Here’s Why I Think Foursquare Can Be a Major Local Search Player

Filed in Local Search by Matt McGee on December 19, 2012 8 Comments

foursquare-icon-150Imagine if Google re-ranked local businesses based on the time of day that the businesses are most popular with their customers…

Google does a lot of customization of search results, mostly based on what you search for, what you click on, where you’re located, who you’re connected to socially, and things like that. See this great Search Engine Land article on personalized search to see the many ways it happens.

To my knowledge, Google doesn’t change its local rankings based on the time of day and knowing when a business is popular. (If anyone knows otherwise, please speak up in the comments.) But that would be a great feature in some situations, wouldn’t it? Maybe you’re looking for a good meal at 11 pm — knowing what restaurants are popular at that hour might help.

Foursquare can do that now.

As About Foursquare wrote today, business profiles on Foursquare Explore are now showing “Popular Hours” — based, no doubt, on the data that Fousquare has about what times people check-in, leave tips, post photos, and so forth.

foursquare-popular-hours

I don’t know if Foursquare is using the hourly data for its Explore search results, but it could. And that’s why I think Foursquare can be a serious player in local search:

It has a ton of real-life local data from actual human behavior. It’s not just “popular hours” — think of all the data Foursquare has about local businesses and consumer behavior.

Foursquare doesn’t have to rely on how well a website has done SEO, or whether a business has consistent NAP data across the web — it knows what businesses are actually popular with a lot of consumers. And it can also add on the social element of recommendations based on friend/connection activity, too.

It’s no wonder Apple is apparently interested in working with Foursquare on local data. I would be, too, if I was building a local search engine.

Comments (8)

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  1. Foursquare does use the popular times data to determine which results to show in Explore. Check in the morning and you’ll see breakfast places and coffee shops. Late at night you’ll find more bars and 24-hour eateries. As you can see, they’re tracking it by day, too, so brunch places pop up more on Saturdays and Sundays.

    And you mention that they’re able to determine which places are popular amongst a lot of people. That plays a part in in, but they’re able to look and see a guy who’s visited a bunch of different Mexican places is a regular at one Mexican place. That spot is then more likely to be recommended since an expert in that category (or 25 experts more likely) loves it.

    It’s incredible what they’ve been able to determine from the unique dataset they have. It makes them a serious player in local search for sure.

  2. Matthew Hunt says:

    Matt, You bring up some really interesting points I never thought about as a ranking factor… like time and real user behavior. My mind is buzzing now. I don’t know if that would work for ALL businesses but it could for entertainment based businesses.

  3. Matt McGee says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Chris — and now that you mention it, I have seen food-related results change based on time of day like that.

    Matthew – true that some of this data is only applicable in certain verticals, but that’s the case with anything Foursquare-related. I don’t imagine a lot of people checking in at their divorce attorney’s office, for example. :-) But time of day can be a ranking factor, even day of the week in some cases like “things to do in Seattle” — do people do certain things on weekends that they don’t do on other days?

  4. Phil Rozek says:

    Great post, as always, Matt!

    My opinion so far has been that FourSquare will never be truly a “major” local search player, because there’s little representation for service-based (as opposed to bricks-and-mortar) businesses. Sure, they can sorta kinda hang their shingle on 4S by adding their listings, but obviously check-ins aren’t part of the equation.

    Will 4S continue to grow among bricks-and-mortar businesses – and especially their customers? Yeah, probably. But there’s just such a HUGE swath of businesses and customers for whom it’s irrelevant at the moment, so *if* 4S’s goal is to become a true local-search giant, I would think there’d need to be a way to accommodate those businesses. But maybe that’s not the goal, for all I know!

  5. Mike Zaremba says:

    @Phil – that is a very valid point! Maybe 4S will become a niche brick-and-mortar search engine?

    What a coincidence, though, as I have been working this week on a 4S post! And I actually have researched on how service industries can utilize 4S. It’s a work around but I think it’ll still work.

    Thanks for the new perspective Matt!

  6. Phil Rozek says:

    @Mike

    That’s my thinking. Obviously, bricks-and-mortar is a pretty darn big “niche,” but unless and until 4S accommodates service-area businesses, it can only reach a certain level of relevance and reach.

    ‘Course, maybe 4S’s best bet is to focus on doing one thing really, really well (appealing to b&m businesses), rather than to try to be everything to everyone.

    Can’t wait to see your post, BTW!

  7. Matt, I’m with you. In fact, I think Foursquare may be one of the biggest winners in local for 2013. The value of their data continues to grow and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them purchased before 2013 ends.

  8. Matt, I have read thru your comments and those responders and find it all interesting? But, if there is a local couple sitting at their kitchen table discussing the need for a fence and there is a local fence contractor sitting at his office what clear path makes a LOCAL connection? Remembering that each has never heard of 4S, both have a computer, both have a phone, neither has a WEB Site and neither has the slightest idea of the Keyword/Keyword Phrase consequences?

    joe
    Area Code Shopper
    Modesto, Ca.

    ps Would it not be advantageous for the Supplier of Materials to the Local Fence Contractor too Partner to assist in the path of connection?

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