Now accustomed to being able to find almost anything with the help of a search engine, drivers are flocking to the Web in order to find the cheapest place to fill up. With gas prices up as much as 50 cents a gallon in cities like New York since this time last year, drivers are taking advantage of Web sites that can help them track down low cost fuel.

In a press release issued earlier this month, online competitive intelligence service Hitwise noted that searches for gas price related terms had increased 300 percent compared to just one month earlier. It's not just gas prices that are being searched for either. A number of terms registered huge increases, likely because of the rising costs at the pump. For example:

  • electric cars - up 2,900 percent
  • gas prices - up 559 percent
  • fuel economy - up 333 percent
  • gas milage - up 300 percent

Terms like "Toyota Prius," "hybrid cars," "hybrid SUV" and "hybrid vehicles" were also on the rise. Commenting on the fact that "toyota prius" followed only "toyota" and "" in driving traffic to the Toyota web site, Hitwise vice president of research Bill Tancer stated: "Search behaviors are a window into the consumer psyche. While it doesn’t take a genius to see a market opportunity amidst astronomical gas prices, the fact that “prius” is such a dominant search term for Toyota suggests the tremendous significance its hybrid model has in its retail lineup.”

The rising interest in sharing information online has caused dramatic traffic increases for several gas price sites. Searchers looking for information on where to get their next fill up, or, looking to share a hot tip on low cost fuel may want to check some of them out.

Made up of 170 smaller sites, claims to feature the most comprehensive listing of gas prices anywhere on the Web. Gas Buddy explains that gas prices may vary by as much as 20 percent within a matter of a few blocks, so searchers that log on before heading out to fill up can find out if it's worth driving a little bit further down the road before topping off the tank.

I've stopped by GasBuddy on a number of occasions to check out the latest reports on gas prices on my side of Columbus. There's sometimes a difference of five or six cents a gallon within a mile of my home and it's not always the same spot that has the best deal. All I need to do is select my area of town from a list and then search to find the best prices reported by other users within the past 48 hours. Just this morning a quick search showed me that gas is $1.93 a gallon at the Shell station at one end of my street and $1.98 at the other end. Certainly worth my time to have checked.

Another top site for comparing gas prices is Featuring an updated tally of the most (and least) expensive gas prices in the United States along with news stories and discussion forums, GasPriceWatch aims to serve as more of an advocacy site than a simple price engine. This site features price listings for nearly 130,000 stations throughout the United States and works by having users type in their zip code and the radius they'd like to search.

It can be a little more difficult to find price listings on this site (my first search listed a few stations, none of which had prices uploaded) but it's also easier to customize. Users can select certain stations to add to their watch list and can easily update prices themselves based on what they noted while driving around that day.

Both sites are worth a visit to see who has better coverage in your area.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
April 18, 2005

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

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