Facebook is a local search threat

Let me preface the following by saying that while I’m not a local search expert, I did pretend to be one on TV for a while, while doing an extended marketing communications consulting gig for the cool local search peeps at Localeze.com. (Hi guys!)

Now, with that consumer warning in mind, check this out. Having poked around Facebook’s advertising options for a week or so, I’ve drawn the conclusion that they may be competitors in the local search space before you know it. Specifically, if you look at their free “Facebook Pages” advertising option, you’ll see that it allows businesses to offer as much information on themselves as many basic Yellow Pages or directory listings.

To see what I mean, visit my sample Facebook page, “My Business.” If you’ll check out the “Information” section, you’ll see that I’ve entered a dummy address and one set of business hours just to illustrate my point.  When I set things up, Facebook collected this information into a back-end database. Given this set-up, Facebook’s almost certainly capable of indexing local business data and spitting the information out in the way, say, Yahoo Local does when it’s ready. 

Don’t get me wrong, Yahoo Local and its ilk are way, way ahead of Facebook in this regard, as they’ve already developed beautiful local search interfaces, amassed tons of local reviews and integrated mapping, tag clouds, sophisticated business classification schemes and other cool functions. 

More importantly, to my knowledge Facebook entries aren’t currently searchable from the outside Web, which limits their current value despite the social network’s huge size and reach (69 million current reasonably engaged users at last count). That’s certainly a large obstacle.

Still, I don’t think a company with Facebook’s clout and resources will be held back by technical issues when they’re ready to fight for local business/search market share. All they’ll have to do is figure out how to monetize the pages effectively, and you know what, I’m pretty sure that they will.

Watch out, local search folks! Facebook’s a’ comin, mark my words.

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6 responses to “Facebook is a local search threat

  1. Not everyone uses Facebook or if they have an account they use it seldomly – so I think local search engines can still capitalise on this.

  2. I do agree, Facebook is a fertile ground for Local Search. Especially, for independent applications such as DoYa or Loladex. Where, I think Facebook will struggle is if they try and rely on businesses claiming or creating their own page, it’s really tough to get to a critical mass of businesses allowing Facebook to create a positive user experience.

    Thanks for all your great work, with Localeze.

  3. I think Facebook will eventually compete well with IYP sites if Facebook is able to market this offering to its community. But most folks are using Facebook to connect with friends not to find a plumber or a lawyer.

    I think Facebook Marketplace could evolve into a major force in directional advertising. The whole classified space is ripe for innovation and expansion.

    Long-run IYPs and general directories may have a difficult time competing with tier one search engines. Why use a phone directory IYP or Facebook if Google or Yahoo search works to find what you need? Specialty and vertical directories will probably have a brighter future.

    On the other hand, Facebook may allow more advanced demographic targeting and therefore significant branding options.

  4. I agree with your observation about the potiential and the (for now) limitations. I think Facebook (and MySpace and the rest) offer and promote the clannish, family, neighborly mindset and would quickly outperform not the numbers of Yahoo and Google and whatever local, but the effectiveness. If I was a fan of my local/favorite coffee shop and you wanted to get together, where do you suppose we would meet? As posted a while back:
    I’m thinking a local presence in my Facebook neighborhood, where the gas station lists their current prices (one can hope!), and the local grocery displays advertised specials. The library can send you a text message when that video you wanted gets returned, and the barber shop posts their mood as “bored, come get your hair cut now).

    The local nursery can post receipt of a bunch of new shrubs as a bulletin on their profile, the local newspaper (if they are still around) can have “top friends” based on who gave them the scoop on news, and the local bank can tell all their customers that a new branch manager was hired and they are having a meet-and-greet this afternoon.

    Reservations at the best restaurant in town can be made with a text message, the pavilion at the local park can be reserved in seconds, and you can schedule a yard-waste pickup from your pda. Local politicians can share their vision for the community with minimal cost, and the local car dealer can post “just arrived” specials.

    what do you think?

  5. Thanks all for your comments. Seems like the consensus is that I may be onto something here…wonder if Facebook’s honchos are working on this?

    Carter, you’ve made me think I should try an experiment…to set up a hyper-local page for my hometown and see whether people like it. After all, the pages are free. If I find anything worth reporting I’ll write it up.

  6. Facebook is an interesting utility and I think it is very powerful in terms of connectivity. I am a developer for a growing search engine here in Jacksonville, Florida, FastJax.net, and our goal is Information @ The Speed Of Thought. Facebook matches that well, and the owner stresses, “It is all about connections!” , it works well for me, whenever I update things about myself i.e. interest, it connects me to people in my area with the same interest. That can start whole new friendships, business relationships and much more. The news feeds and other apps they are developing actually helps everyone. So I do not see them as the Face for local, but defintely a good utility for meeting people and making connections. We have been around since 2003 and we are now getting ready to launch FastJax 2.0 this summer 2008, which features advertising login, user logins, and a lighting fast search. In the begging we thought this could get big and that local searches are the wave of the future, esp with the growth of graphical user based cell phones with real, displayalbe website intereaction. So all in all, we have still not seen the growth or other local websites that represent a city like ours, hopefully my proactiveness at like 12:23 am, will spark some rumors across the net about local search engines and FastJax could be the perfect guide to pull Internet traffic to and help people connect to databases that have billions of webpages geared to help people connect to what is around them.

    -Chad B-

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