Local Searches Set to Flip to Mobile Phone

Given the continuing growth in the smartphone market, mobile phones are poised to become the first source people turn to when searching for local business information. Until widespread adoption of smartphones occurs, though, there will be a gap that smart businesses will seek to fill.

There were some especially telling findings in comScore’s presentation, “New Takes on Local Audience Targeting,” at the Interactive Local Media 2008 conference hosted last month by the Kelsey Group.

Most Americans turn to online resources for local search

Presently, two-thirds (64%) of Americans say they generally turn to online resources for local search, while 33% turn to print, and 3% go to their phones. However, mobile phone users outnumber computer users by 39 million. And the market for mobile search is growing faster than expected.

Mobile phone users are on the rise

According to comScore, there are 228 million mobile phone users, and data plan subscriptions are on the rise. Subscriptions are up 37% from last year, with 37.8 million users now subscribing to data plans. Unlimited data plans, those without restrictions to Internet access, account for nearly all of that growth, rising 47.4% from 2007.

That rise in data plans is no surprise given the increasing popularity of smartphones, such as the RIM BlackBerry Storm or Apple’s iPhone, and cell phone browsing has exploded. The total number of U.S. customers who use a mobile browser jumped from 30.7 million in June 2007 to 44 million in June 2008, a growth of 43%.

Will Americans start browsing the web more on their mobile devices?

As more consumers adopt these devices and as their Web navigation capabilities improve, browsing on them will become more of the norm.

The iPhone and other smartphones lend themselves to the use of browsers and applications better than standard cellular phones. Of all mobile phone users, just 5% access business directories at least once per month.

However, those percentages are 20% for smartphone users and 33% for iPhone users.

What’s happening now in mobile local search?

Some folks in the mobile industry predict smartphones will dominate by 2014. But what will happen in the interim with mobile local search?

“Free 411″ or “Free DA” (directory assistance) is an area that those of us in the Yellow Pages industry see ripe for immediate growth.

Like other advertising supported services, free directory assistance services offer callers a toll-free number to reach an automated system. They then can ask for a particular business or ask for business recommendations by a location in a city. At the outset, the system plays an advertisement, and there can be other ads later in the call. The system can also provide details to the caller’s wireless phone via text messages.

Local Mobile Search conducted a mobile user survey in August 2008 and reported that a majority of mobile users had never tried free directory assistance services. As Greg Sterling points out, it’s a mystery why these services are not being marketed more heavily, given the opportunity to reach the majority of users who own non-smartphones (approximately 86 percent in the U.S.), who want information on the go, and who don’t want to pay for traditional 411 service.

For those trying to reach mobile users who haven’t upgraded to smartphones, marketing with free directory assistance seems the smart way to go.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Local Search Column


About The Author: is an award-winning print and online Yellow Pages executive with broad domestic and international experience, and is the Local Search Association vice president of communications. She also blogs about the industry on the Local Search Insider blog. Follow @localsearchassn on Twitter.

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