March brought with it a nice bounce-back across almost every vertical and metrics we track in our monthly analysis of aggregate Google Business Profile Insights for over 177,000 enterprise brand locations. The downward trend we observed in January and February has begun to reverse, an indicator we may finally be seeing the impacts of the Omicron variant lessen.
California was one of the last states to remove indoor mask mandates on February 15 (and March 12 for schools, child care, and unvaccinated individuals). With that said, Philadelphia just became the first major U.S. city to reinstate an indoor mask mandate, indicating that local businesses may be in for more fluctuations in foot traffic and local search behavior through the spring. Here’s a look at the local consumer search behavior trends March 2022 presented in eight different industries last month.
Service businesses – which include postal carriers, gyms, personal care services, and staffing agencies for the purpose of this research – saw large gains month-over-month across every metric we measure. Local searches rose 50.8% and total views of Google Business Profile listings also were up 44.5% in March.
Gyms are experiencing a later than usual surge in business this year. While the new year typically ushers in a renewed commitment to physical fitness, the Omicron virus dampened consumers’ interest in and ability to join an indoor gym. These massive gains in local search interest are welcome for fitness brands who’ve endured a punishing two years. As of July 2021, some 22% of US clubs permanently closed, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.
Another business category in service business, staffing agencies, are experiencing increased interest as staffing jobs were up 11.4% in the second week of March from the same week last year. The same source notes that temporary and contract staffing employment for the four weeks ending March 13 was 12.9% higher than the same period in 2021, as well.
Financial services locations include mortgage brokerages and agents, financial advisors, banks and loan services, and more. In this sector, total searches were up 17% and the greatest conversion action gains were in clicks for driving directions, which rose 15.5% over February.
Russia’s war on Ukraine is further depressing a market already experiencing seasonal lows due to federal tax collection. Pressure on oil prices, fear of inflation, and the closure of Russian investment exchanges are all creating fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the commercial financial services market. We see this reflected in YoY declines in local searches, total listing clicks and clicks to websites.
A 19.6% decline in phone calls from local search as compared to last March can likely be at least partially attributed to the fact that more consumers are able to attend financial services appointments in person this spring. Last year at this time, phone appointments and drive-through services were par for the course.
Year-over-year declines in clicks to call (-40.4%) and clicks to websites (-27.4%) are indicative of the informational needs of prospective diners in March 2021. At that time, consumers often called the location or went to the website to verify hours of operation, check on mask and vaccination requirements, ask questions about health and safety practices, and more.
Today, we see that total search views, search volume, and clicks for directions are all up over February, indicating that customers are doing their research online, finding what they need on the Google business listing, and making their way directly to the restaurant.
Black Box Financial Intelligence reports that restaurant revenue growth remains positive but has slowed to single-digits after a year of stronger gains. Fine dining, upscale casual, and family dining experienced the strongest traffic growth in March.
Sales growth is strongest in the breakfast and late-night dayparting segments, their research shows. Top drivers in guest sentiment gains are service and food, with a marked increase in positive mentions in online reviews about the “experience” being “great” and “wonderful” and more positives about service being “attentive.” Restaurant brands must continue to monitor online reviews to assess current guest sentiment and opportunities for improvement as they continue on their recovery journey.
Local consumer search interest in quick-service restaurant brand locations rose dramatically in March over the month prior, with:
- +27.3% total searches
- +26.6% search views
- +25.7% clicks for driving directions
- +20.2% total clicks
Again, we see that clicks to call are far lower than in March 2021. Quick-service restaurants continue to face their own set of challenges including increased costs of labor and supplies. Brands have been forced to raise prices, some repeatedly.
Even so, the food away from home index rose 6.8% YoY in February, the largest 12-month increase since December 1981. The Bureau of Labor reports that 61,000 employees joined the restaurant workforce in March, but it still falls well short of pre-pandemic numbers.
Hotel brands had another great month with double-digit gains in total searches and views as well as all conversion metrics tracked: clicks to call, for directions, and to the website. Spring break trips played a large role in the massive spikes seen in month-over-month metrics in March 2022. U.S. hotel occupancy reached 63.2% the week of March 6 to 12, marking a 20-week high. The same source reports that Monday to Wednesday occupancy saw its highest rate since the week ending August 21, 2021.
Clicks to call were the only local search metric down from March 2021 and again, this is more reflective of the informational needs of consumers than an indicator of interest.
All local search and conversion actions we tracked were down YoY as compared to March 2021 except total local search views, which rose only slightly at 1.5%. Clicks to visit websites and call retail locations are down substantially as more stores are open, hours are more predictable, and consumers are more comfortable simply heading to the store.
Retail spending growth was slow for March, with the Commerce Department reporting a 0.5% increase in retail sales over February. Gasoline prices are 37% higher than last March and 50% higher than in 2019, leaving retail employees paying more at the pump to get to work.
As costs for food, energy, commuting, and other essentials continue to rise, discretionary spending across retail segments may continue to see slow growth or even declines.
The Omicron variant and ongoing health-related concerns continue to drive strong search interest in healthcare. Total views of healthcare listings increased 37% YoY and 25% MoM in March, while total searches increased 27% over February. All conversion metrics from search increased substantially from the month before with clicks to call up 20%, clicks to websites gaining 22%, and clicks for directions up 28%.
COVID-19 testing and vaccinations are ongoing needs, and rising case rates are driving increased hospital visits, as well. Healthcare needs, in general, are expected to continue to grow, with the U.S. hospital emergency department market size expected to reach $246.3 billion by 2030, registering a CAGR of 5.7%. The increasing prevalence of diseases requiring immediate care, such as cardiac arrest is expected to increase the need for emergency services, especially those available 24-hours a day.
The multi-family residential industry has been having a great year, as a $14 increase in the U.S. asking rents propelled it to another record high of $1,642 per month. That growth rate is beginning to slow, however, we still see single-digit increases in total searches, search views, clicks to call, and clicks for directions.
Compared to last year at this time, we see that views, searches, and clicks to websites are all down more than 8%. The 15% reduction in clicks to websites does seem to suggest that those who are searching are finding what they need in local listings and don’t need to explore further. They’re taking action and driving to the property or calling the property manager to inquire more.
See even more local search trends by vertical for previous months and stay tuned next month for more local consumer search behavior insights.