January put a damper on local consumer search behavior, and it’s a trend that appears to have continued into February. In addition to the post-holiday slump, this year local businesses across all verticals had to contend with the ongoing impact of the Omicron variant and a surge in cases, as well. Inflation and rising gas prices too were also a pain point for consumers in February.
With that said, we did see some gains in our analysis of the Google Business Profile performance of over 170,000 U.S. business locations managed by Rio SEO. Year-over-year (YoY) figures show an ongoing uptick in views and searches across most verticals, indicating that we are continuing to see business recovery from the height of the pandemic.
Let’s take a look at what business locations in healthcare, retail, hospitality, and more consumer behavior trends February 2022 presented. Additionally, you can use these figures to add context to your own Google Business Profile reporting.
Views, searches, and conversions were down the second month in a row for service businesses. One example of a business that falls within this category is postal services. The U.S. Postal Service recently announced its financial results for the first quarter of its fiscal year 2022, which spans Oct. 1, 2021, to Dec. 31, 2021. In that period, USPS reported an adjusted loss of approximately $1.3 billion for the quarter; this is up substantially from its adjusted loss of $288 million for the same quarter last year. Rising energy and fuel costs plus overall inflation are also likely contributing factors.
These factors continue to impact service businesses into the first two months of 2022, as evidenced by January and now February’s decline in local metrics measured. Even so, local consumer search views, searches, and clicks are up substantially over last February when lockdowns and travel restrictions were a much larger disruptor for service businesses.
Financial services brands are being challenged more than ever to humanize the digital experiences they’re creating. Local consumers grew accustomed to online/virtual service delivery models through the pandemic and have come to expect the convenience that online appointment booking, self-serve banking and investments, and virtual appointments provide.
A recent Accenture report names reimagining the importance of innovation, using technology and automation to improve banking experiences, and securing good talent as some of the top banking trends for this year.
Finance brands in mortgages, banking, investment, insurance, and more may have found that local consumer search interest was down month-over-month (MoM) in February. One factor that should not be ignored in interpreting the above figures is that at the height of the pandemic, personal financial security concerns were rampant.
As consumers tried to navigate employment losses and reduced income, COVID income assistance, and other financial issues, their informational needs were high. While those concerns are still very valid for some, overall the trend is a continuing shift to business as usual.
Financial services brands can keep searchers up to date on programs, promotions, and in-office or branch safety protocols using Google Posts. However, it’s essential in finance that you have a process for removing outdated posts as all information visible on the local listing must be accurate and up to date. This is not only a search consideration but can be a regulatory requirement, as well.
February brought Valentine’s Day and although net sentiment for fine dining and casual dining brands was up over last year, it hasn’t recovered to pre-pandemic levels. Restaurant sales dropped sharply the week of February 23 in the most dramatic decline since March 14, 2021, according to industry statistics.
On an aggregate level, we see that restaurant locations experienced far fewer clicks to call than in February 2021, with fewer clicks to the website but 21% more requests for driving directions. The combination of increased searches, views, and driving direction requests alongside lower clicks indicates that consumers are more comfortable dining indoors than they were a year prior, when at the time they wanted to read more and even talk to a customer service person before visiting.
Making the best possible use of the Google Business Profile attributes available to restaurant brands can help proactively answer those common questions such as:
- What payment methods do you accept?
- What’s your COVID screening protocol?
- Do your servers wear masks?
- And more
Having this information prominently available enables customers to check out the menu and confidently convert to an in-restaurant visit without feeling the need to call ahead and ask questions.
Despite a positive uptick in sales across all restaurant segments the final week of January, family and casual dining sales growth remained negative. Fast forward to the week of Feb 24, and quick-service restaurants were the only segment to post positive sales growth for the week. When it comes to Google local performance, on a YoY basis the segment has seen double-digit gains in views and clicks for driving directions.
Clicks to call were down dramatically in February from the same month a year prior. Again, this is likely a reflection of the heightened informational needs of hungry consumers last year when locations were struggling with reduced hours and temporary closures due to staffing issues, public health and government restrictions, and COVID outbreaks.
Lockdown-weary consumers are itching to travel, and staycations are a growing trend. Despite the reopening of many international borders, international travel is still being somewhat hampered by airline price increases, COVID testing requirements, and an overall sense of uncertainty. As a result, more and more consumers are looking for vacation destinations nearby.
Local search consumer interest in hotels is up dramatically over last year, with 43.9% more views in local search, 30.7% more searches, and a whopping 69% more clicks for driving directions. Hospitality brands are finding a reason to be hopeful as WTTC and Oxford Economics predict the tourism industry could rebound and even surpass the pre-pandemic level this year, contributing $2 trillion to U.S. GDP (a 6.2% increase from the “before” times).
Rising inflation is wreaking havoc on an already stressed retail industry. Every metric tracked in our Google Business Profiles analysis trended downward from January to February, with the greatest losses in conversion actions such as clicks to call and clicks to website. Local consumers are searching for retail products and stores less, with total searches down 20.4% and views losing 17.2%.
Even so, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that retail and foodservice sales combined totaled $658.1 billion, up 17.6% YoY. Consumer prices are up 7.9% YoY as of last month, so even as consumers are less interested in shopping they’re spending more.
Retail brands can help discounts and promotions get in front of budget-conscious shoppers using the Offers type of Google Post and using multiple product images to create a carousel that stands out on the store’s listing. Get the Google Posts 101 e-book to learn more.
COVID case counts are falling worldwide, according to the WHO. New cases dropped by 19% the week of February 7 to 13, followed by another decline of 21% the week after. Deaths fell 8% the week of February 14 to 20, as well.
This coincides with decreasing local search interest in the healthcare sector. As consumers are less on the lookout for vaccine clinics, COVID treatment, and other medical care, we see that total search views fell 7.3% in February over the month prior.
Total searches were down 17.3% and conversion actions fell 27.7% overall with the largest decline being in clicks to websites with a 37.9% drop. Given that a wide swath of medical clinics, doctors’ offices, and other healthcare facilities had implemented online booking from their website during the pandemic, these figures are not surprising.
In November 2021, for example, there was a 25% increase in clicks to the website for healthcare brands as the Omicron variant swept the nation. In this context, the reductions seen in local search interest are a positive indicator for continuing overall recovery.
Inflation, supply chain issues, and rising labor costs continue to present challenges for multi-family development brands. The median U.S. asking rent alone increased 4% from January to February, further stressing already inflation-taxed consumers. Yet even with rising rent and inflation impacting most consumers’ pockets, year-over-year total views, total clicks, clicks for directions and clicks to call still were on the rise.
Multi-family developers may find 2022 increasingly challenging as leasing agents, resident experience management, and maintenance professionals all command higher labor costs. Brands in this space should make the best possible use of all fields available on Google Business Profiles. This includes adding new photos, sharing Posts of property features, and using the URL field to direct searchers to a form fill or other self-service-oriented local page in order to reduce the volume of in-person customer service interactions required in this competitive time for rentals.
See more local search trends by vertical for previous months and stay tuned next month for more local consumer search insights.