer behavior shifts occur often, given economic changes, current affairs, and other unforeseen disruptions. However, the shifts marketers have seen and experienced over the past two years are a reminder that your local strategy must continually evolve. 

Keeping a pulse on how others are performing in your industry is one way to recognize ongoing trends and benchmark your success. That’s why each year, we release an annual study on how COVID-19 and other external factors impact Google Search trends for enterprise brands. 

download the study

Methodology Used in the Study

In the study, Rio SEO analyzed local search data for more than 205,000 U.S. business locations over the span of 2021. These locations were organized into eight diverse categories including:

  • Service Businesses
  • Financial Services
  • Sit-Down Restaurants
  • Quick-Service Restaurants
  • Hotels
  • Retail
  • Healthcare
  • Multi-family Residential

For each business location, we tracked:

  • Clicks on a MapPack listing
  • Clicks to a website
  • Local organic search volume
  • Clicks for driving directions
  • Clicks to make a phone call
  • Local search (Map Pack) views
  • Direct local search volume
  • Discovery local search volume

In visualizing the impact of the pandemic on local search volume and clicks to call, get driving directions, or visit a website, we get a clearer picture of the level and type of disruption to local businesses when in-store restrictions are imposed.

For the purpose of this blog, we will cover service businesses’ local consumer search behavior specifically. Download our free study to dive deeper into the other verticals we studied.

Service Businesses Local Metrics Breakdown in 2020-2021

Service Businesses include a wide range of businesses including fitness studios, postal studios, hair salons, storage facilities, and more. 

In 2020, service businesses were heavily impacted by lockdown orders. Mask mandates varied by state and county, for those that required masks at gyms, this could have added a level of inconvenience and frustration for gym-goers who find it uncomfortable to wear a mask during high-intensity exercise and may lead to less in-person gym attendance. The same can be said for hair salons. 

Service Businesses Local Consumer Search and Views Trends

Mask restrictions eased in the summer of 2021 and could be reflective of minor increases seen around summertime, prior to the Omicron variant sweeping the nation. Service businesses have seen a nice recovery in terms of searches and listing views.

As seen below, we can see a steady increase in both metrics starting in April 2020 and continuing to trend upwards all throughout 2021. Clicks to driving directions, phone calls, and websites remained relatively steady from April 2020 until the end of December 2021. 

Service Businesses Local Consumer Search Conversion Actions

In 2020, a few of the top 10 beauty how to’s searches included how to:

  • Cut men’s hair at home
  • Color your hair at home
  • Cut women’s hair
  • Trim your own hair

Fast forward to 2022 and understandably, consumers are now eager to have these services completed by professionals again. Service business metrics continue to recover into 2022, as consumers are eager to once again return to hair salons, gyms, and other in-person services as COVID-19 concerns continue to wane. 

COVID-19’s Impact on Local Search Behavior

COVID-19 continued its worldwide spread in 2021 and accelerated with more contagious variants. On November 26, 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified a new variant, B.1.1.529, as a Variant of Concern and named it Omicron and on November 30, 2021, the United States also classified it as a Variant of Concern.

In 2021, however, we also saw the rollout of vaccines at the start of this year, marking a noticeable turning point in a pandemic that created mass devastation for consumers and businesses alike throughout almost the entirety of 2020.

COVID-19 Timeline

In March of 2021, President Biden said that every US adult will have access to a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of May. The president also called for every state to ensure that teachers, child care providers, and school staff receive at least 1 dose by April. As more consumers had access to COVID-19 vaccines, all industries studied saw a large lift in search views, total searches, and total clicks in the month of March. This was the most significant lift in Google Search metrics seen throughout all of 2021. 

Prior to Omicron sweeping the globe in fall, businesses saw restrictions ease in late spring. By the end of May CDC data showed the risk of COVID-19 infection among fully vaccinated individuals was 0.01%. The news came on the heels of the announcement that the United States has fully vaccinated more than half of its adult population. Mask requirements were lifted in many states, more consumers felt comfortable being indoors, and search trends followed suit. 

In May, service businesses saw a staggering 97% increase month-over-month (MoM) in views and similarly, hotels saw an 89% increase. 

How was consumer search behavior affected in different industries by COVID-19?

Each of the industries studied faced its unique set of challenges as well as opportunities amid the pandemic. For example, financial services clients, such as mortgage brokers, saw record years in 2020 and some drop-off in 2021 as mortgage rates began to rise again.

Sit-down and quick-service restaurants are two of the most impacted verticals we’ve studied. Online ordering has quickly become essential for operators with nearly all full-service restaurants (95%) using one or more online ordering platforms. Loyalty programs also saw a major uptick during the pandemic, with two in five operators implementing their loyalty programs in the last one to two years. 

Phone calls to businesses were up in 2020, as more consumers were calling to confirm hours, services available, and if products were in stock. In 2021, phone calls trended down across all verticals as lockdown concerns dissipated. Clicks for driving directions saw significant downturns at the start of 2020, but picked back up again and remained relatively steady throughout the remainder of 2020 and into 2021 as consumers became more comfortable shopping in-store.

Download the study for even more in-depth insights.