Foursquare: The Web’s Newest Local Search Engine (But There’s One Big Question)

Filed in Local Search by Matt McGee on January 13, 2012 8 Comments

foursquare-icon-150If you’re a local business owner, Foursquare isn’t a novelty anymore. Oh, sure, the points and badges and the game elements are still there, but Foursquare became a full-fledged local search engine yesterday with some nifty search and filtering options thanks to what’s now a whopping 1.5 billion check-ins.

The new toy can be found under the “Explore” tab on the homepage. As soon as you click, Foursquare invites you to start searching and there are some intriguing filter options — Foursquare recommended locations, or places that “I’ve been to,” “I haven’t been to” and “my friends have been to.” Or, you can just look for places offering specials.


I could type “restaurants” and use the “I haven’t been to” filter and Foursquare immediately knows to not show anywhere that I’ve checked-in to previously — pretty powerful and interesting discovery potential right there.

The search results offer standard visuals — business listings on the left, map and icons on the right. The filtering options carry through right below the search box.

When you’re searching Foursquare, you’ll be doing a full-text search that includes all of the tips other users have added into the system. Those tips are often very similar to what you’d call a “mini-review” of the business, and they’re usually pretty specific. If you’re looking for a certain restaurant dish or hotel amenity, you should be able to get better matches, especially in bigger cities with higher Foursquare adoption. Here’s a search for “chili” in Seattle, where matches are being pulled from Foursquare tips.

(click for larger version)

This is cool and smart on Foursquare’s part, but they’re not the first: Google Maps also offers full-text search that includes what’s written in reviews (from third-party sources, too). As best I can tell, Bing Maps doesn’t include full-text search.

The Big Question About Foursquare

The big question is: Will becoming a local search engine change how people use Foursquare?

Up until now, when Foursquare was mostly about points and badges and getting rewards for checking in at favorite places, the service was generally useless to local businesses like accountants, lawyers, insurance agents and so forth. It was best suited for restaurants, hotels, stores, salons and other places where customers visited frequently.

In other words, it wasn’t as much about discovery as it was about the game and rewards.

But will that change now that Foursquare has much stronger search and discovery tools? Will Foursquare users start to think things like, Maybe I should see if there are any good auto repair shops on Foursquare? Any good real estate agents? Any good dentists?

It’s easy to think that’ll never happen, but keep this in mind: When it began, Yelp was also seen as a restaurant review site. But, as Yelp has eagerly pointed out, there’s a lot more diversity on the site now in both reviews (as shown below) and the types of businesses adding/claiming listings there.


Obvious Suggestion

The obvious piece of advice here to small business owners that get regular foot traffic: Add or claim your Foursquare listing, just to be safe. User behavior may not change much – soon, or ever. But who knows? Foursquare has an extremely loyal user base that’s contributed 1.5 billion check-ins, tens of millions of tips and more than 500,000 lists.

Foursquare has a business page/guide with all the information needed to get started on that.

And, obviously, once you’ve claimed or created your listing there, build it out with correct info (consistent Name, Address, Phone is imperative), photos, and so forth. And if you’re in an adventurous mood, think about creating a Foursquare special to see if it attracts attention and foot traffic.

If you’re just getting started as a new business on Foursquare, I’d love to hear your experiences. Drop me a note when you can.

Comments (8)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Matt Siltala says:

    I have been preaching this to my clients for ages now (get on and claim the listing and make sure all info is correct) … I also feel that the Foursquare “Tips” area is going to be the new “Reviews” for these type of sites and will be big for local. Good tips IMO are just as good as reviews ie: try the Cuban its the best sandwich ever” … when you log in and see these kind of things … and they are legit it makes you want to do just that. Thanks for posting this Matt.

  2. I like Foursquare only because there are more people using it than SCVNGR. I think the flexibility and gaming functions on SCVNGR are more robust and offer the store owner more value. That said…if a business hasn’t claimed their Foursquare location they are missing out almost as much as not claiming their Google Place. I wonder if the Google+ check-in and personal search will end up competing with this.

  3. Andrea says:

    I would say there are untapped local markets and using four square we can make local searches pretty easy and make it good reach to the customers. If you are concentrating on the local audience, I think four square is the right move. Google and other search engines will have giants on the line but here, Four square will make definitely a break through for local businesses.

  4. Chris says:

    As the general public becomes more comfortable and familiar with the enhanced functionality, we will all start using Foursquare to look for a good dentist!

    OK, totally biased opinion.

    But it does make sense, in terms of usability. We all want to hear peer experience as part of our shopping mode (big leap assumption) – so now we have these properties building audiences and enhancing user experience, which allows the consumer the choice of connecting with the environments they most identify with.

  5. Shefiu says:

    It’s certainly great news that Foursquare have expanded on their search and discovery tools. I think once the news of the new changes spread around, they will attract different sets of local businesses and customers.

Leave a Reply

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