How Much Traffic Do Local Sites Get from Google?

We are at the beginning of a new era of search that some folks are calling social search. Some businesses are seeing web traffic from the likes of Facebook and Twitter. The local businesses are under constant pressure to try new local marketing channels and often are not sure of how to proceed.

But for the past five years or so, straight up local search has been king. Over that time Google has grown to dominate what was not that long ago a very fragmented market. That being said, I was curious to know exactly what percentage of total web traffic Google was sending to local sites.

I had access to and looked at the analytics for 16 websites that are purely local in nature. Most of these sites have done minimal online marketing, search optimization or in bound linking although a few have. Very few have any budget for online marketing.

I looked at the analytics for businesses that are dependent on traffic in their front door to stay alive and do no appreciable business on the net. For these sites, the vast majority of their web traffic originated from within 75 miles of their location. I compared traffic from Google search to their total traffic (search, referral and direct) for 2009 and 2010.

In 2009 36.9% of their total traffic and 69% of search engine traffic to these sites came from Google search. In 2010, 44.2% of total traffic and 74.3% of search traffic did. Of the sites that had been live during both years, only one saw less traffic from Google in 2010 than in  2009. For the site that was most active on Facebook (most were not), only 1% of total traffic came from Facebook.

Admittedly, this is not a true sample of all locally focused websites and their traffic sources. These businesses were mostly rural with only 1/4 of them being in cities over 200,000 and most serving cities in the 6-30,000 population range. Their marketing budgets are small in general and even smaller for online marketing. It is not clear how closely they might resemble a more representative sample or an urban sample. Although it is not unlikely that they resemble those businesses in the long tail of urban markets.

But for them, Google is clearly king and provides far more traffic than any other single source. For 1/3 of the businesses, Google sent over 50% of their total traffic in 2010. Google not only sent the most traffic but sent significantly more in 2010 than in 2009.

For those SMBs that are just getting started in Local Search it is clear where they need to look first in assessing their marketing plans. For those that already have a plan in place, it makes sense to evaluate the value and cost of the traffic to your website.

The future of local search is unclear. For the present though, Google offers a solid base of traffic and should be a point of focus of most if not all local search marketing campaigns.

What do you see in your truly local clients? Do they have similar, less or more traffic from Google than this sample? Is this sample representative of SMBs in larger markets? Do you have locally focused business sites that are receiving a high percentage of traffic from sites other than Google?

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
How Much Traffic Do Local Sites Get from Google? by

17 thoughts on “How Much Traffic Do Local Sites Get from Google?”

  1. I’ve started helping churches with their online presence and for the ones I am working with almost 100% of their traffic is coming from local search and Google is sending most of the visitors although part of that may be because I always recommend that they start with Google and then if they have the budget work on the other search engines.

  2. Thanks for sharing the data. If I did the math right, it looks like non-search-based traffic to these sites decreased by nearly 13% in this period. In other words, in addition to Google increasing its search market share, significantly more consumers were using search to find local businesses.

    Did I do the math right? Would you mind sharing the total increase/decrease of year-to-year traffic to these sites?

  3. My numbers are very similar to yours. I checked a handful of sites targeting cities with a population of around 200-300K people.

    All the sites did have more traffic from Google in 2010. A couple sites were more aggressive in their SEO efforts so they might skew the data a little.

  4. Mike: Thank you. I always value this kind of information above all other information.

    Essentially: What works and what doesn’t work.

    I operate local businesses: A couple of different types; A couple of different market regions.

    I don’t have current hard stats but generally here is what I’ve found.

    Most relevant conversion traffic comes from search. Other good sources are ones that are topically relevant and create a local perspective. I truly value local traffic that converts.

    I’ve had some significant world wide web traffic to some of the sites from varied methods. They don’t convert. Some of that traffic was relatively enormous. It didn’t convert.

    Some of the sites get secondary direct traffic from other web sites that get world wide web traffic that is huge. That doesn’t convert. Essentially for local businesses I need local traffic.

    To date none of the local businesses have gotten significant convertible traffic from social media, even though we are currently working with a variety of strategies in different social media formats. We continue to experiment.

    By far, for all the sources Google delivers the highest volume of relevant traffic (local and of interest) and that converts.

    We see traffic from Yahoo and Bing diminishing. Relatively speaking traffic arrives at a far higher percentage of SE traffic than it does off of pcs or laptops. We don’t see a lot of use of mobile bing or mobile yahoo. We have used certain local sources to deliver local traffic. When the competition finds these sources it dissipates. We get less. Since its local it still works…just that we get less.

    I work to rely less on Google. Its difficult to do. Google dominates the user perspective.

    One other thing: There are sites that deliver local traffic to some of our businesses/sites. I know, and the webmasters of those sites know….that a lot of their traffic is generated by high rankings in google. Once a user arrives at their sites…some of the users migrate to us off of links.

    Another interesting factoid. Yelp gets some significant traffic for some of the businesses, in which we’ve claimed a yelp listing. Of that traffic only a small percentage jump from the yelp site to our sites. Regardless.

    We know though that of the significant yelp traffic a lot of that comes from high rankings within Google and the other traffic comes from potentially interested customers checking on the business. Still yelp’s traffic is augmented by its google rankings.

    damn!!!!! For the time being everything keeps going back to google. When I have the time I’ll run some stats.

  5. @Mike
    It is sort of self fullfilling. If we focus on Google we get Google… Thanks for your info.

    Not enough time or good full period comparisons… sorry… next year.

    Thanks for taking the time to validate the general thrust of the data…

    The inevitable contradiction… you love em, you have em… but you gotta keep using them cause they send you warm bodies 🙂

  6. I did a very quick analysis on one mature business website:

    2010: Google 60% Direct 20% Y and Bing less than 10% total. Everything else

    2009: Google 50% Direct 20% Y & Bing total over 10% Everything else.

    biggest difference for that site was the loss of a significant amt of Yahoo traffic. Will have to check why that is: worse rankings or were less people using Yahoo. I’ll give it a closer look later…..but for years that site had incredible Y rankings for some high value WWW phrases that didn’t convert lcoally. I’ll look at details later.

  7. Really useful post & comments – thanks to all.

    So despite the noise that services like Foursquare and Facebook are making about their ‘local’ offerings, the end result doesn’t materialise for local businesses.

    User intent and motivation has a big part to play. Search is functional and result orientated (i.e. i need a plumber to fix my ….) while facebook & foursquare are social and playful (i.e. are my friends here, what are they up to)

    Obviously the offline conversion isn’t being tracked here. Services like Groupon and Foursquare are likely to drive offline customer than online which is what local business owners really want.

    Does anyone have any results/experience they can share about Groupon/Foursquare et al working for their clients?

  8. Mike –

    Thanks for the comparison.

    I’m similarly interested in getting a good idea of available/expected traffic based on niche and population.

    For example:

    Niche – Electrician
    City Population: 1.5 million
    Ranking: #2 for most searches that bring up a map. Minimal long tail
    Traffic: 10-20 qualified hits per day.

    Niche – Attorney
    City Population: 400,000
    Ranking – #4-#10 fluctuating on most searches that bring up a map.
    Brings 5-10 qualified hits per day

    I would love to hear your and other’s experiences. Google Traffic Estimator can only take us so far 🙂

  9. @Myles
    In my rural markets neither Groupon nor 4square have any presence so it is difficult to test them.

    Clearly there is a bias in my data towards companies that have not tried social marketing and thus there is no indication that it works… a confimation bias of sorts.. but for them it is a combination of time, knowledge, money, appropriateness … that keeps them from going that route… Exactly what would a janitorial service have to say on Twitter and to whom?

    Facebook is the one site that has scale rurally and in the mid major markets that I build websites for. I did craft a Facebook plan for one client last week (a Jeweler) but given the fact that they have spent 2 years trying to get a client email list together it seems unlikely they will ever test the plan effectively.

    Your point about conversion is well taken but before that conversation can occur there are a million other barriers that most SMBs (and services for the matter) need to over come before it is a viable path.


    Are you asking what kind of walk in traffic might be expected or web traffic?

  10. Commenting on the clicks that can be expected (qualified hits = clicks). I saw recently that a cosmetic surgeon ranking #1 (ish) in Dallas, TX was getting 100-200 hits per day from related keywords. I’d love to get more data on the click ‘market’ size out there relative to ranking, vertical and city population.

  11. Good one.

    At my industries, that are all service based (Locksmiths, Towings, Restoration-Remediation fields) I’m <90% rely on Google.

    It's a huge problem:
    1. Google & Google Maps are both too dynamic & easy to manipulate (in my industries).
    2. YelloPages, SuperPages, CitySearch,etc..,etc..,etc.. are not generating enough traffic & i have campaigns there only to promote my Google Maps listings. Also they are ridiculously expensive. Moreover, b/c i'm under a 'super spam industry' status- they all ask me for utility bills, registrations & certificates & i need to pay several moths a head…!…!
    3. 4squere & Groupon are so cool & neat, but how a service based location can take advantage there????? Even our Groupon rep can't answer that. Groupon's Store feature is at it infants.
    4. Yahoo Local is so vintage & generate easy-to-manipulate results that is a spammers/ scammers heaven.

    I guess that me & Google will remain BFFs. Although they hates me & i can't deal without them.

  12. @Mike

    I agree that social-media platforms, particularly twitter, have a long way to go before they become relevant, powerful marketing channels for the vast majority of local businesses. It’s not just penetration that matters but also user behavior – how often do you tell your friends about that great Dry Cleaner you use? Rarely, very rarely, i’m guessing.

    So why would you do that on FB or Twitter?

    I wonder if services like Groupon will ever have a presence in smaller cities or is the scale not there to justify the investment and support their sales structure? One for Google to try & crack maybe

  13. The SB’s I often talk to aren’t at the point of worrying about relative amounts of traffic. They need convincing that Internet marketing is worth the effort at all. Jakes examples are good, even better would be how much actual biz is from the net, even if only as a percentage. It’s very frustrating to hear, “Yeah, we’ve got that covered,” when you know they haven’t even claimed their listings.

  14. @Myles
    I am not sure that it works for every business on Facebook either but at least with Facebook there is significant market penetration and that is a necessary first condition.

    For my jeweler who has had unsatisfactory results on Facebook, I suggested she either give it up or do it right (ie engage people from her real market) as a test. If after an extended period of engagement she still wasn’t getting conversions then to bag it.

    Everyone wants a deal but but before an online deal works it would need similar penetration to the local newspaper. That could and probably will work but it will be a struggle for early adopters.


    I am so glad that I am a point in my career where I no longer need to cold call. It was/is frustrating to know that you have an reasonable solution and the SB just doesn’t want to hear it.

    Greg Sterling has some numbers of the quantity of of offline purchases related to the web and I have done a post or two from which you might be able to extrapolate some information.

    That being said, I find the words and recommendations of my other clients to be the most compelling evidence for other SB that it works.

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