For the past two years, Foursquare has been working hard to turn their enormous collection of check-in data into the world’s premiere local search engine. Foursquare users have known this for a long time, but the recent launch of a search-focused homepage accessible by everyone has turned the rest of the world’s attention to Foursquare’s search engine side.
Just like they’ve asked about Google — and Yahoo! and Alta Vista before that — businesses are looking for ways to get to the top of the results on foursquare to gain more exposure. If you’re the owner of a sushi restaurant, you naturally want it to be seen as the first result when someone searches for “sushi” in your area. More than 25 million users are already using foursquare to find the cool places nearby and more are joining every day, so the longer you delay, the longer it will take you to catch up.
For users, the great part of Foursquare’s search engine is that it’s virtually ungameable by traditional SEO tactics. You can’t get to the top by creating outside links to your page or optimizing wording on your page to match the ideal keyword density — or by hiring an SEO firm that “guarantees to get you to the top of Google.”
For marketers, that creates a challenge. You have to be creative, but there are ways to get your business listed higher.
Check-ins. Check-ins. Check-ins.
Don’t be shy about asking people to check in. Put a Foursquare window sticker on your front door. Add the logo to your menu. Write it on the chalkboard. Do whatever you have to do to get people to think about checking in when they’re in your business. Many casual users only think about Foursquare when they’re someplace cool they want to share with their friends, but there’s no reason you can’t ask them to do it at a dry cleaner or grocery store.
The best way to encourage people check in is to offer a check-in special on Foursquare. If you give them something worthwhile in return, they’re much more likely to take the time to pull out their phone and check in. Percent discounts, free drinks/appetizers (Chili’s offers free chips and salsa; it’s cheap, but effective) and free/reduced cover charges are particularly effective.
Every check-in is giving you another “vote” to move up in the search results, so don’t be afraid to publicize your check-in special places other than Foursquare. Regular Foursquare users probably saw your deal when they checked in, but you have an opportunity to convince new people to sign up for the app and send a check-in your way. Every little bit helps.
Learn to love likes
Just like Facebook, Foursquare now allows users to “like” just about anything: tips, specials, check-ins and, yes, venues. Likes are one of the primary inputs for Foursquare’s new venue rating system, which appears alongside your listing in the search results and on your venue page (on the website, at least). Rankings are affected by the venue ratings, so more likes can have an impact on your position in the results.
There’s no reason you can’t remind users to like your venue, using some of the same ways you asked them to check in, like signage, menus or even a note in the folder with their check. As a side benefit when they like your venue they’ll also see your local updates in their Foursquare news feed when they’re nearby, giving you a good way to communicate news and specials to your loyal customers.
Cultivate tips, photos and lists
To some degree, the number of tips, photos and lists your business is added to affect your ranking in Foursquare’s results. For the past three years, Joe Sorge, owner of AJ Bombers in Milwaukee, has been offering a free cookie to any Foursquare user who writes a tip on his venue page, resulting in more than 330 tips. That, along with his tireless efforts to get users to check in (he’s written a book about it), have pushed AJ Bombers to the top of the Foursquare search results for burger joints in Milwaukee.
Offering users a small token for adding a photo or a tip or saving your venue to a list (or all three!) can certainly help your efforts to move up in the Foursquare rankings.
Make sure your listing information is up to date
It doesn’t have a direct impact on your ranking, but you should take the time to claim your business on Foursquare (by searching for it and clicking the “claim here” button in the lower right) and make sure your business details are correct. Add a useful description of your business that’s likely to draw customers in, add your hours of operation and make sure your phone number and Twitter handle are listed. Check the categories and make sure the most relevant ones are listed, since Foursquare users can search by category. It’s also a good idea to do a search for common mispellings and make sure there aren’t any duplicates of your venue that could cause your check-ins to be split, thus diluting your ranking (you can report them under the Advanced Tools option in the venue dashboard).
If you own a restaurant, work with Foursquare’s menu provider, Single Platform, to make sure your menu is listed. It increases your visibility and helps Foursquare users to learn more about your pricing at a glance (thanks to the dollar-sign symbols shown on venue listings).
Creativity goes a long way
With a little creativity, you can find ways to boost your ranking in Foursquare’s results. Now that you know the triggers Foursquare looks for, you can encourage users to do the things that help your business. Unlike Google, there’s no need to hire an expensive SEO firm or learn HTML. A few simple tricks you can do yourself can push your business higher in the rankings and help more people find their way through your doors.