Companies like Google, Bing, and Yelp have been doing it for years, but now Facebook has decided to get in on the local search action. They’ve incorporated local search into their already existing “Nearby” tool — a move that has left many wondering if there’s any pie Facebook doesn’t want a piece of.

How’s nearby different?

How will facebook impact local search

Currently, the update is only for mobile iOS and Android users, but if you have such a device you’ll notice the Nearby feature (found in the vertical side menu bar) shows you where your friends have “checked-in” (as it always did), and it now displays close-by businesses and locations you may find interesting. You can use the application to search for specific places or categories, which essentially makes Facebook a budding search engine and discovery tool.

How does it work?

The idea behind the tool is that you’ll get much more relevant search results if all your searches go through a filter governed by the actions/behaviors of your individual social network. So, for instance, if your friend Sally just went to a pizzeria and gave it five stars on the app, there’s a good chance Nearby will recommend that pizzeria to you the next time you’re searching for a restaurant. It’s important to note that you can only rate a business if you’ve actually checked-in there, but you can rate it any time after checking in (you don’t have to be at the establishment).

Besides star ratings, Facebook also ranks search results according to check-ins, Likes, and direct recommendations, and if it finds no opinions/actions from your friends it will look to the Facebook community as a whole.

Does the data only come from Facebook?

Improving local search

For now, all the information comes directly from Facebook’s own data; however, in an official Facebook blog post it was said the network plans to “add places info from third party services in the near future.”

Still, businesses who don’t already have a Facebook page may want to start one if they want to have a strong presence and be found on network. If you already have a Page, make sure the page is up to date and includes accurate contact information in your about section. Also, double check the category you chose (when setting up your page) is the optimal one for your business, because if you’re not categorized correctly you may never connect with your target audience.

What does this mean for other local search engines?

Obviously, Facebook doesn’t have as much widespread information as Google or Yelp, but it does have the advantage of around 600 million members who are already committed to the platform and may find it easier to search directly from an app they’re already using than switch to a different program. Also, businesses have total control over their pages, which may eliminate the problem of out-of-date info, which is common on some competitors’ services.

Currently there are no ads, but with Facebook’s recent penchant for monetization there’s a good chance there are some forthcoming. What also may slow down the venture’s success is it’s currently only available for mobile; although, that will likely change if the service takes off with mobile users.

Regardless, such a big move by the mega-network won’t go unnoticed by those who are already in the local search market, and companies like Yelp and Foursquare may need to up their games a bit if they hope to keep people’s attention. In fact, Yelp’s stock dropped more than 3.65% after Facebook announced the new addition to Nearby.

What does this mean for businesses?

how to improve local search results

Besides optimizing your Page, as a business owner, you’ll also need to devote energy to encouraging customers to post reviews, recommendations, ratings, etc. on Facebook. Of course, this may come as unwelcome news if you’re already pushing your customers towards other review sites, but how do you ignore such an influential network?

What do you think? Does Facebook have the potential to take word-of-mouth advertising to the next level, or is it delving into murky waters that are best left to legitimate search engines?

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