As individuals increasingly depend on their smartphones, the devices become more integral for every component of daily life. Finding a product or service these days requires only a fast cellular connection and a couple of quick taps on a mobile device screen.
Not surprisingly, search terms such as “nearby,” “closest” and “near me” are becoming more dominant among the billions of queries on Google every month. Whether it’s a locksmith, a good sandwich shop or a new gym, the products and services of everyday life are located in local areas — and people want to find them, quickly.
Interest in the Google search term “near me” has increased by 34 times since 2011, and it almost doubled just over the past year. Most of the searches — 80 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014 — originate with mobile devices.
Clearly, these “I-want-to-go” moments are happening constantly on mobile devices. Just how widespread are location-specific searches to find a nearby product or service?
Quick Decisions, Quick Actions
When consumers search for something nearby, they make decisions in an instant, often going to stores very quickly. In many cases, they walk into a store and hold up their phone to show an employee the listing for the item they want. Considering that between 10 and 18 percent of clicks on search ads result in visits to stores, merchants can expect significant additional traffic from mobile.
Fully half of consumers who search for local stores on their smartphones visit within 24 hours, and nearly 20 percent of such searches result in a purchase by the following day. Nearly half of consumers — and almost 60 percent of millennials — wait until within an hour of heading to a restaurant to search for one. Once in the restaurant, 40 percent of millennials use their mobile devices to look up information about the food they’ll order. Across many types of businesses, consumers are using mobile search to find exactly what they want, where and when they want it.
Planning for the Mobile Consumer
While mobile searches — and resulting trips to local businesses — may happen very quickly, business owners can still take steps to optimize the consumer experience. By building a strategy that incorporates relevant data — using free tools like Google Trends — along with observation and educated hypotheses, merchants can begin to understand the behavior, needs and expectations of customers who find them through mobile search.
For example, “near me” searches spike by approximately 55 percent over major holidays, and they also occur more frequently on weekends. Digging more deeply, it becomes apparently that service businesses like nail salons see a spike during the day on Saturdays, while entertainment venues like pubs and pizza parlors experience a spike on weekend nights.
Unexpected “Near Me” Searches
You might expect on-the-go consumers to search for restaurants, bars, gyms, tailors and other drop-in services. But consumers also are using their mobile devices to find services that typically require more in-depth consideration, like home repair and improvement, employment and medical care. The deep research that used to occur almost exclusively on desktop computers in longer time chunks now happens in short snippets throughout the work day on mobile devices.
For marketers, the “near me” search trend ups the ante on meeting consumers’ needs in the moment. Today’s consumers expect businesses to be open at convenient times, and they demand a cohesive user experience that includes relevant messaging along with websites, apps and real-life experiences that work together. Businesses that can meet and exceed expectations can anticipate brand loyalty from the new highly mobile consumer.
To position themselves to excel in the mobile-search environment, business owners should consider:
How customers interact with their business or industry in person and how a smartphone changes the interaction.
How user context can be incorporated into ad messaging. For instance, merchants can use local inventory ads to provide users with information about nearby stores.
How apps and websites can provide important local information, including current inventory, pricing and directions, in a way that’s easy for consumers to find quickly.
How to measure and track the impact of digital interactions both online and in brick-and-mortar locations.