Web Marketing Today

For Local SEO, Use Check-ins at Foursquare and Facebook

Google has told us that the three primary types of ranking signals they use for local searches are Relevance, Prominence and Distance. Distance is pretty self-explanatory, involving the location of businesses and other places, and their relation to the person searching. Relevance is also pretty straightforward, involving using keywords on a business’s website and in its profile descriptions that are relevant to the company and its products and services. But, Google is more circumspect about what it uses for Prominence (i.e., “popularity”) signals. One such signal could easily be data from check-in services like Foursquare.

Google is constantly trying to identify and quantify things that can be used to assess relative popularity, as I explained recently in “Google Local Creates Need for ‘Local Social’ Strategy,” my previous article, on why it is a good idea for businesses to plan on incorporating social media marketing via the newly-launched Google+ Local pages.

A strong argument can be made that Google could now be using data from social-local-mobile — i.e., “SoLoMo” — check-in services as a rich source for Prominence signals. And the most popular check-in service is Foursquare.

If you’ve used Foursquare on your mobile phone, you’ll know that you can use the app to check-in to each place you visit, and the service awards you points for each check-in. It also compares your check-in points with anyone else you connect with — i.e., “friend” — on the service, and it awards the title of “Mayor” to whoever has the most check-ins for each location.

It’s the total numbers of interactions with each business location with which we are interested for local search optimization purposes — the flipside of the coin. On Foursquare’s website, there is a web page generated for each place, and Foursquare displays the total number of check-ins at that location, along with additional criteria such as the location’s Mayor, numbers of “likes,” a map, inclusions on users’ lists, tips, and links to other similar places. For example, here is the Foursquare page for Stubb’s Bar-B-Q in Austin with “Total People” and “Total Check-Ins” highlighted:

Foursquare page for Stubb's Bar-B-Q.

Foursquare check-ins provide an indication of the relative popularity of a business.

When searching for Stubb’s Bar-B-Q in Austin, you’ll find that its Foursquare page is one of the top pages ranking for the query in Google’s search results. This is but one indicator that Google is placing significant ranking value upon Foursquare. Comparing the Google Toolbar PageRank of Stubb’s Foursquare page with other pages about the venues that rank lower than it in Google is further illuminating. Some other pages have higher PageRank, but rank lower than the Foursquare page, proving that there are ranking criteria involved with it providing benefit outside of PageRank.

When examining the Foursquare page in Google’s search results, we can also see from the instant previews and cached copies that Google can easily read the numbers of check-ins from the page.

Portion of a Google search for Stubb's Bar-B-Q.

Foursquare check-ins are easily readable by Google.

Check-ins would likely be the sort of signal that Google would use for determining Prominence and popularity, and that Google can both access the data and might well be already using it, businesses should seriously consider creating some marketing campaigns to beef up their customers’ check-in activities.

Tips for Marketing in Foursquare

  • You can create a special offer in Foursquare that rewards people when they first check-in by providing a discount or a free item. Specials can also be set up after a certain number of check-ins, check-ins with friends, and for the Mayor of your locations. The best specials are likely the incentives to get people to check-in for the first time, or that encourage multiple check-ins, since those can help bump up the numbers displayed on your Foursquare page.
  • When offering a Foursquare special, or even if you’re not, put up a sign in your place of business to remind people to check-in on Foursquare.
  • Declare a contest with a prize for someone who checks-in the most number of times by a certain date. Promote the contest on your Facebook page, via Twitter, in your local newspaper, and in signage in your business.
  • If you produce email newsletters, you might highlight each customer that newly achieves mayorship. Or, acknowledge each on your Facebook page.
  • Declare a contest for best photos related to your business that are posted on Foursquare within a certain timeframe.
  • There are local businesses that do not lend themselves as easily to customer check-ins. For those, you might consider offering prizes for employee check-ins. After all, there’s nothing to prove or disprove that a Foursquare user is an employee. Perhaps offer prizes for which employee checks in earliest in the mornings, and which employee check-in soonest after lunch, and so on.
  • Promoted specials are coming soon as part of Foursquare’s new paid advertising platform, and this may provide additional opportunities for local businesses to promote and increase interactions with their Foursquare pages. It may seem ironic that you can use paid advertising to influence your organic search rankings, but there has always been a connection between outlaying capital to promote a business and consumer brand awareness and online popularity.

Foursquare is not the only check-in service, of course, and it isn’t even the only one that Google can use for harvesting SoLoMo ranking signals. Facebook also includes a check-in feature on its mobile application, and Facebook business pages display the numbers of visits resulting from check-ins in addition to the number of people who “Like” the business and numbers of “People Talking About This.”

Google itself has a check-in service, too, albeit a not-very-well-known one: Google Latitude. Google clearly sees this as an area of interest and Latitude as a potentially important strategic service, as evidenced by Google’s enhancement of it, with the addition of a competitive game-playing feature back in February – the “Leaderboard.” While few consumers are aware of Latitude check-in features, compared with Foursquare and Facebook, if Google were to further promote Latitude and more deeply tie it in to the Google+ service, it could gain momentum and competitive edge against the check-in forerunners.


Plan on incorporating some check-in service promotional campaigns in your overall marketing efforts. At the very least, check-in pages provide your local listings with a valuable citation for ranking purposes. But, it’s even more likely that check-ins may be a unique ranking signal. As such, the numbers of total check-ins and frequency of check-ins could easily differentiate your business from that of your competitors. Make this your stealth weapon in your search-engine-optimization efforts.

Chris Silver Smith
Chris Silver Smith
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Comments ( 4 )

Have Something To Say ?

  1. natali July 4, 2012 Reply

    i have an etsy shop that sells shirts with russian babushka matryoshka , so i can’t put it at foursquare (becouse it’s virtual shop)
    how can i promote etsy shop ?

  2. Chris Silver Smith July 15, 2012 Reply

    Natali, this is an article on Local SEO — that is, search engine optimization for local businesses, not for strictly online sites/estores. You’ll need to look into standard SEO methods to promote your Etsy shop.

  3. Ray Cassidy December 9, 2012 Reply

    Bit late to be commenting on this article Chris, but what’s the gen with Lattitude? Just had a little dibble with it over here in the UK and it doesn’t even take on board the information I gave it about my location. Tres weird!
    Is ti broken I wonder?

  4. Chris Silver Smith December 9, 2012 Reply

    Ray, Latitude does seem to be only roughly sketched-in. I’ve used it here in the US, but haven’t tried it in the UK.

    My best guess is that they will roll Latitude functionality more fully into Google+ at this point. I think they want that functionality for personalization, and their strongest thrust is via Google Plus. Currently, you can check-in via Google+ or Latitude — and, it doesn’t make sense to have both apps on one’s phone, really.

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