comScore: The State of the Local Search Nation

On day 2 of the BIA/Kelsey ILM 2011 conference,  Gillian Heltai, Senior Director at comScore presented a series of interesting data points to attendees:

  • Total online searches grew 9% year-over-year to exceed 19.3 billion searches in September 2011
  • 2.8 billion of those searches were “local” (a growth of 9% from last year). Local searches growth is decelerating
  • IYP (Internet Yellow Pages) searches are down 20% year-over-year
  • 1.7 billion click-thrus to directories and regional/local content sites were generated from search in sept 2011
  • Top organic search terms by click-through rates: driving directions, white pages, yellow pages, maps, los angeles
  • 10% of US display ads are locally targeted
  • 3 of every 4 mobile subscribers own a device with GPS capability
  • Over one third own a smartphone
  • Mobile search usage grew 25% year-over-year with 26% penetration in September 2011
  • Search is the top activity of mobile browser users. Social networking is second.
  • 88 million mobile subscribers access local content on a mobile device, up 28% from a year ago.
  • Nearly 40% of mobile users access local content on their device in September 2011, compared with 75% for smartphone owners
  • 16.3 million smartphone owners scanned a QR code, 43% in a retail store, 42% from a product packaging.
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Is There A Mobile-Only Yellow Pages Company in Our Future?

YellowPages.com.au mobile advert

Flickr picture by Dale Gillard

The Yellow Pages Association just released new ComScore data regarding business directories access on mobile. Excerpt from the press release:

The number of mobile subscribers accessing business directories on a mobile phone increased 14 percent year-over-year to 17.3 million users in March 2010, extending the reach of Internet Yellow Pages beyond the personal computer. This increase outpaces 10 percent growth in the number of mobile media users who browsed the mobile web, used applications or downloaded content during the same time period.

US Mobile Local Audience

In addition, the data shows that while mobile browsing (10.8 million subscribers with 21% year-over-year growth) is still the most popular way to access business directories on mobile, applications are used by 4.2 million subscribers and are showing a 42% year-over-year growth. SMS is the other popular method.

Mobile Browser vs. App Access

What I think is the most exciting news in the release is the demographic profile of those users. “58 percent of those who access Internet Yellow Pages on a mobile device are 34 or younger.”

What it means: following my last blog post about GPS inside mobile devices (see Four out of Five Cell Phones to Integrate GPS by End of 2011), the rise of smart phones, the future explosion of Android phones, and the interesting demographics of mobile business directories users, I have to ask: can mobile become the platform of choice for a directory publisher in the future? What would it take? The survey says “The number of people accessing Internet Yellow Pages on a mobile device at least once per week increased more than 16 percent year over year to nearly five million in March 2010.” That’s good but I think the directory industry needs to build applications that would be used multiple times per day in order to build a scalable and successful mobile-only business. It’s not impossible but the industry needs to innovate and right now, that’s not happening. Should a big directoy publisher buy Foursquare or Gowalla?

Techcrunch: "Don’t Fight The Stream!"

From Don’t Fight The Stream: Facebook And FriendFeed Redesigns Are Paying Off on Techcrunch:

When Facebook redesigned its homepage in early March in a wholehearted embrace of the real-time activity stream as its primary user interface, everybody complained. “Why on earth does the world need 2 Twitters?,” asked one of my friends on Facebook. Twitter-envy aside, some early data suggests that embracing the stream was the right decision after all.

Since the redesign went into effect, Facebook’s growth has accelerated. After flat 0.3 growth in February, Facebook added nearly 4 million unique U.S. visitors in March (up 6.6 percent over February), and another 5 million in April (up 10.3 percent over March) to end at 67.5 million domestic uniques, according to comScore. That puts it within kissing distance of MySpace’s 71 million unique U.S. visitors in April, by the way (…), and keeps a healthy 50-million visitor gap with Twitter, which added 8 million U.S. visitors in April alone.

What it means: As I wrote in my “I have seen the future of local media” post last week, the activity stream is the new gold standard for content discovery and Facebook’s new focus on it seems to be paying dividends in terms of usage. If you’re in Local Media, you should embrace it as well.

Local Searches Are Now 12% of All Searches

According to this study done by the [praized subtype=”small” pid=”20178e0104701d2c9f1cfd74135355c7″ type=”badge” dynamic=”true”] and ComScore, local searches online are growing at a faster pace than regular Web searches. Year over year, local search volume grew by 58% (vs. 21% for regular search) for a total of 15.7 billion searches. This represents 12% of all searches at the top 5 search portals.

In addition, “Internet Yellow Pages and locally-focused online business directories also saw double-digit growth of 23 percent in the same period, totaling 4.6 billion searches in 2008. ” The press release adds: “75 percent of the top 100 keywords searched on Internet Yellow Pages sites were non-branded, indicating that a majority of consumers have not decided on a specific company or product brand when they begin their search. ” One last data point: “nearly half (45 percent) of Internet Yellow Pages and local online directory searchers made an online purchase in the fourth quarter of 2008.”

What it means: The discrepancy between local search and online directory search growth means two things. First, that directory companies still need to play catch-up in terms of user relevancy and branding vs. search engines. Second, that search engine optimizing your local directory content is still critical to get found in regular search.

I’m also a bit disappointed at the number interpretation in the press release. To start with, on the non-branded keyword stats, I don’t think you can infer that people are mostly searching on non-branded terms when they use an online directory. We would have to look at total search volume to properly interpret those numbers, not the top 100 keywords. Obviously, top keywords will be generic terms (more people search for the word restaurant than the name Joe’s Pizza). But I’m convinced the sum of all business name searches is certainly higher than the sum of all keyword searches. It’s basic long tail theory.

The second data point (online purchases by online directory searchers) is nice but it would have been better to compare it with local search “searchers”. I’m convinced data shows that online directory users end up purchasing at a higher percentage than search engine users but we don’t know for sure.

Social Media Stats

Mashable lists a series of recent sources for statistics on social media:

1) The Society for New Communications Research’s “New Media, New Influencers & Implications for Public Relations” (.pdf).  They “set out to conduct an examination of how influence patterns are changing and how communications professionals are addressing those changes by adopting social media. ”

2) Universal McCann’s Social Media Research Wave 3 (.pdf) research report, whose goal is to “measure consumer usage, attitudes and interests in adopting social media platforms ”

3) The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research recently released “Social Media in the Inc. 500: The First Longitudinal Study” (.pdf)

4) Comscore recently released statistics on worldwide usage of social networking sites

5) A Rapleaf study revealed gender and age data of social network users

What it means: for data-oriented people like myself, it’s always good to have a handy list of credible statistics resources.

Twitter is The New Facebook

Back in December, in “A look back at 2007“, I wrote that I believed early adopters’ interest in Facebook had peaked and had even started to decline. Recently, the blogosphere echoed that sentiment with news of “Facebook fatigue”.

  1. In January, The Register started by saying “Whisper it, but numbers from web analytics outfit comScore have confirmed what the chatter in bars and cafes has been saying for months – people are, just, well, bored of social networks.” About Facebook, they added that “behaviour seems much the same; join, accumulate dozens of semi-friends, spy on a few exes for a bit, play some Scrabulous, get bored, then get on with your life, occasionally dropping in to respond to a message or see some photos that have been posted.”
  2. A few weeks later, Techcrunch also looking at ComScore data said “The number of people who visit Facebook has been leveling off over the past few months in the U.S., and even dipped by about 800,000 individuals in January. (…) Maybe all that friend spam has something to do with the decline. Will the Facebook fatigue get worse, or is this just a temporary dip?”
  3. Adding his grain of salt, Rory Cellan-Jones from the BBC added: “The general feeling is that the kids, with their minute attention spans, have already tired of the social networking site and moved on to something more hip and happening. I think the opposite is true – that Facebook’s new wave of older users have decided it is just not worth the bother and are now leaving it to the kids.”

I agree. My personal experience with Facebook is that its relative utility for me has decreased drastically in the last few months. There used to be a lot of “friend” activities in my newsfeed and in my status updates. Even though I have more than 550 “friends”, I suspect that only 20% at most are using it regularly. As I wrote two months ago, Facebook is just a game. Industry pundits are looking for utility and, for a while, it certainly felt like Facebook was IT. But not anymore. Has something replaced it? Yes. Today, I’d like to say it’s Twitter. It’s all anecdotal, mind you, based on my brain filtering a massive quantity of articles and blog posts I read every day. You’ll have to trust me on this. 🙂 Should you still care about Facebook? A resounding YES! As Jeremy Liew from Lightspeed Ventures Partners says “The digerati, with their Outlook address books and social network friends lists in the 1000s, bloated by people they met at conferences several years ago, are edge use cases. Their experience is atypical. Normal users of social networks use Facebook apps in the same way that middle America forwards emails to one another.” Those millions of users are not going away and Facebook is still a formidable platform to broadcast your brand and content.

But back to Twitter, what is it? Twitter is a micro-blogging application that allows you to send text messages of up to 140 characters. It really exploded on the Web scene last year at the SXSW Interactive Festival. People started using it in drove but I wasn’t sure what to do with it (and I’m sure I was not alone), until Facebook taught us how to “Twitter” through its “Status Update” feature. Along with the newsfeed, it is one of Facebook’s killer apps but I think most people found it too limited in functionality. It was really just about broadcasting information.

Twitter is much more. It can be a:

  1. Broadcast tool. Send information to your network of “followers”, your latest blog post, a breaking news, a summary of a conference you’re attending, the boring stuff of your daily life, etc. Best of all, you can share clickable URLs.
  2. Conversation tool. Using the @ symbol followed by the Twitter alias, you can ask questions, join an existing conversation and contribute to the community.
  3. Early warning system. Breaking news seem to pop-up on Twitter much more quickly than in other media. I’ve learned about different breaking news more quickly in the last few weeks using it. Some people have already created specific channels for breaking news, which you can start following. See BreakingNewsOn or the Techmeme firehose.
  4. Proxy conferences. Recently, I was able to follow updates from the TED, a very coveted invite-only conference. You could obviously follow it in real time, but through structured data standards called hashtags, you can also see what people have been reporting about TED here.
  5. Subscribe to people. Where else can you follow updates and insights from industry luminaries like Pierre Omidyar (eBay’s founder) or Paul Kedrosky (famed Canadian VC)? There are hundreds of interesting people to follow in Twitter.

Howard Rheingold of SmartMobs fame offers even more reasons to like Twitter.

Twitter obviously has flaws:

  1. It hasn’t announced a business model yet and people are afraid its introduction will break the utility.
  2. It suffers from many well-documented technical interruptions.
  3. You can’t segment your “tribes”, allowing you to improve the signal-to-noise ratio, as you start following more people.
  4. Most of my (and possibly your) contacts are not on Twitter yet, which reduces its intrinsic value.
  5. It’s a huge time-waster, looking at the conversation feed and making sense of it all.

But even with these flaws, I expect Twitter to really catch fire in the next few months, with more people joining, trying it out, finding utility and transforming it into a vibrant worlwide conversation-based community. Even my Praized Media partner, Sylvain, is organizing the first TwittYul, an informal event for Montreal Twitter users and fans You could read about it first … on Twitter. BTW, if you join and want to follow my “tweets”, I can be found here: http://twitter.com/Praized

A Look Back at 2007

In business blogs everywhere, it’s that time of the year again, when we start looking back at the year that was and we start to forecast what 2008 will look like. In this post, I look back at 2007 and discuss the most significant local and social media news of the year.

1) Facebook

Clearly, Facebook was the number one news of 2007. By allowing anyone to open up an account in the Fall of 2006 (at about the same time they introduced their newsfeed function), Facebook paved the way for the arrival of tech enthusiasts and early adopters/influencers. Silicon Valley got very excited in the Spring and the launch of the F8 platform in May, allowing third-party developers to build applications, brought more excitement. I believe early adopters’ interest in Facebook has peaked (and has even started to decline) but the job is done. More than 55M active users of all ages access the site every month. The social network had a couple of setbacks around the end of the year with the beacon fracas and the launch of OpenSocial by Google but I believe it does not tarnish their luster. Facebook retaliated by opening up their infrastructure. The biggest benefit to the Web in general: Facebook is introducing people to the social web (micro-blogging, blogging, pictures uploading, “friending”), people who will eventually graduate to more complex social applications.

2) The opening up of the social web

Symbolized by the publication of the OpenSocial standard, the web is becoming more social and more open. Additionnally, the announcement by Six Apart that Movable Type, their leading blogging software, is going open source and the launch of the DiSo initiative to create open source implementations of distributed social networking are also important projects. Social will be part of the fabric of the web.

3) The launch of the iPhone and the unveiling of Android

Apple created quite a stir in June by launching the iPhone, a beautiful device that changes the way we see mobile web access. It’s not a perfect machine by any mean (still very closed) but it’s a game changer. The Android mobile platform by Google is also potentially very disruptive and paves the way to an interesting 2008 in that field. Local mobile search, the famous holy grail of local search, is on the verge of becoming reality.

4) The acquisition of Ingenio by AT&T/YellowPages.com

This purchase is a critical move for YellowPages.com and it clearly signals to the rest of the directory industry that call-tracking/pay-per-call will be the unifying standard in local product bundling, allowing a single sales force to sell multiple media formats. In the same vein, Marchex acquired Voicestar earlier this year.

5) The Radiohead “pay what you want” experiment

Even though it wasn’t as radical as industry watchers wanted it to be (Radiohead is still going to release a CD version of InRainbows), this trial by one of the most preeminent alt-rock group generated a lot of discussions in the blogosphere. Consumers were allowed to pay whatever they wanted to pay for the download including not paying at all. ComScore released some disheartening information about the percentage of people who paid for the album but that was quickly shot down by Radiohead’s management. In any case, the music industry needs more bleeding edge experiments like this one to find their future business model(s).

6) Reality check in the local search industry

The last two Kelsey conferences offered a sobering and realistic look at the realities of local search. Local is tough, hasn’t been cracked yet but offers tremendous opportunities. Stakeholders are realizing that partnerships will be needed to succeed. Two senior executives from the print directory industry talked openly about the opportunities and challenges of being a traditional media publisher and it was the first time that we heard that kind of discourse publicly. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are all courting traditional local media companies that possess large sales forces to help them increase local revenues. I think we’re getting close to the “acceptance” stage of the Internet grief cycle and we should see a lot of action next year on the local search front.

I’d love to get your feedback on 2007 events. Anything important I forgot?