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Online-to-offline search value is exploding with ‘near me’ searches

A few months ago I carried out a deep dive to see how much a single keyword can matter. The focus was on the keyword “best.”

I thought I would take some time to look into another keyword phrase that seems to be growing exponentially, especially as mobile search volume eclipses desktop.

That phrase is “near me.”

Below is the Google Insights trend for that phrase over the last decade. It shows the amount of growth that roughly mirrors smartphone penetration.

near me_google insights

This is a really interesting consumer behavior because it conflicts many brands’ focus on driving online sales versus helping them find local purchase points.

Brands have been thinking that consumers don’t want to transact locally, which is a bit counterintuitive. Certain market segments present better online retail opportunities, sure, but this isn’t an absolute truth.

When looking at a wide set of data that doesn’t include restaurants or other things that will never be bought/sold online, you can find proof that consumers haven’t really changed their buying preferences, but instead have changed the way they seek data and expect to find information.

To dig deeper, I pulled all searches that included the term “near,” including searches with “nearby,” “nearest,” etc. The data set I looked at included more than 70 million impressions and 7 million clicks in total.

So the data is fairly representative. (For context, there were twice as many desktop searches than mobile searches overall, but filtering to focus only on “near me” searches tells a much different story.)

Here are two trends I found looking at “near me” search data and the action you should be taking

near me clicks and impressions

1) Users have different expectations when they search for “near me” terms

The data shows that mobile search volume for “near me” is 565% higher than desktop with a 30% higher CTR (300% higher on desktop).

As you might expect, search volume on mobile for “near me” terms are significantly higher. This is obvious, but reinforces the fact that consumers have different expectations on what information they want to find. Instead of a product catalog they want hours and directions, for instance.

Action: think through your mobile ad experiences and how they might differ from the information you provide on a desktop experience. This includes ad extensions you might use and landing page information.

2) Competition for “near me” terms is high and expensive even though consumers don’t convert online

So now we know that volume for these terms is growing and is significant, but what are advertisers getting for these terms?

Well it turns out they are paying 30% more for “near me” searches compared to searches with other terms, even though our data showed literally ZERO conversions for “near me” terms.

near me cpcs

How can that be? Why would advertisers be willing to pay more for terms that don’t convert!!?!!?!

The answer is simple, they do have value for brands. It might not be in the traditional online ROI sense, but helping a consumer at the moment they are searching for your products and “near YOU” is critical. Especially when you can provide consumers with info about inventory, and other location extensions that help consumers find your products and services.

Action: Challenge your internal measurement of mobile searches and terms that may not have a high online conversion rate, but you know inherently help your consumers have a better experience with your brand.

For example: of the people who click on “near me” terms, how many go into a store? Using your in-store conversion rate and average order size you can connect “near me” search results with real revenue and estimate ROI using one assumption that can be validated from Google and Facebook’s offline conversion estimates.

While online conversions are the easiest to track, they are NOT the only value to an online ad

This is a really important concept that has been very difficult for some advertisers.

The fact that brands are willing to pay two times the price for these keywords indicates that brands are finding value in them. This might not be from the traditional online search, but from a find a store visit or a click-to-call action.

Understanding the value of online-to-offline conversions is vital for brands, but is often lost given the drug that is online ROI.

Digital media has lost the battle for non-trackable credit for sales that TV and other offline mediums have enjoyed for years. It’s time to change that.

Challenge your internal metrics. Think about the consumer experience. Understand what helps them extract value from your ad. And look for ways to truly help consumers versus trying to get them to do something that helps you achieve your online sales goals.

The world is changing around us and digital will be a huge part of it. It’s time brands and advertisers challenge themselves to change their approach as well.

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