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Facebook’s Testing Out a New, Advanced Local Search Feature

At the end of last year, in a post outlining my predictions for 2017, I noted that Facebook would be looking to make search a bigger focus moving forward.

Why?

Facebook has seen a big increase in search activity in the last twelve months, and is now facilitating more than two billion searches every day.

Facebook’s Testing Out a New, Advanced Local Search Feature | Social Media TodayFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has even singled out search as a significant opportunity, noting in a stakeholder meeting last June that:

“We think video is going to be a huge opportunity, same thing with search, and Instagram is really just starting to grow meaningfully as a business as well.”

While it’s not as “shiny and new” as something like live-streaming, and therefore gets less focus, the opportunities for search on Facebook are significant.

And now we’re starting to see more hints of exactly how they’re going to capitalize on it.

TechCrunch has reported that Facebook's testing an enhanced search feature to help users surface recommendations for nearby places.

“Enter a query like “dinner nearby” or “bars nearby” into Facebook’s search box, on the web or mobile, and it’ll return a box in Facebook’s search results that include a list of relevant businesses, along with their ratings on Facebook, a map, as well as which friends of yours have visited or like the places in question.”

Facebook’s Testing Out a New, Advanced Local Search Feature | Social Media Today

Image via TechCrunch

Facebook has confirmed the test, saying that they’re looking at a new way to help people discover "where to go and what to do around you".

And Facebook's uniquely placed to do this. The Social Network now has more than 1.86 billion users, people who’ve uploaded their locations, personal details, and have indicated their preferences via their on-platform activity – what they’ve Liked, where they’ve visited, content they’ve engaged with. Based on this, Facebook's able to correlate common user behaviors and traits in order to form listings like this of the places you might want to go.

Google can’t personalize your results in the same way, nor can Yelp or Foursquare. Facebook’s vast data resources put it in the best position to highlight relevant recommendations based on inferred behavior.

Though it would take them some effort to get such a system right.

As of right now, this seems like a small-scale project – Facebook hasn’t gone out of its way to promote it or push people to the option (though they are now coming up in the search autocomplete suggestions). But you can test it yourself – go to your Facebook app now and type in something like ‘pizza places nearby’.

Facebook’s Testing Out a New, Advanced Local Search Feature | Social Media Today

Image via TechCrunch

The highlighted results are displayed in a small box grouping at the top of the search results, with a pink drop pin next to the heading.

How exactly, Facebook decides on the order of the listing is not clear. Star ratings and comments from friends appear inconsistent – though, interestingly, TechCrunch has noted that Facebook is using commonly mentioned terms in related posts as an indicator.

You can see in this example, next to the note about which of your friends have been there, it also says “people talk about friendly service, vegan donuts and iced latte.”

Facebook’s Testing Out a New, Advanced Local Search Feature | Social Media Today

Image via TechCrunch

There’s a lot of potential in this offering – as noted, it seems fairly limited at the moment, and Facebook's not actively pushing it, but incorporating all the various data points they have could be a way to boost Facebook’s search potential and get more people turning to them for even more of their day-to-day needs.

And that would also mean additional, Facebook-specific SEO considerations for local businesses to consider. If more people start using this option, you’d obviously want your businesses to make the top of the list, but given the personalization – or potential personalization – of the results, it could be quite difficult to game. The best answer would be to get more people talking about your business on Facebook – though even then, that’s not, definitively, the measure they’re using to rank the results.

It does mean that all businesses need to have an actual Facebook Page – if you’re not present at all, you can’t show up in the results – but the actual specifics will likely require experimentation, and will only become a more relevant consideration if Facebook pushes the functionality and more people take it up.

But even if it goes no further, it’s another reminder that Facebook search has major potential. And with Zuckerberg and Co. always looking to make the platform more ubiquitous, you can bet they’ll be exploring more options on this front moving forward.  

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