Facebook Local Search

Facebook is working on a new local search feature. You can try it yourself by typing in “restaurants near me” at your Facebook account. Tech Crunch suggests that the Facebook local search feature may not yet be available to everyone. I can search for local restaurants and get results, but for very little else. Local gyms, produce stands, toy stores, doctors — nope.

When I tried “women’s clothing near me” after reading Tech Crunch’s results for this query, I was offered a clothing-related fundraiser in St. Louis, a mere 357.5 miles away. Not my definition of “near me.” I also got a collage of clothing-related photos rather than a three-pack of clothing stores.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the feature is unavailable. My “restaurants near me” search gave me several restaurants my friends and family have Liked. My friends and family aren’t liking local gyms or hair salons, and local women’s clothing stores aren’t even on their radar in most cases. Facebook local search just doesn’t have enough data to work with. In short, if you don’t have friends and family who have Liked a particular type of business, Facebook won’t give you a list of those businesses.

Google’s list of restaurants near me is completely different from the one Facebook came up with. Google local search relies on factors like website rankings, local stature, and geographic proximity. My friends’ Likes don’t affect their listings.

Google also had answers for all my “near me” queries — toy stores to produce stands. At this point, there’s not much reason for consumers to choose the Facebook local search option over Google.

But you might want to get in on the ground floor. We know from experience that early rankings can be solid rankings. So what should you do to show up in Facebook local search?

How does Facebook local search rank businesses?

A quick look at the “restaurants near me” screenshot at the top of this post gives some clues.

Likes are definitely part of it. Through many tests, we never saw a single option in Facebook local search that wasn’t liked by friends and family. On the other hand, Hugo’s was liked by 34 of my best friends and it still shows up below Wright’s BBQ.

Proximity isn’t that important. Wright’s (never heard of it) is nearly five miles away from my computer at the moment, while Hugo’s is less than a mile.

In testing, proximity doesn’t seem to be as important to Facebook as to Google. “Toy stores near me” gave me zero local results, instead choosing to show a Texas toy store and a local factory. “Toy stores in Fayetteville, AR,” my location, showed the three nearby toy stores I know about. However, none of my friends or family had Liked any of them. One showed check-ins from a couple of acquaintances, but there were no likes.

So what is it about “near me” that causes Facebook to show an Austin shop when it has three local toy stores in its database?

Could it be the websites? The three toy stores’ websites make a nice example set. One is a Big Box store with a Facebook page linking to the corporate website. The second had a “coming soon” page. The third had an okay website. The far-off toy stores I was offered — in addition to having Likes from people I knew — had better websites. But the correlation is not strong enough to suggest that Facebook is ranking websites.

Quality of Facebook participation could be a factor. The Facebook pages of businesses that showed up in Facebook local search were regularly updated and had fairly large numbers of Likes.

Reviews and Recommendations matter. At this point, you might be thinking that reviews are the main component — Wright’s has a 4.9, after all, while Hugo’s has a mere 4.7. But note that the Savoy tea room also has a 4.9. Here’s the result of testing: 4. anything will get you on the list. Less than 4.0? Forget it. Listed businesses generally had been recommended many times.

Another reason to get Likes

Facebook Likes don’t correlate with sales, Google rankings, or web traffic. But they do seem to increase your chances of showing up in Facebook local search. At least for the friends and family of people who Like you. Math tells us that getting more Likes will increase your chances of showing up.

More recommendations and good reviews also will help. Post a sign in your waiting room asking patients to check in while they wait. Likes are stronger than check ins, but we saw some businesses in the Facebook local search list with check-ins.

Finally, being a good citizen of Facebook helps. Post regularly with nice photos and converse with people often enough to remind them to recommend you.

Worth the effort?

Does it make sense to put some resources into your Facebook page? Especially as Facebook has been backing off when it comes to benefits for businesses, plenty of businesses have decided not to bother.

So far, Facebook local search seems to work best when you’re in a town with enough people and companies to get plenty of Likes. We saw no health and wellness organizations in local search in our town, even though we have clients in that space who have good numbers of Likes. But remember, it’s not just your Likes — if your town doesn’t have three strong contenders for the list, they just won’t make a list.

This might be a time to cooperate with your competitors.

By the way, if you’re ever looking for a restaurant in Fayetteville, Hugo’s would be an excellent choice.

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