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Grow Your Business Sales & Marketing

Can 'Near Me' Searches Make or Break Local Businesses?

Can 'Near Me' Searches Make or Break Local Businesses?
Credit: Tsyhun/Shutterstock

If you walk down a busy city street, you're likely to see many people glancing down at their smartphones as they go. Yes, some of them are reading emails and text messages — but some are probably searching for the closest location to purchase something they want right now.

Mobile devices have changed the entire process of looking for and retrieving information, especially when it comes to finding local products and services. In a recent article on Google blog Think with Google, author Matt Lawson, director of search ads marketing for Google, called these location-specific queries "I-want-to-go" moments — instances in which consumers use mobile search to quickly find what they want in the immediate area.

"Words like 'near me,' 'closest' and 'nearby' are increasingly common across the billions of queries on Google every month," Lawson wrote. "More and more, people are looking for things in their vicinity — be it a gym or a mall, a plumber or a cup of coffee. Google search interest in 'near me' has increased 34 times since 2011 and nearly doubled since last year. The vast majority come from mobile — 80 percent in Q4 2014."

As you might expect, "near me" searches aren't solely for informational purposes; people make decisions and take action shortly after they find a satisfactory search result. According to Google data, 50 percent of consumers who conduct local searches on their smartphone go to a store within 24 hours, and nearly 20 percent make a purchase within a day. Therefore, businesses need to be searchable, especially via mobile, if they want to attract local customers. [5 Location-Based Mobile Marketing Tools for Small Businesses]

"With a world of information at their fingertips, consumers have heightened expectations for immediacy and relevance," Lawson said. "They want what they want, when they want it. They're confident they can make well-informed choices whenever needs arise. It's essential that brands be there in these moments that matter — when people are actively looking to learn, discover, find or buy."

Brands can prepare for these spontaneous, act-now moments by thinking through situations in which consumers might search for their store and making sure they're ready for them, Lawson said. Data analytics tools, and even day-to-day observations and patterns, can help you figure out when these situations are most likely to arise. Specific days and times will vary depending on the type of business you run — for instance, a restaurant or boutique might see spikes during night and weekend hours, while a coffee shop would likely see more foot traffic in the mornings and afternoons.

Lawson made the following recommendations for getting consumers in the door after they find your local business through a search:

  • Think about how customers are interacting with your brand or category, particularly via their smartphones, when they are near one of your stores.
  • Find ways to be there when people are looking for your business's location, or when they want to know where they can connect with your brand.
  • Incorporate user context into your ad messaging with technologies like location extensions or local inventory ads to show users relevant information about stores nearby.
  • Easily deliver useful local information — such as directions, inventory and pricing — when people land on your site or app.
  • Measure the impact of digital interactions both online and offline: Have a system in place to estimate or track how much store traffic results from digital interactions.

No matter which tactics or technologies you choose to implement, what matters is that you do plan for these "near me" searches that are sure to occur.

"Whether you're a small business or global brand, you need to deliver on needs in these moments," Lawson wrote. "Those who stay centered on the consumer's context and intent in the moment will not only deliver on needs, they'll also seamlessly advance the consumer journey and build brand preference along the way."

Nicole Fallon

Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. Nicole served as the site's managing editor until January 2018, and briefly ran Business.com's copy and production team. Follow her on Twitter.