News Leadership 3.0

December 14, 2011

Where do people get local business info? Pew report, plus 10 ideas for publishers

The holiday shopping season is generally a revenue-booster for ad-supported news venues—but new Pew research indicates that more people are turning to the internet than newspapers when seeking info about local businesses.

How might this insight help local news publishers update their revenue strategies for the coming year?...

By Amy Gahran

Where people get information about restaurants and other local businesses is a just-published report compiled by Pew’s Project on Excellence in Journalism and the Internet and American Life Project, with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

A few highlights from the Pew report:

Local restaurants, bars, and clubs. 55% of U.S. adults say they get news and information about local dining and nightlife—and just over half (51%) go online to get this information. In contrast, a total of 31% turn to printed newspapers (26%) and news sites (5%) for this info—even though news venues tend to publish local event calendars, dining/nightlife guides, and annual local “best of” ratings.

“Specialty websites” (probably such as Yelp, although the report does not name any specific sites) are a more popular source of local dining and nightlife info: 38% of adults use them. Furthermore, 23% rely on word of mouth, 8% turn to on local TV, and only 3% use social networking services.

Other local businesses. According to Pew, 60% of adults say they get news and information about local businesses besides restaurants and bars. Here the internet is still the most popular resource, but not quite as popular (47%). Specialty sites (again, think Yelp) are less popular here, cited as a resource by just 16% of adults. And social media is used by only 1%.

For the local general business sector, newspapers are the next most popular resource—29% of people look to printed copies for this info, but only 2% turn to news websites. Word of mouth: 22%. Local TV: 8%. Local radio: 5%.

Demographics. The Pew report contains charts showing the demographics of people who seek each type of local business information. In general, these consumers tend to be wealthier and more upscale.

But there are some differences between the sectors. Pew notes: “The 55% of adults who get information about restaurants, bars, and clubs are more likely to be women, young adults, urban, and technology adopters. The 60% of adults who get information about other local businesses are also more likely to be tech users.”

Local news “junkies” are especially likely to want info about local businesses. According to Pew: “Heavy local news junkies are considerably more likely than others to get material about local restaurants. ...When it comes to restaurant information, 71% of those who used at least six platforms monthly got news and information about local restaurants—compared with 34% of those who relied on just one or two sources.”

Also: “72% of those who used at least six [local news/info] platforms monthly got news and information about [other] local businesses, compared with 39% of those who relied on just one or two sources.”

This kind of data could be a reason for local businesses to advertise in local news venues, compared to search advertising or other marketing.

Mobile has become a leading way for people to get local news and info. This could have profound implications for local advertising.

Pew noted that 47% of U.S. adults get local news and information on their cell phones. “These mobile consumers, who were younger and more upscale in terms of their household income and educational levels, were even more likely than others to get material about local restaurants: 62% of mobile local news consumers got information [about local bars and restaurants], compared with 48% of others.”

Also: “65% of mobile local news consumers got information about other local businesses, compared with 55% of others.”

LESSONS AND IDEAS FOR NEWS VENUES

1. Make local business information easy to find, especially to search for, on your website, in your mobile offerings (mobile site as well as apps) and through your print or broadcast offerings. The staggeringly low number of people who currently turn to news sites for local business information indicates that this info either isn’t there, or it can’t be easily or reliably accessed.

2. Search-friendly repurposing. If you publish a local business directory, “best of” ratings, or an event calendar that lists venues, explore ways to surface this information in general searches of your site. Ideally, each listing could become a basic mobile-friendly landing page. This could be a simple database, and it might be seeded by scraping data from regular search engine queries for local business info. (An upsell service might allow business owners to update or expand their own listings, at will.)

3. Realize who your competition is: paid search ads. SearchEngineLand reported on a recent study which found that paid search drives $6 in local sales for every $1 in online sales. News publishers will have to work hard to demonstrate that their ads can compete with—or at least complement—that performance. So…

4. Create links between your content, ads, and local business info. This could be a key advantage of news publishers, and it should be multidirectional. If you maintain a database of local businesses and events, you might be able to automatically augment each listing with links to stories and upcoming events which mention that business, as well as current ads that business may be running in your site or paper. Then you may be able to adapt your content management system to link stories and ads back to your database listings, making it easier for people to get more info, context, and targeted exposure to advertising.

5. Sell USEFUL local mobile advertising units. Position mobile ads as an actionable information service that adds value, rather than just space to display a banner. Recently SearchEngineLand published a good guide mobile marketing guide for local businesses, as well as an overview of social-local-mobile marketing, and a guide to small business advertising planning for 2012. Read these, and consider how your venue could fit into this picture—from the local advertiser’s perspective.

6. Geocode local business info and ads with latitude/longitude and street address data. This can support “search nearby” functionality, which you can add to your main site search engine, and possibly even support via GPS in mobile devices.

7. Support user bookmarking, sharing, ratings, and comments/tips of local business info on your site. These features can either be a matter of personalization for registered users (visible only to individual users), or a source of additional public content or context for your site. For bookmarking, an option to forward a business name, address, and phone number to your cell phone via SMS text message might be especially useful—especially for the majority of mobile users who still use feature phones.

8. Monitor search requests for local info on your site, and user activity (such as bookmarking, sharing, link clickthroughs, click-to call phone numbers), to spot opportunities to fill in information gaps or meet emerging local market needs. This can be used as feedback to advertisers, or as selling points for prospective advertisers or upsells.

9. Regularly publicize in your print or broadcast channels all the options you offer for finding local business information, and explain how people can use them—and benefit from them. Consider this an ongoing marketing/education effort, and dedicate space and time to it. Don’t just expect people to find these services on their own.

10. If you cannot feasibly build or maintain your own database of local businesses, and connect that to your content management system and ad delivery tool, then consider partnering with (or at least linking to) relevant local business listings in places like Yelp, Google+ brand pages, public Facebook pages, and Bing.

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The Knight Digital Media Center at USC is a partnership with the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. The Center is funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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