What Are People Searching For?

m-spatial provide white label local search for the likes of Orange, O2 and Vodafone, as well as personal navigation devices. They’ve just announced a list of the terms users are most frequently searching for on their mobiles. While they don’t release actual figures, monthly searches are in the millions, so the numbers are statistically significant.

One of the true-isms of location based services is that most people spend most of their time in an area they know – in other words, where they live or where they work. This is one of the theories about why “Find My Nearest” services have never really taken off in a meaningful way. I would add that that this is certainly an argument that I’ve subscribed to and promoted for the last 7 years or so.

However, the aggregated search results from m-spatial cast some doubt on this, although it’s too early to suggest that it busts the idea to smithereens.

The Top Ten searches for 2007 and 2006 are:

1 Cinema
2 Fast Food
3 Drinking
4 Taxi
5 Supermarkets
6 Home
7 Electrical
8 Clothing & fashion
9 Clubbing
10 Banks

Now you could argue that a goodly proportion of searches might be to find out the phone number to get more information about them (cinemas and electrical) or to order one in the case of a pizza or taxi. This is supported by the list of brands people are searching for – around 60% are for these sorts of services.

But I just can’t think of a reason why you’d want to search for a supermarket (Tesco is the most searched for term and Asda and Sainsbury’s are both in the top ten). It’s a gut feel thing, but I can’t think that many people would want to call them, so they must be trying to find out where they are. But wouldn’t you know where your nearest Tesco is? And if you were travelling (it’s unlikely that this many people would be outside the area they know, surely?) would you be looking for your nearest Tesco?

The most puzzling one for me though is KFC – number 10 on the list and accounting for 6% of all searches. I can’t believe anyone would ever want to phone one (or buy anything from one, but that’s another story). What would you ask? “Do you sell greasy chicken made to an old dead guy’s secret recipe?”. They don’t do home delivery (in the UK at least), so the only logical reason must be that people want to find their nearest store – inexplicable under the “people don’t use find-my-nearest applications” and inexplicable because the food is errr…well, shite really, but that’s just a personal view.

My final thought is that it might be stuff people want to plug into their personal nav systems to find the way to these places – I assume that’s why “home” is popular. Now, I’m as addicted as the next nav-junkie, but I’d never use it to find my way to the supermarket or KFC. Maybe others would though?

Anyway, just thought I’d share my general bafflement and confusion on this one, proving that I don’t have all the answers, or don’t even think I do.

Can anyone shed more light? What have I missed?

Update: If you’re confused by the reference to brands in this post, there’s another list in the press release that records searches by brands. Click on the link here to shed more light or just trust me that I’ve used the right references. Thanks, Scott.

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