Thanks to a good question on Twitter from John McPhee, I discovered this week that Google is crawling business profiles on Foursquare and using them as citations in Google Maps. They’re not, however, crawling Gowalla business profiles. More on that below, along with some bugs in how Google is using Foursquare as a citation source. First, let’s look at what’s going on from a more general perspective.
Foursquare as a Google Maps Citation
You can use the common site: search command to find out if any site is being used as a citation source in Google Maps. And when you search for site:foursquare.com on Google Maps, you get plenty of search results scattered all over the U.S. and a few in Canada.
In the left window, Google shows the prominent businesses and locations that have Foursquare citations.
But if you do a similar search for site:gowalla.com, you only get one result and …
… that result isn’t a citation from Gowalla’s business listings, it’s from this post on the Gowalla blog that specifically gives the name, address, and phone number of Cost Plus World Market. (Coincidentally, the other three businesses on that blog post don’t seem to be getting credit for this citation.)
Why Foursquare but not Gowalla?
The Marketplace Deli in San Diego has this business page on Foursquare, and this business page on Gowalla. You can click through to both and figure out in about three seconds why Foursquare is being used as a citation source and Gowalla isn’t. To make it clear, just look at these two screenshots:
Nevermind that the names are slightly different. The problem is that the deli’s street address is nowhere to be found on its Gowalla business profile page. D’oh!
From speaking on background with Google recently, I get the impression that they’d like to be able to use Gowalla as a reference source for local businesses, but the lack of obvious address information is preventing that right now. Maybe down the road, they’ll come up with a way to get around that … or maybe Gowalla will put addresses on business profile pages.
Problems with Foursquare Citation Data
As is sometimes the case in local, the data isn’t always perfect. For example, if you look at the place page for Mukashi restaurant in San Diego, you’ll see a Foursquare citation … but that citation points to (and comes from) the Foursquare listing that I showed above — the Marketplace Deli.
Google says this is a problem related to clustering, and the maps team is working to improve this part of its system. (It’s worth noting that, in the second example, the El Cortez references Cafe Sole Luna on its web site, which opens the door for confusion to some degree.)
What’s this mean for local businesses?
In one word: opportunity.
Longer version: There’s a lot of buzz about the power of Foursquare to promote your business as a word-of-mouth tool. It’s essentially a location-based game that rewards individuals who consistently visit locations (businesses, landmarks, you name it). And what local business can afford to ignore a tool that encourages people to walk in your door?
There are plenty of stories about businesses smartly rewarding their most loyal Foursquare-using customers with special discounts and prizes. There was this story recently about a restaurant creating a special event around Foursquare: Restaurant Owner Increases Sales by 110% with Foursquare Swarm Badge Party. This is all smart business.
Opportunity also exists in local SEO. You probably know by now that local citations are like links and can help increase your visibility in Google Maps/local search.
So what to do?
- Go to Foursquare.com and search for your business.
- If it’s there, great.
- If it’s not there, you can create an account and then use this form to add your business into their database.
While you’re at it, read this Foursquare for Businesses page and give serious thought to signing up to offer specials/discounts via Foursquare.