Eye-catching study reveals what attracts consumers to local businesses in mobile Google Search.

For the longest time, marketers have been trying to get inside the head of their audience. It's no different now that search engines have taken the stage. Following the logic that “the eye follows the mind,” multiple tests have attempted to discern patterns and tendencies of searchers by using eye-tracking technologies. What are their patterns of choosing a result? Where do they linger and end up clicking?

Most of these studies have focused on the results which appear in online searches. Through these studies, Google has determined there is a certain spot on the search results page called the "Golden Triangle" which tends to be an advantageous position for websites found within that triangle.

Google Places App Study

A more recent study by Mediative (One of Canada's foremost digital marketing companies) shows that when searching for a local service, the decision the user makes may change when viewed on a mobile device instead of a personal computer or phonebook.

In the study, participants were asked to imagine themselves on a trip through different cities in Canada, trying to find a place for a friend to get a tattoo in each one, using an iPhone and Google Places app. The results of the report were generated after experimenting with 12 people, ages 21 to 45. The results of this project had profound results, especially for small businesses, and they are the two most important factors for getting picked and clicked in local mobile search:

The First is: Social Signals

You know those little stars that appear with search results? These symbols represent reviews and ratings which are meant to reflect the opinions of those who have had experience with the shown product or service. Anyone with a Google account can leave both positive and negative feedback for any company online.  These stars are good examples of social signals.

Why Do Social Signals Matter?

A powerful take-away from this study is the importance of social signals. During the search, most consumer gazes bypassed results without social signaling, even if those results appeared highest on the results page. Mobile searchers went even further and generally waited until they found a result with three stars or more before clicking while tossing the one or two star results. Now, this result may be unique to the test itself (would you want to get a tattoo from a tattoo artist in a strange city with no reviews or poor reviews?).

Still, the research highlights a growing trend in local search: More and more, customers are relying on each other through ratings and reviews to gauge the value and effectiveness of the products and services they spend money on. The more stars, the stronger the implication: “Pick these guys, and you will get the most for your money. Click this one first.” And if searchers want more specifics, they can read reviews and quickly get more information to guide their decision.

The number of reviews was also a factor taken into consideration. Out of 47 clicks, 29 went to listings with at least 4 reviews.

The Second is: Images

The Google Places app allows a small picture to come up with each listing in a search. Clear images that appeared alongside the local search listings kept a viewer's attention longer than those listings with fuzzy or irrelevant pictures. For example, the images that tend to hold the eye longest are images directly relevant to the product (a picture of a tattoo) rather than pictures of the location itself.

Why are Images Important?

If a picture speaks a thousand words, the images working the best in search are those that speak to customers in an instant. Most people doing a search on-the-go don't have much time to devote to staring at a picture to figure out where it is or what it is. They want the information quick. Pictures, even subconsciously, begin to create brand and product value immediately upon being seen.

Collect Reviews and Cash In on Those Stars!

Catch the wave and use what's going on with local mobile search to get more customers! Wow them with your ratings and reviews. Check out your ratings and reviews on Google. Whether or not they are suffering or non-existent, implement a way to get your customers to hop online and rate your business. You can send postcards, have a sign, or ask in person. By accumulating reviews, even an occasional negative one, you will build up the social signals for your business that will be seen. That's powerful.

(NOTE: You can accumulate some of your own reviews by asking your friends to submit some. But those kinds of reviews are easily spotted and usually disliked. Most people take totally starred reviews with a grain of salt anyway, especially multiples of them.)

Make the Most of Strong Images

Tantalize them with your images. Think twice about the picture you choose for your listing. Make sure that it has enough contrast and enough detail to create a strong impression for viewing on both a mobile device and a personal computer. Test out a few pictures on current customers or friends and ask them which one garners their interest most or which is the most relevant.

Remember, local search is competitive and gives consumers the opportunity to learn about and choose between competing businesses. So give them a reason to pick you and get the clicks and the picks you deserve!