What local consumers want most from local business websites

Posted by & filed under Local Search, Local SEO, Research.

It’s rare to find a business these days that doesn’t have a website, even if that site constitutes a couple of simple pages thrown together on a basic DIY site builder service.

But these businesses are out there, stubbornly refusing to admit the internet applies to them and resisting the overtures of designers & search marketeers to help them grow their business by tapping into the local, online audience which exists around them.

‘We’ (aka web designers, SEOs, inbound marketers etc…) in the search marketing industry spend a disproportionate amount of time in front of our computers, analysing websites and seeking to understand what’s driving their success or holding them back. A lot of the focus is on search engine performance and lining up the local & organic signals to ensure a site is optimized for search success.

Search optimization done well is a data-driven process which applies the latest techniques to  in the decisions we make and try to apply the latest techniques we’ve learned to deliver a ‘best practice’ 

With all the data, research, insights & information available to us we can lose sight of the people we’re making these changes for.

No not our clients.

Their customers, or potential customers rather.

We design, build & optimize sites in order for them to be found by more potential customers on the web and to get those customers to contact our clients.

What do local consumers want most from local business websites?

In February we popped ‘the bubble’* and surveyed our local consumer panel to learn about how websites influence their attitudes & actions towards a business.

We asked 4 questions relating to the design & content of local business websites. We received 811 responses from the panel, with all respondents based in the US & Canada. We had a wide range of age groups respond and a near-even split between Men (46%) & Women (54%). 

The following results are very interesting and we hope they prove useful to web-designers, SEOs and business owners when they make decisions about site design and what to focus on.

*’The Bubble’ – the comforting online world where information flows like sweet wine and we don’t actually have to speak to people to learn about their experiences, insights & advice.

4 Questions about local business website design

Please note: All charts have been made available in PDF format at the following link - Local Business Websites – PDF Charts


Q1. When considering which local business to use, which of these statements about ‘local business websites’ applies most to you?

 

All Respondents:

1 main


Key Findings:

  • 36% of respondents say that a clear & smart website gives a local business more credibility
  • only 5% of respondents said that an bad or ugly website would put them using a local business

Gender breakdown:

1 gender


Key Findings:

  • Men are more design influenced and give more credibility to a ‘clear & smart’ website
  • Female respondents said they more likely to contact a local business if they have a website

Age group breakdown:

1 age


Key Findings:

  • Older consumers (55+) give more credibility to a business which has a ‘clear & smart’ website
  • Consumers aged 18-34 are twice as likely than those aged 55+ to contact a local business if they have a website 
  • Younger consumers more influenced by website aesthetics

Analysis:

Of those surveyed, 68% said that having a website – ideally one that is well designed – is a key factor in the opinion they hold about a business and directly influences their decision to use a local business. Only 27% were not bothered about whether a local business has a website or not, and wouldn’t judge them if they didn’t.

Additionally, if a local business has a bad or ugly website then it won’t put of most customers from contacting you. Perhaps people expect that larger, national & multi-national brands to have more impressive websites, but for a local business this takes on less importance.

The results show that older consumers give more credit to a business that has a clean, smart presence. However younger consumers are more design-orientated and less likely to use a business that has a clunky site; so if you target a youth audience then design should be a key focus.

Younger consumers are much more likely to contact a local business that has a website. This is because younger consumers are much more connected than older groups and so the internet is their primary (only?) research tool. Therefore if you don’t have a website you have no skin in the game when it comes to younger consumers. Mos def bro! 

Looking at gender, men are more design orientated while women are more pragmatic about the choices they make regarding local businesses.


Q2. What information is most important on a local business website?


All Respondents:

2 main


Key Findings:
 

  • Product, Price, Place, Phone number – “the four P’s” for local business website success
  • Customers want basic information they need to determine if a businesses fits their needs

Least important factors:

2 losers


Key Findings:
 

  • Factors such as customer testimonials, website speed, accreditations & mobile sites are of lesser importance
  • These factors may be good for SEO but customers base their decisions on different factors

Gender breakdown:

NB – In this chart we picked out the factors which have biggest differential between Men & Women.

2 gender


Key Findings:
 

  • Men are less patient with a website when it comes to performance & speed.
  • Men more interested in seeing company images/photos (more focused on aesthetics again)
  • Women more inclined to contact a local business by email than men


Age group breakdown:

2 age


Key Findings:

  • Older customers are more interested in products, prices & physical location than younger consumers
  • Younger consumers are more led by convenience (opening hours) & website style


Analysis:

It’s clear from the findings that for all local business websites, it is essential to get the basics right. Having clear listings of products, prices, phone numbers, address details, opening hours and company information is essential so customers can quickly evaluate if your business meets their requirements.

Respondents didn’t consider blog content, mobile sites or photos of staff to be nearly so crucial. Similarly, accreditations, trust badges & customer testimonials are of lower importance, certainly for initial evaluation. However these factors may play a bigger part further down the purchase funnel; once a customer has determined which businesses meet their needs then they may look at this richer, secondary information to determine which business to contact first. 

Although there are only minor differences between gender answers, generally men were more focused on the aesthetics and site performance, while women are more pragmatic & look more closely at prices & whether they can contact the business via email.

For local business targeting customers aged 55+, it’s absolutely crucial to give your customers a full list of products/services, prices & phone number right up front. Younger consumers also value this info but are also keen to know about opening hours & will judge a business based on website design.   


Q3. Which factors make you want to use a local business the most?


All Respondents:

3 main

Key Findings: 

  • ‘Closeness’ or ‘Localness’ of a local business is the most important factor when deciding whether or not to use a local business
  • Clear contact details (16%) & Company Information (16%) are also key factors
  • Softer factors such as Testimonials, Website style & photos also have an impact on final decision making

Gender breakdown:

NB – In this chart we picked out the factors which have biggest differential between Men & Women.

3 gender


Key Findings:
 

  • Businesses targeting male consumers more should make effort to fit around a busy lifestyle (24 hr service, quick website, freephone numbers)
  • Local businesses can appeal more & convert more female customers by showcasing positive testimonials & clear photos


Age group breakdown:

3 age


Key Findings:

  • Younger consumers are swayed more by website style & attractive 
  • The older the customer, the more they prefer using a business or service which is located closer to them
  • Older customers will judge a business more on the facts (company info) than on style (website design)

Analysis:

The proximity of a local business to a customer plays a big part in the decision of whether to use their products / services or not. This becomes even more important to customers in older age brackets. As well as proximity, clear contact details and company info are essential assets to any local business website. Testimonials, images, website performance & accreditations have far less prominence. 

Female customers want clear contact details & are more interested in reading customer testimonials, whereas men find a free-phone number, a 24 hour service, and a fast website more attractive features.

Once again, we can see that consumers aged 18-34 are more stimulated more by website design & aesthetics than any other age group.
 


Q4. Which factors are most likely to STOP you from using a local business?


All Respondents:

4 main


Key Findings:
 

  • Having no phone number, no price list and poor content are major ‘turnoffs’ for local customers
  • Being truly ‘local’ to a customer is also a big factor but not one business can do much about
  • Customers are less likely to be put off by lack of reviews or poor quality photos – these are more easily forgiven

Gender breakdown:

NB – In this chart we picked out the factors which have biggest differential between Men & Women.

4 gender


Key Findings:
 

  • Businesses should make it easy for female consumers to get in touch by email
  • Male focused businesses should make prices clearer to avoid drop-outs
  • Female respondents are more likely to judge a business based on customer reviews & the quality of images


Age group breakdown:

4 age


Key Findings:

  • All age groups put ‘No Phone Number’ as their biggest reason for not using a business
  • 18-34 year olds pay most attention to the quality of photos on your website

Analysis:

If a local business website does not display essential information like a phone number, product prices and contact details, then consumers will be less likely to use their services. Additionally, it is clear that sloppy or misspelled content will not be tolerated!

If you don’t display price information then you are more likely to deter men than women, whilst once again we see that if you are a local business targeting women it is important to clearly display a contact email address. Earlier we saw that men are more interested in business photos – however, if these are of poor quality then it is more likely to put off women than their male counterparts.

As a general rule, the older the consumer you are targeting then the more important it is to display a phone number. For younger customers, it is vital to ensure that any website images are of good quality.

Summary

It’s clear to see that the recipe for success with a local business website is not rocket science – simplicity is key.

Websites should present essential information on their homepage so that customers can quickly determine if that business meets their needs. Don’t make customers hunt around for the information they want most – make it easy for them to know what you provide, what it costs and how to contact you.

Most potential customers want to be able to call you up to discuss their needs – although women are more happy to email than men – so make sure this contact option is the most prominent. A smart website adds credibility to a business but an ugly website won’t put off many customers as long is it has the basics done right.

Content is King for gaining extra prominence in search rankings, but that content needs to be well written and of high quality. And it’s general company information or service information that customers want first & foremost. A blog will help you attract a search user but it’s company info that will satisfy their needs and ultimately convert them.

Certain features such as company images, testimonials, blogs and videos may go a long way towards helping SEO – which is of course important. But from a customer perspective, these are far from the most desirable features. 

It’s clear that local businesses need to strike the right balance of what is good for local SEO, and gains them visibility in search results, but also what customers want and will convert that hard earned traffic into calls & customers. By all means add additional features to your website but ensure that this does not get in the way, or distract from the most important information that your potential customers are looking out for.

Please note: All charts have been made available in PDF format at the following link - Local Business Websites – PDF Charts

Ross Marchant Ross Marchant

About the Author

Ross is the Marketing Manager for BrightLocal. With 8 years SEO & content experience, Ross spearheads our marketing & CRM initiatives which focus heavily on creating useful & informative content. Ross coordinates the research program at BrightLocal which delivers unique insights into both the SEO industry & local consumer behaviours. When he's not analyzing data or creating great content, Ross is a passionate fan of Chelsea FC (who isn't?!)

11 Responses to “What local consumers want most from local business websites”

  1. Jeff

    Hi Ross,

    This is great information.

    Most interesting to me is how important pricing information is to most people. As you know, in some fields such as services there’s a bit of a debate over whether a provider should publish prices or not, some saying you shouldn’t as it requires a site visitor to contact you to find out and then you can engage them in conversation.

    But your data clearly shows how important price transparency is which fits the trend of open transparency in general. Indeed, as a user/consumer of others’ goods and services I’m annoyed when I can’t find pricing info. on a website. It tells me it’s probably too expensive and also that I have to talk to a salesman to find out the price and they’ll spam me forever.

    Also, I have a hunch that a bad/ugly website may hurt more than the data may show, as people behave differently and more rationally when observed…not many people might admit or even be aware of how much design influences their rational decision process. I can’t prove that with empirical data, just a hunch!

    Keep the good information coming!

    Thanks,
    Jeff

  2. John Crenshaw

    Interesting findings…especially the section on what consumers find most and least important.

    Especially so because the “least important” section contains most of the things that are commonly known to increase conversion rates.

    I wonder if the respondents just don’t realize how affected they are by those things.

  3. Ray Cassidy

    Hi Ross that’s very informative. Have you or any similar team to yourselves perfoormed an equivalent survey on UK consumer attitudes?

  4. long tail keyword

    Hi Ross,

    This is a great piece.

    “It’s clear that local businesses need to strike the right balance of what is good for local SEO, and gains them visibility in search results, but also what customers want and will convert that hard earned traffic into calls & customers”.

    Yep, that balance is what we all strive for.

    Regards,

    Andy
    PS the sig is deliberately ironic :)

  5. Myles Anderson Myles Anderson

    Hi Ray, Myles here. We don’t have UK data for this right now because our UK consumer panel doesn’t have the scale (i.e. not enough people) to make the results meaningful and statistically accurate. We are working to build up the UK panel and once we have a panel of a similar size we’ll run these surveys across both panels. Thanks Ray

  6. Myles Anderson Myles Anderson

    Hi John, thanks for your comment. As we read the results, consumers don’t come to a site initially looking for testimonials, accreditations & photos. They want to answer some simple questions ASAP –

    1. Does this business provide what i need?
    2. Can i afford to use this business?
    3. Are they located near me?

    If the answers are YES to these 3 questions then the consumer goes to the next stage in purchase process which is to determine if they like this business, can trust them and if they feel confident selecting them. This is where richer content & trust factors play their part – converting lead into a sale.

    So all these elements play have a role to play in winning a customer and it’s good to know how & when to use them.

    Interestingly blogs & FAQs are right down the bottom of user’s interests. So in reality the impact of creating lots of good quality content is just to increase visibility in SERPs which is ironic given Google’s stated desire is for sites to focus on what’s best users.*

    *NB – this survey specifically applies to local business websites not content sites, e-commerce sites etc…

  7. Thomas Wong

    Great article Ross, good to see that the data agrees with what we’d ‘expect’.
    I’m bookmarking this page as a checklist for CRO :)

  8. Aamir Siddiqui

    @Ross,

    This is really the great insights of a local business and people are more intended for a local business about its location and proximity area, streets and zip codes then phone number is also a vital ingredient in local search and its also a cherry on top if a local business also provides UAN numbers and business days and timings are also the crucial information people want to see a lot. Product list and prices are must to be mentioned in the local business website.

  9. Cory Badeaux

    This is a really interesting post! It’s certainly useful to have consumer preferences broken down by demographics, and I foresee this affecting my future SEO practices. It would obviously be optimal for a local business’ website to have it all — amazing reviews, a beautiful design, lightning-fast speed, pictures of staff, a store locator, extensive product list (with prices), hours of operation, etc. Realistically, however, this isn’t always feasible; not every small business has the time and money to create and maintain a perfect website. With information like this, business owners could at the very least make changes to/optimize the elements most important to their target demographic.

    Working in SEO, you can become so focused on search engine rankings that you forget why you’re trying to influence them in the first place — to gain new customers. As content continues to become more important in online marketing efforts (great blog post here, btw: http://www.searchinfluence.com/2014/02/content-marketing-doing-it-right-in-2014/), we online marketeers have to keep in mind that certain content is necessary to draw customers to a local business. Great stuff!

  10. Ross Marchant Ross Marchant

    Thanks Cory – yes in an ideal world all small businesses would have all the optimal info available on their websites. I think it’s definitely advantageous to know what consumers consider to be the most important at grabbing their attention. Nice post btw! – we’ll share it.

  11. Karl G

    That’s a great survey you have done there Ross. Its interesting to see how the same things put people off a local business, across all the age groups. I think ill show this article to some of my clients.

    I’m a sucker for stats :-)

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