Traditional Businesses Still Failing to Reach Online Consumers

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An infographic released a few days back by local marketing firm Marketecture offers a useful compendium of statistics pointing both to the great opportunity in local and the persistent gap between that opportunity and the actual practice of marketing by many small business owners, who remain stuck in traditional methods and insufficiently aware of how to capitalize on the impact of online and mobile search. A review of some key numbers will frame this discussion.

First, there is the claim that “88% of consumers who search for local businesses on a mobile device call or go to that business within 24 hours.” The actual 2011 Google study from which this claim derives is a bit more nuanced, offering the following stats:

  • 95% of smartphone users have looked for local information
  • 88% of these users take action within a day, indicating these are immediate information needs
  • 77% have contacted a business, with 61% calling and 59% visiting the local business

So it may not be accurate to say that 88% of users are actually searching for local businesses — they may be searching for anything local, from government offices to parks and beaches — but the intent to act is clear, and the number of searchers who do contact a business as the result of a mobile search form a large majority of the total corpus of local search actions.

Contrast this to the claim that 60% of local businesses do not have their phone number on their website, potentially missing a large segment of consumers who are otherwise ready to make a purchase decision. This claim requires several qualifications. First, the original BIA/Kelsey study from which the statistic is taken states the claim quite differently, making it clear that the website homepage was the focus of the analysis, and that businesses may indeed list their phone number on other pages.

The second and perhaps more obvious qualification is that, more and more, the business website is only one part of the equation in determining how consumers find businesses online, often taking a backseat to mobile apps, online maps, and directories. Put another way, whatever information consumers find in Google search results or mobile maps that gets them where they want go is likely to be fine with them, and if the business website does not enter that information loop the consumer is unlikely even to notice.

But the lack of business phone number on the homepage — a clear failure to follow marketing best practices — can certainly act as a proxy for other omissions and inattentions such businesses are likely to be suffering the result of. It would be fair to assume that any business that was not concentrating on optimizing its website for consumer traffic is even more unlikely, with a few exceptions like Facebook, to be paying any attention to how it is represented in third party data sources, those very sources that have largely displaced the website as a source of basic contact information.

Indeed, according to a ReachLocal presentation cited in the Marketecture infographic, 63% of businesses still don’t have a website and 25% do not show up at all in Google or Bing search results. These numbers ultimately come from a statement made by Google’s Frederick Vallaeys in 2012, and are not substantiated by a study or explained in terms of methodology; but if true they suggest that similar claims have underestimated the lack of online involvement among business owners.

Whatever the exact figures, there is no question that the businesses who are missing out on the local opportunity still form a significant number, likely consisting of those long tail business categories that do not feature prominently in the minds of app developers or marketers – or, admittedly, consumers, though when the need arises, consumers will turn to online sources to search for roofers or wedding planners just as they search, in greater aggregate numbers, for restaurants and gas stations. The need for proper representation does not change, especially so because for many consumers online has become the only viable search alternative.

Online reputation is another major focus of the infographic, including claims that 7 out of 10 consumers find online reviews as valuable as personal recommendations and that 5 out of 10 would be more likely to visit a business with positive reviews. Without looking too deeply at these numbers, it is easy to agree with the claims in general terms. In fact, I would expect that an even greater majority of consumers are actually influenced by positive reviews, in cases where reviews are available. Take for instance the well-known study showing that a half-star increase in Yelp reviews will cause a restaurant to sell out 19% more frequently.

The problem, of course, is that no one can review a business that isn’t listed online, nor do positive reviews do much good if your business phone number or address is listed incorrectly. The review sites listed by Marketecture as the most important to consumers – Google Plus, YP, Yelp, Citysearch, and Angie’s List – are the very kinds of sites that consumers are likely to find in preference to the business website when conducting local searches. Businesses can’t do much to ensure their reviews are positive, aside from providing excellent customer service; but they must focus on providing the right kind of forum for consumers to rave about them and attract others to their doors.

Damian Rollison is Director of Market Insights at SOCi. SOCi is the leading CoMarketing Cloud for multi-location enterprises. They empower nearly 1,000 brands to automate and scale their marketing efforts across all locations and digital channels.