Facebook Ramping Up Its Local Search Efforts

Facebook has dabbled in local search in the past, but the social media pioneer appears to be looking to take the next step. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said as much in a stakeholder meeting in June 2016:

“We think video is going to be a huge opportunity, same thing with search, and Instagram is really just starting to grow meaningfully as a business as well.”

In March 2017, Facebook confirmed to TechCrunch that it’s testing a more robust version of its current local search function. A Facebook spokesperson added, “We’re testing a new way to discover where to go and what to do around you.”

Enhanced Local Search Functionality

Facebook users are now able to use the increasingly popular “near me” searches to find recommendations on restaurants, shopping, hotels, bars, and other local businesses in the area.

For example, when I enter “restaurants nearby” in Facebook’s search bar, it returns a list of restaurants in the area along with a map and the restaurants’ star rating on Facebook.

After clicking on “See All”, I’m then taken to a more extensive list of restaurants that displays a larger map, business address, relative pricing, Facebook rating, if the restaurant is open, and if a Facebook friend has dined at or “likes” that specific restaurant.

The results vary based on whether you’re using desktop or mobile, but in my test were very similar.

Facebook is also auto-completing suggestions in the search box. (below)

One additional feature on desktop that did not show up on mobile included user reviews to give a sense of what to expect from the restaurant. (below)

The enhanced local search functionality has not been highly publicized by Facebook, which indicates they still have a ways to go. But considering Facebook’s highly personalized data points, perhaps it’s not all that ambitious to imagine a day when users consult the app not only for photos of their nieces and nephews, but also to find where to eat, drink, shop, and sleep. For local businesses, that means a whole new frontier of SEO opportunity, where a top ranking on Places is as highly coveted as a top ranking on Google.

Based on Zuckerberg’s comments and Facebook’s consistent noodling in the search world, it’s becoming clearer that full-scale public adoption IS the long-term goal.

It’s important to remember that while flashy new features like Facebook Live or Messenger Day grab the headlines, more practical updates that tap into our day-to-day behavior usually carry more impact. Facebook’s decision to expand its local search function is a necessary reaction – not an inspired dream.

It’s a development that we’ve had our eyes on as we continue to emphasize the local nature of the search world. Location3 VP of Agency Development Tom Lynch has been a leading source of insight and analysis, earning Facebook’s Blueprint Certification for Facebook Advertising.

Location3 has long been an intense advocate of local search as the cornerstone of a successful digital marketing strategy. Our combination of proprietary technology and in-house expertise has put us in a very favorable position to capitalize on the rapidly expanding world of local search marketing, specifically for multi-unit businesses and franchise systems.

So with all due respect to Mr. Zuckerberg, we say, “It’s about time!”

If You Needed More Evidence…

Many Facebook users might be unaware that such features currently exist because the features are either unavailable to all users or out of their main feed. But Facebook has been pushing toward local search functionality since at least 2012. Here are a few more related developments that we’ve seen recently.

Facebook Call-To-Action Feature

In October 2016, Facebook released this feature as a way its users could make appointments or reservations within a business’ Facebook Page. Through third-party integrations with Delivery.com, Slice, MyTime, Fandango, and Ticketmaster among others, users can order food, book an appointment, or buy event tickets directly from the business’ Facebook Page.

Facebook Messenger Day

In March, Facebook launched its take on Snapchat Stories in the form of Messenger Day. The feature allows users to post images or videos through the Facebook Messenger app.

Facebook’s spin on the feature is that Messenger Day is about creating your day with those in your area as opposed to retelling your day for all. It appears Facebook is looking to capitalize on the more-than-1-billion existing users and 400 million users who make voice and video calls every month across the world.

Facebook VP of Messaging David Marcus confirmed to TechCrunch that Facebook will likely be inserting ads between posts, making it the first ad-ready feature within the Messenger app.

Facebook City Guides

Facebook City Guides was also released in March – a feature that allows users to check out which cities their friends have visited and recommendations for places to go while visiting. By clicking on a city, users can see businesses and attractions their friends have visited within the city as well as “Places the Locals Go”.

A Facebook spokesperson commented on the rollout, noting it’s still being tested: “We’re testing a redesigned surface on city Pages that showcases information about your city. This content already exists on Facebook, and during this test we’ll be centralizing it in a way that is more personalized and relevant to you.”

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