Two studies released this week combine to really bring to light a couple of aspects of the search market in 2010. One, Google is still on top. comScore’s February 2010 U.S. Search Engine Rankings report shows that, once again, Google holds top spot for the share of searches, with 65.5%. Yahoo! Sites is a relatively distant second at 16.8%, and Microsoft Sites third at 11.5%. The percentage change over January was minimal, with Google gaining 0.1% and Yahoo! and Microsoft trading 0.2% (Yahoo down 0.2% and Microsoft up 0.2%).
And even though the number of search queries was down across the top five search properties overall by 5 percent, with post-holiday sales now finished, this is probably to be expected. It’s a huge number anyway — 14.5 billion searches in February. Information from another study, this one just released by BIA/Kelsey and ConStat on consumer behavior, reveals that “97% of consumers now use online media when researching products and services in their local area.” The study is an ongoing tracking study of consumers that shows that among those surveyed, 90% use search engines, 48% access IYPs, 24% visit verticals, and 42% use comparison shopping sites. Interestingly, the study also indicates increasing fragmentation of consumer focus, as the number of research sources used when shopping locally has risen to 7.9 from 6.5 in 2009 and 5.8 in 2008.
Surely local businesses need no further evidence than this to convince themselves that it is time to ramp up their online presence and look into the variety of ways they can have a presence there — through a standard website, using social media, participating in online communities, investigating hyperlocal opportunities, etc. As BIA/Kelsey Director of Research Steve Marshall pointed out, “The Internet has indeed become an integral part of consumers’ local commercial activity. The data suggests we’re at an inflection point where the balance of power in local shopping is shifting to online.”
But what do you do if you want an online presence to try to capture just a tiny piece of that traffic as your own, but you don’t have the first idea how to go about it and have neither the budget nor the time to invest in learning how or hiring someone else to help you? Are you doomed to sit on the sidelines and watch the monthly comScore figures on search engine traffic, sigh over the huge numbers of searches, and watch as your competitors post online coupons and set up forms for their customers to make appointments online? (The BIA/Kelsey/ConStat report also indicated that 58% of those responding had used an online coupon locally last year and 19% had made an appointment online for something other than a reservation at a restaurant — such as appointments for car service, doctor visits, hair/tanning salons — in the last six months.)
Not necessarily. Even if you cannot or don’t want to invest money online, you can and should at least take the time to claim your Local Business Listing at Google. This is a free business listing that allows you to provide detailed information (even photos) about your business that will help Google present your business when people are searching for products or services in your business category online. It’s quick, easy, and did I say it’s FREE? And if you’ve already set it up, be sure to keep it updated if your hours, contact information, products, etc. change. You do need a Google account, but that also is free and takes just seconds to set up.
Of course, there are other free ways that you can increase your online presence — even if you don’t have a website — but the Google local business listing is one of the easiest and most effective. Given the overwhelming presence of Google as the search engine of choice, taking advantage of easy ways to improve the possibility that your business will show up for a search about your products or services is a no-brainer. It also ensures that the information that Google DOES display is accurate and stays accurate through updates you may choose to make in the future.