How Local Is Local? Six Miles It Seems

Earlier this week on the “Local Search Is Different” webinar with Marchex and Localeze, I cited TMP-comScore survey data that show a majority of people seek out businesses within 15 miles of their home. In fact this stat is the source of TMP’s decision to name its search agency 15 miles.

Source: comsScore-TMPDM (7/09), n=4,000

But I ran across some other data this week suggesting that when it comes to actual behavior the range is even smaller: six miles.

A study originally appearing in Science magazine used wireless carrier data to examine mobile subscriber movements around town. Most people stayed within a six mile radius (of home):

[R]esearchers looked at customer location data culled from cellular service providers. By looking at how customers moved around, the authors of the study found that it may be possible to predict human movement patterns and location up to 93 percent of the time.

Most customers seemed to stick to the same small area, a radius of six miles or less, but there were a few callers that regularly traveled areas of a radius of hundreds of miles . . .

Customers that stuck to the same six-mile radius had predictability rates of 97 to 93 percent . . .

This shows that while people want and expect businesses to be within 15 miles of home the actual distance that a majority travel to shop and buy is less than half that range.


10 Responses to “How Local Is Local? Six Miles It Seems”

  1. ian Says:

    but not all areas are created equal–while it can be perceived as hair-splitting, details matter here more than the general statement. a person’s daily ‘grazing area’ is tied to population density and automobile ownership (inversely correlated with public transit ridership). in a major metropolitan cluster the percentage of what-you-want-to-consume is likely within a smaller than 6 mile area, but in outlying areas a 15 mile drive might be a given. this goes to the heart of defining service territories: an auto dealer in (say) Brooklyn will have a very different service area than one in (say) Juneau.

    i’ve been wanting to sponsor a study that asks SMBs to indicate their address/ZIP, business category and (what they perceive as) their service territory (miles, minutes). Then do the same for consumers, but asking only business category, ZIP in which they live and willingness to travel x miles/minutes for a given category.

    Would love to have Intuit and ReachLocal be involved if you are reading…

  2. Will Scott Says:


    I totally agree with Ian. Once you get off the coasts / major metros 15 miles can be too close.

    I was talking to a client in Las Cruces NM who felt like El Paso Tx was his market as well which is 40-50 miles. So, much as the coasts may lead the nation in a lot of ways there’s a whole lot of action in the flyover states for which local means “less than a couple hours”.


  3. Greg Sterling Says:

    Yes, agree. Of course there’s variation by pop. density and business density . . .

  4. Google Enhances Local Search With “Nearby” Filter | Startup Websites Says:

    […] How Local Is Local? Six Miles It Seems « Screenwerk […]

  5. David Mihm Says:

    …not to mention the variation by category as well, a point that i feel has not resonated nearly strongly enough with search engines. i’ll gladly drive an hour to play a great golf course or visit a great medical specialist, whereas i won’t walk more than 12 minutes to a coffee shop. the concept of a centroid is irrelevant for certain phrases and highly relevant to my *exact* location for some.

  6. Greg Sterling Says:

    The point here is not to say that absolutely everything happens within six miles but to present behavioral data that shows many people don’t go very far from home and that most of action is likely to be very nearby.

    Agree with all the points about density and category. But the attitudinal and behavioral data suggest the radius is not very large.

  7. Ian S. (Not Ian White) Says:

    A little tidbit that I picked up some time ago … I ran a hyperlocal Web site in Atlanta 5 years ago. At that time, Wal-Mart was adding a store near the neighborhood I covered and inside the metro area (non-suburban). A Wal-Mart C-level manger very specifically made the case that when they add grocery to their store offering they can add a store every 10 miles, because shoppers typically will not shop for groceries beyond 10 miles from home. This was based on some research Wal-Mart had done and aligns with what you are reporting.

  8. Rich Rosen Says:

    Then there are home service categories where the local merchant is often coming to the consumer. In that case the merchant had to decide if the consumer in within their service area.

  9. Greg Sterling Says:

    Ian S. I believe it . . . interesting. Thanks.

  10. Forecast4: “Lokale Suche” bietet gute Chancen für “lokale Medien” Says:

    […] data that show a majority of people seek out businesses within 15 miles of their home”. (Screenwerk, Source: comsScore-TMPDM 7/09, […]

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