If 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 Foursquare.com 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.
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.