TMP Directional Marketing and comScore announced  their annual joint “Local Search Usage Study” today, and there were some interesting statistics:
- Following online local searches, consumers most often contact a business over the telephone (39%), visit the business in-person (32%) or contact the business online (12%).
- 1 out of 5 local business searchers with an Internet-accessible cell phone have conducted a local search via the mobile Web.
- Those that own wifi devices (such as the iPhone) are the most likely to conduct local business search via the mobile Web, with more than half of these respondents reporting mobile local business searching.
- 30 percent of respondents still rely on directories as their primary local business research source, despite a 3 percent decline from 2007 to 2008.
- Traditional IYP sites such as Superpages.com, YELLOWPAGES.COM, Yahoo! Yellowpages.com, etc. account for 60 percent of local IYP business searches.
- Local Search sites such as Google Maps, MapQuest, Yahoo! Local, etc. account for 40 percent of local IYP business searches.
Now for the inevitable questions from me: how representative are these findings for overall consumers in the U.S.? As you recall, I recently questioned the accuracy of yellow pages usage statistics  from a Yellow Pages Association (YPA) -sponsored study because it failed to include a major, growing demographic: cell phone users who have no landline phones at their residences.
First, this new TMP Directional Marketing & comScore study are possibly not any more representative of overall population than the YPA study, because it was only based upon an “…online survey of 3,000 respondents…” — so, it missed inclusion of stats involving people who do not have internet access — and, that’s likely still a significant percentage, I’d assume.
However, this new study is more believable to me than the earlier YPA study, because the findings fall more in line with what we might reasonably expect. The TMP-comScore study indicates that 30% of respondents rely on print YP for their local biz research sources (compare with the YPA study which states that 87% of the U.S. population used print YP last year). This doesn’t compare apples with apples, I know, but the figures are measuring somewhat similar things, and the TMP/comScore study also indicates that there was a 3% decline from 2007 to 2008, while the YPA study showed no major decline at all — something that seemed odd to me, considering the 7.6% downward slide the year previous.
While conventional wisdom holds that print YP can expect some percentage of usage decline with internet and mobile local search usage increasing, one cannot always trust conventional wisdom — one needs to check assumptions with actual research. In this case, though, the YPA study left out cellphone-only households which could reasonably be expected to use print YP less, and that might explain why that study showed no decrease in overall print YP usage from the year previous. In comparison, the TMP/comScore report likely does include both landlined and cell-only household respondents, and it shows a continued slide in print YP usage.
Do not get me wrong — I believe based on a wide comparison of statistics that print yellow pages remains a very important part of the local search marketing mix, and usage of yellow page directory phonebooks is statistically significant. I’ve mainly been questioning some industry statistics regarding how much overall usage of print YP there is, and it appears questionable when those stats don’t show some ongoing erosion of print usage.
Greg Sterling notes  that print usage is going to vary by regional area and by business category:
In terms of the outlook for print usage, it’s going to be market by market and category by category. It will be very strong in some markets and categories and quite weak in others. Mobile’s impact is a bit of a wild card at this point: does it cannibalize print, Internet or is it largely “additive” to either or both.
I’d agree with that completely. Some business categories have seen a much more sudden shift from print to internet search as a referral source for their customer base. Variation by market is interesting to consider — I can see that there’s likely a more rapid shift in larger population areas than in small towns — small towns having far fewer businesses to select from and thus consumers there not needing greater research capabilities. There’s also likely difference by regional demographics as well, since more affluent markets might see greater shifts from print to home computers and mobile. Perhaps there’s also some side effect involving communities which are more internet-savvy as well.