Smaller businesses are losing out on business due to search results favouring big, chain stores, according to new research by domain registrar 123 Reg.

Three in five people say when searching for shops or services in their local area, the search results show large retailers rather than small independents.

Nearly half (45%) of consumers say it can be hard to find a good range of both small and larger business, as the smaller companies are harder to find.

The study highlights there is a desperate need for small independent businesses to improve their visibility on Google Maps in order to compete against their bigger counterparts, says 123 Reg.

Nick Leech, digital director at 123 Reg, said: “Much like the modern UK high-street, the online high-street has become all too similar, largely because bigger businesses outperform small independents in local SEO.

“Small businesses have a tough fight on their hands to compete with the big boys, but there are easy ways for them to win. The key is to be visible wherever people are searching, and for this you need to have a good search engine ranking and ensure you are included in all the relevant local directories.”

“If more small businesses managed to crack local SEO, the value it could bring to both their online and offline presence could be enormous, and in turn, the digital high-street could be turned on its head. It’s been proven it can have a big advantage in terms of footfall - half of everyone who searches for shops or services in their local area on their mobile actually visit the shop that same day.”

Birmingham and Manchester were shown to favour big brands the most, as further research using Google AdWords Discovery revealed only a fifth of the shops and services searched in Manchester and Birmingham city centres were small businesses.

In contrast, four in ten of the businesses listed in Glasgow and Sheffield city centres were independent stores.

However, there are certain small businesses that are getting it right. Independent DIY stores, bike shops and coffee shops often trump the bigger chains in local searches, however smaller pharmacies and bookshops are struggling to cut through.

One business that successfully beats their rival bigger brands by having strong local search engine rankings is The Card Gallery in Exeter. In contrast to the research which showed large card shop brands dominate local searches across UK, they come out the first result on Google Maps in Exeter.

Lisa Forde, owner of The Card Gallery, said: “I’m a firm believer that customers are more likely to know and trust companies local to them, and so all online businesses should invest time to ensure their websites rank highly for local searches.

“We have seen a very positive impact from our local search results. It’s helped build our customer base and word-of-mouth, which has resulted in more positive reviews. It all adds to our turnover and profitability.”

Sean Gerrie, owner of Newcastle business UpSide Down Presents tells a similar story. “Having a good local ranking is vital for businesses that require people to find you in the real world as so many now turn to their mobile phones to search what is nearby.

“I knew it was important for the success of my business to set up local listings on Google, as well as ensuring we got listed on directories such as Yell, FreeIndex and TripAdvisor. It was easy and straightforward to do, and I’ve noticed that since doing so, the shop attracts a lot people who otherwise wouldn't have wandered past or come to our shop, such as tourists staying in nearby hotels and those visiting within the vicinity.”