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Mobile Search Levels Playing Field for Small Business

small business owner . / Credit: Local Business Image via Shutterstock

Consumers are turning to smartphones more frequently as a way to search for local businesses ― a move that may help to level the playing field between local retailers and larger stores, new research shows.

The study found there were 113.1 million searchers on mobile phones in the United States last December, up from 90.1 million in March 2012. Of those searchers, 86 million say they search for local business information on their smartphones. Those searches are not a onetime event: 56 percent of those people say they use local search sites on smartphones and tablets at least on a weekly basis.

"What we can clearly see is that the local search market is maturing ― what we previously described as a Social, Local and Mobile (SoLoMo) revolution is now embedded in consumer behavior," said Jeff Beard, senior vice president and general manager at Neustar Localeze, which conducted the research with 15miles, the local search division of Geary LSF Group. "Tablet adoption is growing at a blistering pace: It took smartphones nearly a decade to reach 40 million users, while that number was crossed only two years after the iPad arrived. This market is set to keep growing, and businesses need to fundamentally rethink the way local customers are going to find them."

In addition to smartphones, tablets present a big opportunity to small business owners. Searches on tablets grew 19 percent between April 2012 and December 2012. All those searches can translate into a tangible boost to a company's bottom line. In fact, people who searched for local businesses on a smartphoneare 78 percent more likely to make a purchase after their last search, while tablet owners are 77 percent more likely to make a purchase. However, tablet searchers are more likely than smartphone searchers to buy more expensive items.

Businesses must be sure to target each audience differently: Researchers found that tablet users want to see in-depth content, as well as consumer reviews, when searching, whereas mobile searchers are more likely to value the accuracy of information and the location of the business as top factors in their searches. 

In addition, the number smartphone users has helped to increase the number of people using applications in their searches. App-based local searches have nearly doubled in the last two years, researchers say. Google Maps and Facebook remain two of the most popular applications mobile searchers use.   

"The greatest impact of the Internet is to offer access to information on a global scale, yet it’s equally important in driving business at the neighborhood level," said Gregg Stewart, president of 15miles. "Consumers now expect accurate, easy-to-absorb information on local businesses on a variety of computing platforms, and those companies that can adapt to this new world have the most to gain."   

The research was based on the responses of 3,000 users of local business searches on the Internet Yellow Pages, local search sites and portal search sites.

Email David Mielach or follow him @D_M89. Follow us @bndarticlesFacebook or Google+.