Google is Crawling Foursquare for Local Citations (but not Gowalla)

Filed in Local Search by Matt McGee on March 19, 2010 12 Comments

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 on Google Maps, you get plenty of search results scattered all over the U.S. and a few in Canada.

Foursquare - Google Maps citation

In the left window, Google shows the prominent businesses and locations that have Foursquare citations.

But if you do a similar search for, you only get one result and …

Gowalla - Google Maps citation

… 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:

Foursquare business profile

Gowalla business profile

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.

Foursquare Citation Bug

The same thing happens on other listing/citation combos, like this Google Maps place page for the El Cortez building, which has a citation from the Sole Luna Cafe page on Foursquare.

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?

  1. Go to and search for your business.
  2. If it’s there, great.
  3. 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.

Comments (12)

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  1. Will Scott says:


    There’s another potential problem too: If a user effectively creates the business listing from their mobile device they tend to be incomplete.

    If you go to Foursquare’s web site you can make a nice listing but from a phone or other mobile it’s tough.

    One thing I’ve started noticing which I think it super-cool is the inclusion of “Special Nearby” messages if you are checking in. I’ve seen this at a local place, Ninja Sushi, with a Free Drink for Check-in special (2 if you’re the mayor) ACROSS THE STREET at Squeal BBQ.

    Screen shot from my iPhone:

    • Matt McGee says:

      Thx guys. Will – I saw one of those “nearby specials” when we were at dinner in Portland. Smart marketing if you ask me. I also have an email in to Foursquare about plans to let business owners claims and fix their listings because, as you say, there are a lot of incomplete (and incorrect) business profiles in there that were created by users on their phones.

  2. Mike Ramsey says:

    Sweet post Matt! I have had this “social IYP for citations” mind frame for a while. But over the last few months I have been seeing the power of utilizing them for more than just citations and establishing your own marketing plan for each individual site. It is definitely not the first thing I would focus on for local, but if you have your eggs in order and are looking for a fun place to pick up traffic and following, then I think it’s time to treat some of these social IYP’s like you would your Google LBC listing.

    You nailed that idea with this! Hope all is well…

  3. adam says:

    I knew it would only be a matter of time. I’ve been using 4square for a few weeks and think it will become very powerful. Awesome post Matt.

  4. Nice post – you had to figure this was only a matter of time honestly.

    @Will Scott – specials nearby came out the end of last year and is tied into the
    Most of the superusers I know (including me) fix locations when we come across empty ones but this all started recently as well. As soon as foursquare started verifying your location based on gps you aren’t required to put an address in anymore. But before that, people would have to put the address or they got lazy and put a street name…

    Gowalla doesn’t ask for an address when you create a location via mobile – Name and category and it drops a pin where you’re located. There are a lot in the database that have addresses but they’ve populated that data from somewhere… maybe localeze? I’d have to figure that one out.

    Either way… no matter how much 4sq or gowalla tries – people will screw up data… it just takes good moderators to clean it up and be active with it. Hell even Google can’t keep it’s information straight and relies on it’s users.
    Just proves that businesses need to be proactive in social media and make sure they’re info is correct and very visible and search-engine readable (not in flash).

    Or until the botnet rises and it figures out how to do all this crap on its own 🙂


  5. GaryPaulson says:

    Very interesting. Checked my little corner of southeast Washington state and 14 businesses show up in Foursquare but not mine. Wondering what caught Google’s attention on these?

    It is interesting that Gowalla does have my office as one of 2 local businesses that show up with a site: search.

    Wondering if Twitter mentions or something else gets the link into Google.

  6. Marc says:

    Nice find, I was wondering the same thing last week but didn’t get a chance to check. I have been playing with foursquare ( for a few weeks also and found it to be really useful.

  7. Caliban says:

    Great post Matt!

    The question of whether to invest my engergies in either Foursquare or Gowalla was heavy on my mind. It looks to me from this that as Google is supporting Foursquare, so I should be.

    Your totaly right as well regarding the opportunity, if you get in quick before everyone else then you’ll have a massive advantage over your competitors. I think managing Foursquare promotions are going to be easy to start but difficult to master.

    I look forward to hearing more!

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