These days we talk a lot and read a lot about Main Street as a metaphor for everything local, Politicians, television pundits, magazines, businesses, even this blog, toss the term around as if local businesses are still neatly lined up on a single road for easy and convenient shopping.
The problem is that people haven’t shopped that way in years, and probably not at all if you’re asking millennials. Today, Main Street is anything but a centralized location of businesses. Even if small businesses are located in a nice little row for consumers to casually walk and shop, consumers don’t find them by window shopping.
Today Main Street is the Internet. Even in the context of local merchants, shoppers view Main Street as a series of searches and listings they rely on to plot their shopping journey.
Take the average person’s holiday shopping habits, for example. Before leaving their house, they will conduct several searches for local spots where they can cross items off their Christmas shopping list, find a place to drop their car off for an oil change, grab a hot cup of coffee nearby to refuel for the next leg of shopping, and close out the day with a search of nearby restaurants to meet friends and family for dinner.
By the end, they’ve plotted a course across town in as linear a fashion as possible. This is the modern Main Street.
To be a part of Main Street in the way shoppers think today, you have to think digitally; you have to show up in NEAR ME searches and ensure that what people see in those searches is relevant and accurate.
What is a NEAR ME search?
NEAR ME searches are those conducted in various apps that show consumers all the businesses that fit their search criteria. In other words, anytime someone uses their computer or smartphone to search for a place close by to purchase something, they’re conducting a NEAR ME search. NEAR ME searches have increased 34-fold since 2011 and have nearly doubled since 2016, according to Google.
Why this matters for small businesses
The moment a person conducts a NEAR ME search, they’ve already begun to shop. When people conduct a generic web search for something, they’re just window shopping. They may be comparing prices and exhausting their options, but they’re still in research phase. People conducting NEAR ME searches are looking for a place to spend their money, now.
From search to shop: kick your competitors to the curb
NEAR ME searches matter for local businesses because it levels the playing field. With a NEAR ME search, you’re not competing with big-budget, online stores and brands. They can’t compete because they don’t have a physical location nearby that offers exactly what that searcher wants. But you do.
SEO (search engine optimization) is expensive, constantly changing, and usually requires a dedicated employee that most owners don’t have or can’t afford to spare. All that aside, it’s also just not that effective for business owners. Traditional SEO strategy pits local businesses against global and massive corporations because you’re competing for the main page of global Google searches. Large companies spend tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars on SEO, as do their competitors. This pushes local listings to the second and third page of Web results, which is often considered the Dead Zone for SEO.
NEAR ME results, on the other hand, automatically sift out the noise. It yields results of businesses that have a physical presence in the vicinity of the shopper, which puts you at the top of the list for people looking to make a purchase now. But the most important reason this matters for local business owners: consumer intent to buy is markedly higher.
While a general web search is often the first step in a person’s shopping journey, it’s usually driven by curiosity. People at the beginning of their shopping journey are often just starting to consider their options and not ready to purchase just yet. On the flip side, when a person conducts a NEAR ME search, their intent to buy is very high.
75% of NEAR ME searchers will visit the store(s) they find within a day. Of those, nearly one-in-three people (28%) will buy.
A person conducting a NEAR ME search is essentially someone raising their hand. Whether you call on them or not depends on your NEAR ME listing on apps such as Apple and Google Maps, Yelp, Facebook, OpenTable, TripAdvisor, etc.
[Check our post on 25 free listing websites every small business should be on for a more rounded-out list of services you could be leveraging.]
Your modern day Yellow Pages
Some will laugh at the analogy, but NEAR ME searches are to local businesses today what the Yellow Pages were for businesses in the past. There hasn’t been something this advantageous for local stores and shops in decades, and yet it is still one of the most underutilized tools among small and local businesses. The best part: in most cases, these listings are free to businesses.
Online retailers and stores would pay a fortune to have a sales channel like this. It’s full of potential customers with high intent to buy and it’s only available to local retailers, restaurants, shops, personal and professional services. Surprisingly, a large portion of local businesses don’t show up when NEAR ME searches occur, or worse, they have a poorly attended listing with erroneous data and poorly managed reviews that likely don’t reflect their customers’ true opinion.
Google Maps yourself: see what your searchers see
You’re reading this, so it’s safe to assume you’re on a device with an internet connection, which means you can grade your own NEAR ME listings.
Right now, go to Google Maps, one of the most used apps for NEAR ME searches, and conduct a search similar to what your ideal customer would if they were trying to find your business. (For example, if you run a hair salon, type “salon” or “haircut.”)
Did your business show up in the results?
Assuming your business did show up in the results, how do you feel about the listing that you see? Do you have your hours, days of operation, correct contact information? Would you patronize your own business based on the information you see? How are the reviews? Do they properly reflect your business?
This listing is a digital window to your store. Would a passerby enter based on the information they see?
If you’re anything but satisfied with your listing, you should dedicate the time to making it stronger and make sure it accurately represents your business. The people who encounter this listing are your ideal customers. You’re busy, there is no denying that, but are you so busy to help your future customers find you?
With NEAR ME searching becoming one of the most common types of consumer searches, you listings in these locations are vital to your growth, customer satisfaction, and loyalty, and will set you apart from your competitors. It may take an evening of updating your information on the various platforms, but managing your listings information, reviews, and reputation is more than worth it, especially in the holiday rush.
There are half a dozen or more apps that require monitoring and occasional tweaks in order to be advantageous for your business. Womply provides a one-stop location to help you quickly manage the feedback you received from the various platforms shoppers use to find and rate your business. Learn more, plus get free reputation monitoring and customer insights when you sign up for Womply Free!