(713) 568-2763

Real-World Geographical Influences on Search Behavior

Real-World Geographical Influences on Search Behavior

Fellow PPC advertisers,

It’s time to acknowledge that we often get stuck in an all digital world. Being focused in that digital bubble often leads to forgetting there’s a real-world out there. That’s right, a real-world without front-end metrics, Google Analytics and pivot tables (THE HORROR!).

I admit that I find myself stuck in that bubble from time to time.

The quote below from David Bell (source here) and his book, Location Is (Still) Everything, has opened my eyes to the bigger picture. Why do consumers use the internet to shop the way they do?

“We think the Internet flattens out our options. But if you live next door to a drugstore, likely you’re going to go downstairs for diapers there every day, rather than shop at Diapers.com all the time.

“Your physical world defines your options, if you’re in the Philly suburbs 30 minutes from a store, then Diapers.com looks good.”

For marketers, especially PPC advertisers, it is imperative to learn more about how real-world influences affect the way we search online.


There are two location-based factors that shape the way we search: Search friction and geographic friction. These real-world frictions don’t prevent you from doing things, but they definitely make it more difficult!

Search friction occurs when it is hard for a consumer to find information about a particular product that he or she is looking to buy; and geographic friction occurs when the product is physically far away from the consumer—including physical store distance and in terms of shipping time.

Let’s talk about a few real-world circumstances that may cause a friction in someone’s search for a product or service:

Preference Isolation

Isolation offline means liberation online. Preference isolation is the term for not getting what you want offline (in the real-world) because your preferences differ from the tastes of the local majority.

Personal example: My wife and I moved to a suburb of Houston when we got married. Our place is half way between Forthea’s office and her office. We both love the area; there are lots of trees, a lake, running trails, and more. The only problem is it lacks good coffee shops for me and cool boutiques for her. In this situation, we’re both in the preference minority – we want things the majority of our neighbors don’t want or care for.

I gave up trying to find good coffee here and started ordering beans online and now have a weird obsession with all things coffee (French press, siphon, chemex, a fancy grinder and even a scale). And instead of continuing her search for cool boutiques, my wife found Modcloth.com and started ordering her clothes from there. Fellas – just an FYI, Modcloth.com is a gift goldmine for the lady.

So what’s the point? PPC advertisers can get an overwhelmingly greater demand from locations where customers are the preference minority so take advantage.


Hypothetical question: If your customer is literally at your door step, would you invite them in or tell them to visit your website?

Addressing your store’s proximity to a searcher can be done differently on mobile and desktop devices.

Data has shown that on-the-go users want instant “snackable” information. Having mobile ad copy that highlights proximity and in-store visits for people who are close to a physical store location would help alleviate this search friction.

In addition to addressing proximity in the ad copy, you can cater to desktop (and tablet, of course) users by giving them the option to pick up in-store instead of waiting for the item to be shipped.

Regional Dialect

Though it’s usually discussed in planning meetings with clients, regional dialect is often forgotten.

Understanding regional dialect is extremely important for all areas of PPC campaign build outs, optimizations and creating effective landing pages.

Here’s a prime example: Being from Texas, specifically Houston, where we get maybe a month of real winter (we’re talking 30’s-40’s), I had no idea cities in northern states don’t refer to a home heating apparatus as a heater, but a furnace. In turn, ads that containing “heater” instead of “furnace” would most likely have little engagement.

There’s a ton of information out there on regional dialect, Joshua Katz has done a great job with dialect heat-mapping here.

Demographic Doppelgangers

I have people tell me they have seen my doppelganger on what seems like a weekly basis. It started in college and continues to this day. How many bearded redheads with glasses can there be?! Apparently a lot.

The same theory can be applied to locations. Demographic similarities such as age, income, population, education, ethnicity, and economic growth can be found in zip codes miles, sometimes thousands of miles apart.

For PPC, all you need is an Adwords or analytics report that pulls performance by geography and access to demographic data which is readily available. Find other cities with comparable demographics to your top performers and open your campaign up to it!

I’ve only gone over a few, but there are tons of real-world influences that shape the way consumers search online. From time to take, be sure to back away from keyword planners, pivot tables and user engagement metrics and take the time learn more about these influences.

For additional reading, I highly suggest you order a copy of David Bell’s Location Is (Still) Everything. He goes into detail about his GRAVITY framework which will definitely change the way you approach PPC campaigns in the future! I’ve read it a few times and continue to make notes (see my overuse of post-its below).


Have questions about how the real-world influences your customers’ search behavior? Give us a shout!

Davis Baker
Davis is the PPC Team Lead at Forthea and a digital advertising veteran of six years. Outside of the office, you can find Davis running, riding his dirt bike, or searching for the perfect cup of coffee (freshly ground and brewed with a French press. Anything less just won't cut it).


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *