How People Look for Local Businesses

I teach college writing, and there is always some point in the semester at which I ask students where they plan to look for information for their research papers. The object is to brainstorm an exciting list of possible sources, such as personal communication with experts in the field, documentaries, and unpublished contemporary journals. What I get is a chorus of, “Google!”

That’s also what most people will say when you ask them where they look for local businesses. You need a new dentist, a place for lunch, a climbing gym, a dry cleaner? You’re going to go to Google. But that’s most people. What percentage of people, precisely, is “most”? Recently, Mike Blumenthal reported on a consumer survey that asked 2500 people just to be sure, and discovered that a mere 60% of them chose Google as their first place to look. Among 25-34 year olds, it was about 80%, and we can assume (if only based on my classroom experience) that the 14-23 cohort would be even more likely to choose Google. Urban respondents also chose Google nearly 80% of the time. In order to find people who don’t overwhelmingly prefer Google, you have to go to elderly rural populations, who are presumably asking their friends on Facebook or using the phone book or something.

And yet there are companies that still do not have a website.

How many? The National Small Business Association’s December 2013 survey actually shows that 82% of small businesses now have websites, double the figures we usually see. It is possible that this is because they are defining “small business” as any company with 500 or fewer employees. Of the 800 businesses they surveyed (and the small sample size may also be part of the difference), most had 1-5 employees, and 40% earned $1,000,000 to $150,000,000 and would therefore not have been included in many of the earlier surveys.What’s more, earlier surveys invariably have found that companies that earn more have websites, so the inclusion of higher-revenue businesses may have skewed the data. I’m including this survey in an effort to be very complete in my reporting, but I think their numbers are probably higher than the reality.

Yodle’s August 2013 survey showed 48% of SMBs without websites, a number that is in line with earlier data from the U.S. Census and from Google.

So this is probably the reality. Most people look to Google for information on local businesses. Many, if not most local businesses don’t have websites.

Why not? Here’s the result of research one of my classes conducted here in Northwest Arkansas:

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The NSBA survey turned up the following responses:

  • Not needed (27%)
  • Too difficult (19%)
  • Too costly (12%)
  • Other (10%)
  • All possible domain names were taken (2%)

Apparently, 16 respondents thought that all possible domain names were taken, so we can only speculate on the curious reasons the Other 10% offered.

And that doesn’t even consider the many businesses who have a website that is too outdated or unprofessional to produce results.

Google is trying to help by providing an alternate web presence with Places and by trying to include businesses with good local reputations but no website in local search results. Good for them. Still, there’s some individual responsibility involved here, too. If you have no website, and you don’t have a really good reason, it’s time. The 21st century is here, people look online for information, and you need a website. Call us at 479.966.9761 or fill out our contact form. We’ll be happy to help.

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