Tag Archives: Facebook Places

Facebook Local is the social network’s stab at Yelp, Foursquare

Facebook’s year-old Events app hasn’t turned into the Google Calendar competitor it was primed to become. So the social network is relaunching it and redirecting its aim at local search platforms like Yelp and Foursquare.

Last week, Facebook debuted Facebook Local, a refurbished version of its Events app that aims to help people find nearby things to do and places to go and make Facebook more of a player in local search.

[Read the full article on Marketing Land.]

Facebook officially rolls out food ordering as part of longer-term commerce evolution

Last October, Facebook announced a number of tools and partnerships supporting local discovery and commerce on the app. Among them were the following:

Booking and food ordering for PagesSocial recommendationsLocal event discovery

Last week, Facebook “officially launched” food ordering on Facebook. The platform is working with delivery aggregators and restaurant chains directly in order to be comprehensive:

Facebook combines options from a number of food ordering services like EatStreet, Delivery.com, DoorDash, ChowNow and Olo, as well as restaurants like Jack in the Box, Five Guys, Papa John’s, and Panera, so you don’t have to search through multiple places to find what you’re looking for. From local spots to national chains, Facebook connects you with old favorites and new discoveries in just a few taps. You can even check out what your friends have to say about a restaurant before you order your food.

Everything is managed within the Facebook app. Indeed, the company anticipates you’ll search for food, read reviews and then complete the transaction all through the app.

This kind of end-to-end experience adds greater utility for consumers and ultimately generates more revenue for Facebook via paid media — apparently there are no transaction fees for Facebook in this product.

Food ordering should be seen in the context of a larger and longer-term evolution at Facebook. Beyond its transition over time into a media company, Facebook has been building commerce tools and capabilities, many of which are directed toward local and offline transactions.

7 changes by Facebook that make it a real local search player

The race to steal market share from Google in local search has been futile. Google dominates search with over 63 percent market share, and in mobile, where the growth is, Google almost holds a monopoly at 95 percent. The dark horse in the race is Facebook — the one who can match Google’s Goliath size, audience and resources.

Yet it has never seriously challenged Google in search, and both companies have seemed somewhat satisfied to retreat to their respective corners of strength — Facebook deferring in the area of search, and Google shelving its Google+ social network.

With its huge base of users and volume of personal data on them, Facebook has great potential for helping users in their search for local products/services and helping businesses get found. All the components are there: millions of business pages, location data, behavior data, demographic information, social networks and engagement.

Yet despite the potential, Facebook hadn’t in recent years been able to effectively compete with the likes of Google in local search. Facebook is a great place to engage with existing customers and reach targeted audiences with sponsored posts in news feeds. However, customers still largely left the platform to find local businesses and information.

The Local Search Association (disclosure: my employer) recently released a report about how consumers in 12 cities of varying populations look for local business information. Search engines still dominate local search at 80 percent usage, compared to 48 percent for social networks.

But Facebook seems to be steadily improving its search function, preferring to move at a deliberate pace in developing its own proprietary technology instead of contracting with others (as it did previously with Bing).

About 18 months ago, I looked at Facebook’s search capability and concluded that it lacked complete and accurate data, returned poor search results and generally offered a bad user experience. It just didn’t work.

Since then, Facebook has made huge strides in improving that experience and is further beta testing some functions that incorporate social media data into local search to return results in a way even Google can’t match. And that might make Facebook search a threat to Google.

Below are seven ways Facebook is changing the way search works on its platform that may alter the local search landscape.

1. Facebook is using location much more effectively

Location is at the heart of local search, as reflected by Google’s emphasis on proximity and physical address in ranking local search results. Facebook now prominently highlights maps and directions at the top of local business pages on both the Home page and the About page.

Many searches from the top search box also automatically return results based on the user’s location – truly local search results. In earlier test searches, when location was not specified in a general search for “Italian restaurants,” I received results from India and New York. Today, only restaurant listings within two miles of me are listed, and the results include an address and map location. Clicking through to see all results opens the Places tab and provides more results all within three miles.

Below is a comparison of screen shots from November 2015 and June 2017 of results for Italian restaurants in Frisco. This illustrates the difference location information makes to a listing.

2. Places is given priority

Not only is location being used more effectively, but places are given much higher priority. Previously, the functionality of the Places tab was sorely lacking, indicating the low priority Facebook had assigned it. In my earlier test, a search for “Lawyers in Frisco” returned only one result: Tupy’s. If Tupy was once a lawyer, he answered a greater calling: He’s been serving tasty Mexican food in the Dallas area for over 60 years.

Facebook Places today is not only highly functional, it is the first information provided when relevant (i.e., when a search is made that implies a place or local business). For example, a search for “Texas Beaches” or “Plumbing services” returned Places results at the top, followed by pages of local businesses. And Facebook recognizes when location is not relevant — a search for “Wonder Woman movie” returned videos, news and a Wikipedia page.

3. Search results are much more robust and complete

The single non-relevant result in the search for lawyers described above was a common problem with many searches 18 months ago. That search for lawyers in Frisco today? It now returns 48 results of attorneys and law firms within 4.5 miles.

The results are not only much deeper, but they provide more valuable information. The lawyer listings show profile pictures, address, distance from me, whether it is still open, and star rating. The listings even describe what type of law the firm or attorney practices, such as family law, criminal law or estate planning.

4. Facebook improved indexing of its information

Another problem that Facebook had with search was poor indexing of information. I’d visited a pizza vendor in Washington, D.C. called Jumbo Slice Pizza. It’s not a small unknown joint — it’s been profiled by the Travel Channel and is the source of frequent posts by Facebook users showing off slices of pizza that are three times the size of the talking head about to consume it. Yet a search for “Jumbo Slice Pizza DC” didn’t pull up the place, or even my post from when I’d checked in at the restaurant.

Today, Facebook has fixed that indexing problem. It also helped improve its search function by adding suggested search terms that show up when a user is typing in the search box. These suggested search terms frequently pull up business categories that Facebook offers its business users to identify what kind of business they are. Thus, Facebook helps the searcher use search terms that will provide better results as indexed on the platform.

5. Facebook is beta testing new features, including integrating friend posts and local search

Facebook needs to make its search unique, not a lesser version of Google search. It’s doing that by incorporating its social media data with search results. First identified by TechCrunch, Facebook is testing with some users including mini profile pics below place listings of friends who have checked in or posted about the place or business.

This extra bit of information could make a world of difference for Facebook search. Word of mouth has long been considered the best lead generator for quality leads and conversion. It’s like reviews on steroids.

Consumers trust their friends, and that relationship provides important context for the review. They know whether this friend is a bargain hunter or enjoys the finer things; whether the friend has similar or different taste; whether he or she is analytical or jumps head-first into decisions. Knowing a friend you trust chose the business means that oftentimes, words aren’t even necessary. With the number of users and volume of information that Facebook has, this could be a game-changer in local search.

Facebook also is integrating interactive maps with pins for business locations.  Previous map results provided only a static map. While this isn’t an innovative development, given the importance of location to local search, this is a necessary addition to Facebook’s search function. The map functions much like Google or Apple Map local searches, providing business listings with pin locations on the map that can be pinched in or zoomed out.

6. Facebook is using crowdsourcing to build out its database

Facebook has one of the largest crowds on the planet, so leveraging that manpower for free seems like a pretty good idea. Google does it via its “local guides,” so it’s a somewhat proven idea.

Some users are being asked to provide input into details about places that they’ve checked into via Facebook Editor. When the user checks in or tags a place, a series of yes-or-no questions are asked, such as “Does this place have parking?” or “Is this the right location on the map?” or “Is this the same place as [another name]?”

Based on the information that I’ve been asked to verify, it appears that Facebook does have a fair amount of inaccurate information — leftovers from allowing users to create new place listings themselves. What appears to be a selective “trusted” editor function is an attempt to rectify that, but it also is making some users unhappy. Facebook didn’t ask users to be editors and just automatically asks those questions once a new post is created. A Google search for Facebook editor suggests searches for “delete Facebook editor,” “remove Facebook editor” and many other similar search terms — so it’s unclear how long Facebook will essentially force its users to help clean up its database.

Nevertheless, more accurate and comprehensive information would help further improve Facebook’s search function.

7. Facebook introduced City Guides

One subject users love to post about is travel. In fact, it’s been suggested that social media is helping boost travel, food and entertainment spending as users seek out experiences that they can share with friends and that reflect positively on themselves.

Facebook created City Guides that provides information on popular places such as restaurants and sights for frequently visited cities. Its distinguishing feature is a list of friends that have been to the city, and tapping on each friend brings up a list of places they’ve visited. Next, the City Guide lists “local favorites.” USA Today reports 56 percent of vacationing Americans prefer local dining experiences, so users are likely to find this information very helpful. The guides have a TripAdvisor feel that is more personalized or targeted and adds a rich surf-and-discover function to Facebook’s local search experience.

How to make sure you’re found on Facebook search

All of the above improvements to Facebook’s search function give users more reason to stay on Facebook, spend more time on the platform and consume more content. Facebook is finally making a realistic foray into local search and has the potential to significantly grow usage, which in turn can help small businesses that already love the engagement it provides to existing customers.

Thus, it makes sense for a local business to review its business page “About” section and the way its information shows up in search results to make sure it captures the increasing search traffic Facebook hopes to deliver. Here are a few tips to get started:

Review your Facebook business profile and make sure it is complete. This is similar to the Google My Business (GMB) profile that includes contact information, details about your business and interactive functions you can adopt.Verify that location information is accurate and returns a physical map location that shows up at the top of your business profile when your page is displayed. While the map pin should be automatically generated when you provide an address, I have seen some businesses that do not display the location or map even when an address was provided.Add business categories that further describe your business. Although you are only asked for one business category when you create your Facebook page, you can return and edit the “About” section to add two more business categories that may help improve visibility, depending on the search terms used.Activate buttons that Facebook offers, such as call-to-click and appointment schedulers that help convert traffic to your page.Don’t leave blanks in any section that might trigger Facebook to crowdsource answers. Your answers will be the most reliable answers, even if you answer, “No,” or you indicate the question doesn’t apply to your business.

In closing, Facebook is making significant strides in local search, particularly in melding social media data with local search results. This may be enough to start turning the tide toward making it a major local search player as users discover and enjoy the search experience. Keep an eye out for even more developments, as Facebook’s unique data set will continue to allow it to provide more targeted and customized results. Will we see Facebook AdWords or Facebook SEO any time soon? I wouldn’t bet against it.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Is "Facebook Professional Services” Facebook’s Stealth Project To Beat Yelp?

Search Engine Land has learned about a new “Facebook Professional Services” area on Facebook, where the company appears to be taking direct aim at local search companies like Yelp and Google by offering listings of local businesses and services, complete with user reviews.

The new feature is desktop-only and hasn’t been announced by Facebook. We were tipped to it by Sreedev Sharma, who wrote a short post about the feature. Here’s what you’ll find:

Visitors to Professional Services are presented first with a page that has their current location preselected. Searches can be made within that area by typing into a dialog box that serves up business categories like plumbers, dentists, photographers, beauty salons, pharmacies, pizza places and so on.

The roster of categories is extensive. Down the page, there are at least 85 business types in an “Explore other services” section, and even more suggestions appear when you start typing into the search box. Need a recommendation for a taxidermist? Or the the best place to pick up supplies for a carnival? Facebook might be able to help, linking listings for the more than 50 million businesses that have Facebook Pages with people’s reviews.

Search results are displayed in a way that takes Facebook’s five-star rating system into account, but results aren’t strictly ranked by how many stars a business averages. Given Facebook’s deep knowledge of individual preferences, results are likely customized for users depending on their previous interactions with a business’s Page or whether someone they are connected with has reviewed a business on Facebook (We saw slightly different results when we were logged into Facebook compared to when we searched while logged out).

The results page displays businesses’ contact information and hours of business, and excerpts of reviews (with a link to see more reviews on the business’s Facebook Page). The services results page also includes a map that shows where businesses are located and links to similar businesses in adjacent areas.

People can also explore other areas in the feature, and the geographic range is also wide. Users can seek out the highest-rated hotels in Whangarei, New Zealand, or search for the best pizza in American Samoa.

It’s not clear how Facebook Professional Services may integrate with Facebook Places, the social network’s local search directory that provides people a way to explore geographic locations through the eyes of Facebook friends and strangers. Some believe that Places could be a potential Yelp killer, if only Facebook promoted it more and, crucially, made it available on mobile devices. Now, Facebook might have two Yelp killers in the works.

We’ve asked Facebook for comment and will update if we hear more.

Postscript:A Facebook spokesperson emailed us with this statement about the feature: “We’re in the early stages of testing a way for people to easily find more Pages for the services they’re interested in.”

Separately, Facebook told Greg Sterling that the feature has been live for about a month. For more analysis, see Greg’s post on Marketing Land: What You Need To Know About Facebook’s New Local Search “Test”

New Facebook Search: Local Ignored Again — Big Mistake

Facebook just launched its successor to Graph Search: Facebook Search. Facebook Search is the evolution of Graph Search and benefits from lots of user feedback since the launch of Graph Search in early 2013.

It’s available in US English for the PC and mobile app for the time being. Users can now search Facebook for posts by friends or people/entities that they follow. The results are personalized.

Users can only search for what they can already see on the site. The exception is hashtags. Facebook Search will allow anyone to search for particular hashtags and see results from outside their networks.

For more on the mechanics of Facebook Search see Martin Beck’s posts on Marketing Land or Search Engine Land.

Facebook told us that that people on the site currently search for “people, photos and places.” Therefore it’s confounding and completely mysterious why the company hasn’t put a bigger emphasis on local search — or any emphasis for that matter. Facebook Search, at launch, emphases “people and posts” but not places.

Places was allegedly a primary category for Graph Search. But places have not been prioritized in this release of the new Facebook Search. You can still search for places as in the past. There’s just no local search upgrade.

Above is a screenshot of a Nearby Restaurants search under the previous Graph Search functionality. The new results (if I’m seeing them now) look pretty similar. I haven’t yet tested mobile.

Facebook has an enormous opportunity in local search. It has more than 20 million business pages and tons of ratings and review-like content on the site. People currently use it to validate businesses and to help them make decisions about where to spend. One can argue that Facebook has more “reviews” (defined to include ratings) than anyone else online.

Therefore it’s kind of inconceivable that the company doesn’t seem to be pursuing local more aggressively.

I’ve been waiting for a “Places app” for a couple of years and have had numerous conversations with people at Facebook about this and the corresponding opportunity. In fact, I don’t believe that Facebook can truly realize its small business advertising ambitions without developing a local search consumer experience.

It’s clear to me and others that were Facebook to create a more functional and user-friendly local search experience that the site/app would see massive, immediate usage — and all that implies for local and paid-search advertising.

Yet Facebook doesn’t seem to be fully attuned — dare I say “clued in” — to this. They’re not making local search a priority. However the recent launch (in July, 2014) of an upgraded Places Directory indicates that they’re not totally clueless about the opportunity. But the company needs to prioritize and push it further.

It won’t be able to compete successfully with the current, tepid Places search capability.

Especially in mobile, local search is a primary use case. Google and Bing have previously indicated that up to half of all mobile queries carry a local intent. Facebook could thus put itself right in the epicenter of this critical market with an new and more visible local search feature of the existing app or a stand-alone Places app — or both.

After listening to me rant for 20 minutes Facebook didn’t rule this out. However they seem to be considering local to be part of the longer-term opportunity. Yet opportunities don’t last forever.

Facebook Launches New Places Directory

Facebook has launched a new Places Directory, which is really an emerging local search site. Right now, it’s more accurately like “guided browsing.” It was first brought to our attention by Matteo Gamba.

The new Places mixes up Graph Search, the Page Locations API and other elements to make the directory a worthy supplement for some of your favorite local search and travel sites. It’s not quite yet a genuine substitute.

This also comes amid a revamping of local business Pages to put reviews front and center.

The new directory invites a Place lookup by city name or other place name. The search box doesn’t respond to all queries and even common local queries. For example, “best sushi London” doesn’t deliver any results. In my tests I also couldn’t look up individual businesses that I knew had Facebook Pages.

Over time this will probably change as Graph Search evolves.

Once in an specific location, users can select from among a list of standard categories: Restaurants, Hotels, Bars, Cafes, Attractions, Arts & Entertainment and others. Each category in turn yields lists of results, which appear to be ranked by ratings and network affinity to the user.

There are also additional social tools in the right margin to further filter results in a category. This filtering is not as “robust,” for example, as on a hotel site that provides a wide range of narrowing options to users.

When users drill down to the level of an individual business location you’re shown the business Page, which offers a reviews tab (as in the example above). There star ratings and user comments are visible. Though helpful and valuable, right now this content isn’t as complete or easy to consume as on Yelp or TripAdvisor for example.

There are multiple things Facebook can do to make these pages more useful. And as I mentioned elsewhere I think this is all a prelude to a Places app for smartphones. Interestingly, however, there’s no comparable mobile experience yet.

Within the current Facebook app you can see “nearby places” but this isn’t the same as what’s available through the new Places directory. Nor can you search for “New York Hotels” in the mobile app and get the same content as in the Places directory right now.

I would expect Facebook to rectify this relatively soon. The company knows that the dominant use case for its Places directory is ultimately mobile.

Still the new directory is a big step in the direction of local search, which has long been a very logical and even necessary step for Facebook as it seeks to provide more utility to users and bring more local business owners into the advertiser column.

Postscript: Facebook indicated to me in email that this actually rolled out in July and was just noticed. When users are signed out they have access to publicly available information about cities, including publicly shared photos, reviews and posts. However results are customized for those who are logged in.