Think You Know How Consumers Search for Your Business?

You might be surprised.

Marketing research experts, Market Authority, have been interviewing consumers for the past 5 years, zeroing in on how they search for and select businesses. They have conducted nearly 350,000 live interviews with consumers in both rural and metro U.S. communities.

It's no secret that we live in a smartphone-dominated world, and we all know that's how everyone finds businesses to hire and buy from, right? Not necessarily.

Remember the phone book? If you were to take a guess at how many consumers in the U.S. actually use a phone book to find a business, what would you guess? 10%? 20%? Mostly rural?

Here's the real data:

U.S. Print Phonebook Usage

Chart courtesy of Market Authority, Inc.

Outside of the metro areas across America, print phone book usage is just shy of 70%. These are consumers who have said that in the past year they have used a phone book to find a business. And in the metro areas, a solid 40% of people are still using phone books.

How can this be true? They have found that habits die hard in many people over 50. As a group, they have been much slower in adopting new technologies. As business people involved in marketing, we (and the people we work with) tend to be the quickest to become aware of and adopt new trends, forgetting that not everyone moves as quickly as we do. What does this mean? If your most profitable clients are over 50 (and they do have 70% of the disposable income) and you have an all-digital strategy, you might be missing out on a valuable lead generation channel.

We are digital consumers, clearly, and it's totally understandable that print phone book usage has been declining, just not at the rate or in the volume people might think.

What about digital consumers? When they search online, whether mobile or desktop, where do they go to find a local business?

Here's the breakdown from Philadelphia, PA, in February 2015 as an example:

  • 48% of consumers prefer to look at the organic online search results
  • 29% of consumers are looking in the printed phone directory
  • 12% of consumers prefer checking the paid online search sources
  • 11%  of consumers use all other online search mediums combined (including online directories like

When a small business sees that nearly half of consumers look for a business in the organic online search results (primarily Google), the challenge becomes "How do we show up in the top 10 in Google?" Because if your business ends up on page 2 in Google results, only 4% of users ever search that far. If you want to be found by 95% of people who are searching on Google, it's a top 10 game all the way.

There are two ways a small business can stay in the game and compete for visibility in organic results.

  1. Optimize your website and target long-tail search terms that fit your category of business and your geo location. For example, "emergency plumbing services, Coppell, TX". It's a specific term coupled with a more specific geo area.
  2. In order to rank for the broader, more competitive keywords like "plumber, Dallas" make sure your business has a robust business profile listing on the major online directories because they typically show up well in organic results for the bigger keywords. And if your business has a rich, up-to-date listing with them, you can ride their coattails and get visibility you might not have been able to achieve with your own website.

The key takeaway for your business is all about being findable wherever your customers are searching:

  • Print yellow pages
  • Online directories
  • Paid ads online