Mobile Marketing Search Marketing

Is Foursquare the Latest Dark Horse in the Local Search Race?

October 15, 2012

Foursquare announced today that it will soon be “reinventing local search for everyone” by putting to work its bevy of data to power the all-new Foursquare Explore. Previously a feature for registered users within the mobile app, Explore is now available for all searchers on

This is an interesting move for the company, which has been slowly pivoting from a “check-in” service to a flourishing discovery engine able to serve up recommendations based on user behavior. With this update, Foursquare moves beyond its app and into the playing field of local search heavyweights like Google+ Local and Yelp.

Foursquare Explore is using data from its 3 billion check-ins and 30 million tips (by the way, as of July 2012 had roughly the same amount of “reviews” at 27 million) to serve up public recommendations. Below is a sample results page for the term “brunch,” as searched from our New York location in TriBeCa.

While registered users see more personalized Explore recommendations (based on friends’ data, past check-ins, etc.), non-registered users still benefit from other data the engine has collected, such as what’s trending/popular in the area, which locations are newest, where experts have checked-in etc.

This is obviously a big move for Foursquare, which has come under question as of late for offering few revenue-generating products. The company announced its first of such products, Promoted Updates, earlier this year.

The update is big for brands, as well. Marketers will want to keep a close eye on this update, monitoring just how popular the new Foursquare Explore becomes as compared to some of the more established local search engines. Foursquare’s user base offers a unique and differentiated type of local data, which includes virtual check-in based data from their loyal user base, user-generated content and tens of millions of tips.

Other location-based services, like Yelp, have made recent moves to impact their own search relevance footprint. In July, Yelp partnered with Bing Local Search – and with Apple’s iOS6 update the company also has a footprint in the new iPhone mapping application.

Google remains the dominant local search solution for mapping, but it too is looking for more business review data, including ratings, reviews and check-in sources. Some of this has been captured via Google Places, their various local apps (now Google+ Local) or through acquisition efforts like what we saw with Zagat.

Activity from within the Foursquare mobile app itself will be critical to the success of Foursquare within the active local search saga. If the platform can continue growing its user base (25 million-strong currently) – and public adoption for pure local search – its ability to crowdsource powerful data (e.g. tips, reviews and check-ins) will be a critical ingredient in competing with the bigger local search engine players. If the local search engine can produce enough relevance, its ad-based platform could be a new channel for location-based businesses to sponsor themselves.

As an immediate first step, brands should submit and claim their local businesses in Foursquare. Similar to other local search providers, like Google+ Places, maintaining fresh and accurate business location information within Foursquare will be important.