Everyday consumers search for local businesses, products, and services in their area. They also leave online reviews for businesses, whether they have a positive or negative experience with the business. Having a firm understanding of your customers’ experiences, from an initial search to purchase to post-purchase, provides valuable context for where your organization can improve its efforts to attract and retain customers. Each year, Rio SEO and Forsta conduct a local search consumer behavior study to understand how and why customers choose businesses.
These results shed light on consumer search behavior, user experience, and online reputation. Knowing consumer behavior continuously evolves, it’s important to monitor what drives consumers in the current moment. We sought to find out:
- What information do consumers search for when they want to find things nearby?
- How often do consumers conduct online searches?
- How do reviews impact purchasing decisions?
- What experiences have consumers come to expect?
To answer these questions, Rio SEO and Forsta commissioned OnePoll, a third-party research provider, to survey a random sample of 1,000 U.S. respondents.
This blog post will highlight a few of our key research findings. You can download the free study below.
Local search trends show consumers are conducting more searches than ever.
We asked respondents how often do they search online for information and solutions to their needs. Eighty-three percent of respondents said they conduct online searches every day, and 68% search at least a few times per day. These figures are up moderately from last year when 76% of respondents said they used search daily. Our current study and previous studies point to consumer search behavior increasing each year, with over two-thirds of consumers searching every single day.
This finding tells us that local businesses can no longer ignore their user’s search experience. Instead search experience should be a priority and an ongoing effort. Having a search strategy in place that involves maintaining accurate online listings across all major and niche directories is crucial.
Local consumers are willing to travel for products and services.
Through our research, we found over half of consumers (59%) are willing to travel between 2-10 miles for a business, product, or service. Only 6% of consumers are willing to travel 21 miles or more. It’s clear online searchers are looking to find the solution to their needs within close proximity to their search location.
Having a clear line of sight into your business’ search rankings within a set proximity of each location is key. And it’s possible, too, to use GPS- enabled rank reporting to track keyword performance within circumference ranges around each location. A solid search engine optimization (SEO) strategy in place and optimized local pages for each of your locations can help improve your rankings and be found by searchers in your area.
Consumers expect your Google Business Profile to be accurate.
We asked respondents which platform they expected to have the most accurate online information. Unsurprisingly, 42% of consumers expect Google to have the most accurate business information. As of September 2022, Google has 92.42% of the search engine market share. When a customer finds your business online, they expect to find up-to-date information. Your business name, description, hours of operation, address, and more should all be up to date, especially on your Google Business Profile.
Twenty-one percent of consumers expect a brand’s website to have accurate business information too. You’ll improve your customer’s experience with your business by ensuring your business information remains accurate anywhere consumers can find you online. Our research also found only one-fifth of local consumers is unlikely to visit a business with incorrect or missing listing information.
Most consumers read 4-10 reviews before visiting a business
Consumers look to others for validation, and in some cases, before even visiting a business. Our research shows that 60% of customers read between 4-10 reviews before visiting a business. Nine percent of customers read 11 or more reviews.
Reviews are an integral component of online search behavior. Before a consumer even visits your store, they’ll check your star rating, sentiment in reviews, and the number of reviews. Knowing this is a key part of the search process, online reputation management is a must. Having a central location to read reviews across all your locations can help streamline this process.
High star ratings and review sentiment have the greatest impact on consumer confidence when choosing a business.
We wanted to gauge what has the greatest impact on consumer’s confidence in choosing a business. Do customers care more about the number of reviews a business has, the recency of reviews, sentiment in reviews, business owner responses, or the star rating. We found consumers care about all these factors mostly the same, with star rating (22%) and the sentiment in reviews (19%) being their top two choices. These results vary from the factors that were most important to consumers in our 2021 study. Last year, star ratings were again the number one factor, but number of reviews came in second.
While you can’t control what consumers say about your business, you can help give them guidance on the type of information you’re looking for them to leave in their reviews. For example, if you’re a restaurant, you may send an email to customers asking them to detail their overall experience at your restaurant and how their food tasted. This prompt will help potential customers get a better overall idea of what it is like to dine at your restaurant, from your customer service to your quality of food.
First-party reviews matter.
Customer trust is earned or lost with every experience they have with your business. Or the experiences they see others have with your business. Adding positive reviews to your website can be a step in building trust with potential customers. Trust also helps build your bottom line. Forty-four percent of global consumers will spend at least $500 or more each year with the brands they trust most, with nearly a third (29 percent) saying they will spend more than $1000 per year.
Sixty-three percent of local consumers said first-party reviews (reviews on a website) are likely to influence their purchasing decision. Millennials indicated first-party reviews were even more likely to influence their purchasing decision (71%). Keeping your first-party reviews prominent and in front of your customers improves transparency and increases their confidence in your business, according to our research.
Customers are feeling more comfortable with in-store shopping.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, digital adoption skyrocketed as customers actively avoided stores and in-person interaction. Businesses, in turn, were tasked with ensuring internet users could engage with their brand seamlessly. Now, however, businesses are seeing consumer actions pointing to a mixture of in-person and online shopping once again, rather than solely online. Our research backs this, with 42% of local consumers indicating they prefer a mixture of shopping in-person and online. Only 9% of local consumers prefer online shopping only.
Three percent of local consumers prefer curbside pickup only. While a small percentage, it’s still important for businesses to let customers know the shopping and delivery options they have available. You can do so on your Google Business Profile by enabling all the appropriate attributes, including curbside pickup if this is an option with your business. Ensure all your business locations have the correct attributes visible on your listings.
Customers use a variety of communication methods
As digital adoption progressed over the past several years, so too has the ways customers feel comfortable contacting a business for support. Our research shows consumers reach out to businesses for support a variety of diverse ways. Nineteen percent of consumers reach out to businesses for support through online reviews whereas 16% prefer to reach out through a brand’s website. Ten percent prefer to use Google Messaging and 12% expect a response through Google Q&A.
Businesses must be prepared to meet customers where they are reaching out. Whether through social media, your local listings, reviews, or through other applications, such as Google Messaging. However, your customer service team must have the bandwidth to support incoming requests across these platforms. Google Messaging, for example, requires businesses respond to any incoming messages within 24 hours. Lean customer service teams may opt to turn off the Google Messaging feature or never enable it at all, as well as other tools such as Chat Bots to avoid spreading your team too thin.
Most consumers expect a response from a business within 48 hours or less.
Not only do customers expect a response across multiple channels when reaching out for support, they also expect your business to answer them quickly. One-fifth of consumers expect a same day response. Thirty four percent expect a response within 24 hours. Only 7% of respondents indicated that they expect a response within a week.
Customer expectations are rising. If you’re not actively engaging with them, you’re creating a roadblock in the buying process and, worse, causing them to turn elsewhere. Empower your teams with tools to create quick and efficient responses, or lean on third-party support to ensure you’re offering the highest level of support possible to your potential and current customers.
For even more impactful findings, download our Local Search Consumer Behavior Study in full or watch our webinar to hear more about our findings in depth.