Once upon a time online searches took place when consumers were seated firmly at their desks. But the proliferation of devices – from smartphones to tablets to wearables – has radically changed the dynamic. With increased mobile connectivity, people all day every day are both searching for general information and performing local searches aimed at finding things near where they happen to be.

We wanted to understand how people use search on their smartphones in six verticals: travel, finance, retail, local, technology and media/entertainment. Specifically, we set out to discover what local searches people are doing and what actions they take as a result.

Combining data from two sources, we used a novel approach that efficiently surveyed 3,000 users of smartphone search. Data from Ipsos Access Panels examined the use of and attitudes towards general and local search on different devices and industries, while data from Google Consumer Surveys revealed industry-specific local search behaviour. The research produced three key discoveries:

  • When consumers perform a product search, local search is just as important as general search.
  • Local searches very often result in short-term follow-up actions.
  • Consumers want locally customised ads.

Let’s drill down deeper into the findings.

Local search is just as important as general search

General search – such as requests regarding general product, price or brand information – played a role in the behaviour of 93% of smartphone users in the study. Meanwhile, 91% used their smartphones to perform local searches, including requests regarding directions, product availability, sales, customer service and the like. The most common request they made was for opening hours (56%), followed by product availability (41%) and directions (40%). Advertisers should integrate these kinds of details into their ads if they want to deliver the most relevant information to consumers at a glance.

Searches lead to action

In our sample, 86% of smartphone users took a follow-up action after performing a search, and 47% took a follow-up action within just one hour of searching. Of the people who took a follow-up action, a proportion continued with a pre-planned action (57%), while the rest told us they decided to take an unplanned action. On average across the verticals, 62% stated that online search strongly contributed to their decision as to which product or service to buy in the end.

We also saw that smartphone searches were used throughout the entire purchase journey, with seven in ten consumers across the six verticals using it for inspiration, and one in four using it just before making a purchase. The conclusion here? In order to achieve success, advertisers must to be present from the start to the end of a consumer’s journey.

Ads should be tailored to the consumer’s situation

The research showed that consumers now expect to find relevant results tailored to their current environment. Two in three said that they think search ads should be adapted to their city, postcode or immediate surroundings. Local and activity-based ads are a great way to meet these expectations; for example, advertisers can include a shop address, directions to a nearby shop or a phone number.

In fact, at least one local search feature was used by 75% of the smartphone users in the study, underlining the importance of reviews, click-to-call buttons and other local options. The AdWords “Get directions” button emerged as the most used ad feature on smartphones (44%), followed closely by reviews and ratings (43%).

The bottom line

Local searches help consumers to solve immediate problems. By using a local strategy that pulls the location of the consumer into account, companies can deliver the information their customers need to take action. In-store product availability, shop addresses and directions are key drivers for purchase.