Search Trumps Social For Local Business Information

The internet and search engines in particular are the top sources for information about local businesses, according to a new survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Foundation. That’s not really a surprise. But what’s interesting perhaps is how many people rely on print newspapers and how few seem to rely on social media for local information, according to the survey data.

Pew surveyed just over 1,000 US adults by telephone in January, 2011. What it found was that 55 percent of people “say they get news and information about local restaurants, bars, and clubs” and 60 percent “say they get news and information about local businesses other than restaurants and bars” (presumably everything else). Here is the list of sources used . . .

Restaurants, Bars & Clubs, Internet Rules

When it comes to finding information about bars, restaurants and clubs, 51 percent use the internet overall, with this breakdown:

  • search engines – 38 percent
  • specialty websites – 17 percent (e.g., Yelp, though that was not specifically identified)
  • social media – 3 percent (social networks and Twitter)
As for offline media, the breakdown is this way:
  • 31 percent use newspapers (print [26 percent], online [5 percent])
  • 23 percent word of mouth
  • 8 percent rely upon local TV (traditional, online)

Internet Tops For Local Businesses, Too

When it comes to seeking information about other types of local businesses, 47 percent use the internet, with the breakdown this way:

  • search engines – 36 percent
  • specialty websites – 16 percent
  • social media – 1 percent
As for offline media, the breakdown is this way:
  • 30 percent use newspapers (print [29 percent], online [2 percent])
  • 22 percent word of mouth
  • 8 percent rely upon local TV (traditional, online)
  • 5 percent rely upon local radio

Multiple Sources Used

Pew also found people used roughly 14 different kinds of sources to get local information. A large percentage used or “relied upon” multiple sources. In addition, 47 percent of respondents said they got “local news and information” on their mobile phones.

Very strangely, online yellow pages or “local directory sites” were not among the choices given to survey respondents.

The finding that so few people use social media for local recommendations is somewhat surprising (given that it has been likened to “online word of mouth”). It shows that Facebook and Twitter have quite a distance to go to become useful local business discovery tools.

Related Topics: Channel: Social | Facebook | Google: Maps & Local | Google: Mobile | Search Engines: Location / Checkin Services | Search Engines: Maps & Local Search Engines | Top News | Twitter


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • Michael Dorausch

    I love it!

    Good reminder that businesses don’t have to be everywhere in order to get new clients. I hear from many that newspaper advertising is still working for them, especially when there’s less competitors in that space.

    Looking at the numbers for internet+word of mouth we see a business can attract a significant about of their potential audience by focusing on those two areas. Much more affordable in my experience than running ad campaigns.

  • Alex P

    I have to agree with you Michael. Being everywhere can cause a resource overuse without the wanted ROI.

    I think, even though many local businesses want to be first in the most competitive searches, it is still important to remind them that it might not get them the wanted results, although it is still debatable because I’ve seen cases where it actually made them grow.

  • Nico Pretorius

    That is because social media is used for brand building, if you were successfull, people won’t search because they will remember your brand.
    Search is when people want to try something new and no brand sticks in their head.
    Companies need both to be successfull. They also need printed media, because there is still people that is not using the internet (amazing as it sems!!)

  • Tim McMahon Jr.

    This actually proves why businesses should be more active in social media since everything you post (Facebook in particular) is searchable. Facebook is an easy way to consistently add fresh content about your business – so if as this article suggests that people are using search to find local business info, it makes sense to ensure they find your Facebook page in Google results right?

  • Bryan Coe

    I think we also have to look how they surveyed people. “Pew surveyed just over 1,000 US adults by telephone…” Is that landline? I don’t have numbers on this, but I would bet that there is a correlation to people that are heavy social media users and people that don’t have a landline. It is becoming more and more prevalent that people use their cell phone as their primary phone. I would also venture to guess that people that have a landline are more likely to read the newspaper.

  • Nigel Kay

    I would agree with article that Search is more important than Social for Local businesses, but It is a bit misleading. Social Factors including established business profiles on Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn | Google+ are starting to have a bigger impact on Search Positions for Local Businesses.

    The Businesses that dominate search results are likely the same businesses that have invested in link building through Social media, Social Bookmarking and a network of geo-targeted blogging/Web2.0 properties…

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