Business locations have unwittingly joined a world of local social gaming. The use of “check-in” technologies, and buzz around this new kind of social activity has blossomed thanks to the recent growth of sites like Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt, MyTown and Brightkite. These are just some of the technologies out there that create social utility and a bit of fun around the everyday places we visit.
Through GPS functionality, mobile browsers and apps have empowered consumers to share their daily adventures, longitude by latitude, tweet by tweet, at any given second in time. For example, Foursquare allows its users to quickly find a location, check in and supply content that is relevant to their geographic location. For places of business, a user may want to inform his or her social community in real time of his or her location and thoughts about the spot. This might include a traditional status update, advice or a review of the location itself.
The above example shows how a new venue is entered, resulting in a new Foursquare address (screen shot below). Once created, users of the Foursquare community can now check-in, create dialog, and battle for “geographic domination” at this location or business.
For businesses, there are SEO implications from all this location-based socialness.
As Web sites such as foursquare.com facilitate user-generate content, they also enable natural search visibility via Google. This realization is an important factor in their ability to grow user profiles, content, and popularity. Once a location is created by these sites, they are indexed by the engines and become searchable.
- Foursquare Google Index Count – About 300,000 of their “venue” pages are now indexed
- Loopt Google Index Count – About 22,000 of their “places” pages are now being indexed
- Gowalla Google Index Count – About 8,000 of their “spot” pages are now being indexed of
Getting indexed by Google is clearly valuable, as these types of local content pages can rank for geographic related searches. For example, a Google search for “360i Atlanta” results in a Foursquare venue URL ranked in position 3. On the resulting Foursquare page, users will find some basic info about 360i such as the business address and phone number, plus other user-generated Content (UGC) like shouts, tips and more, which all contribute to the page’s keyword relevance.
Foursquare isn’t the only mobile application contributing to local search relevance. Yelp.com embraced SEO best practices years ago, improving their organic visibility in Google’s results for local search queries aligned with businesses. The site now offers a mobile “check in” system a la Foursquare.
A big mystery in the mobile/ local page saga is Google itself. They have not allowed their own “Google Places” pages to become indexed in their web catalog. At the moment, they disallow /places/ URLs via robots.txt. So Google’s Place pages are not currently indexed, although there are SEO-friendly Google Place URLs available that could be indexed in the future. [Example of Google Place page: http://maps.google.com/places/us/folly-beach/center-street/39/-woodys-pizza.]
With Google’s renewed focus on mobile, will they eventually create a mobile app that allows their Gmail users or other community members to do “check-ins” at local businesses? Don’t be surprised if this happens. They could certainly integrate UGC into their own Google Places along with our Google Profiles (example below). This is speculative, but certainly possible as Google looks to expand its user profiles reach, with social and local relevance.
Regardless of what happens next or who becomes the next Geographic Twittering platform, below are some local social SEO tips that marketers should consider:
*Check out these sites, notably Foursquare and Google Places to review your “venue” pages:
- Ensure each of your business locations is accurate.
- Do you have duplicate listings under various platforms?
- Claim or verify your listings whenever possible on each platform.
- Listen to your customers and learn whenever possible – is there buzz happening about you right now from a customer in your store?
*Consider adding outbound links from your own location pages to your presence on Foursquare and Yelp!
- If you have enough, create an index sitemap.
*Learn more about Foursquare for Business and sign up or ponder customer loyalty concepts.
This space is changing fast! Google’s Buzz and layering onto of local maps is just another recent example of how this environment between mobile, social and location buzz is evolving. Understanding the major players and technologies today will help marketers test and learn until things shake out.