Facebook makes big push into local search with Nearby feature in mobile app

Facebook today begins a rollout of Nearby, a new local search and discovery feature in its iOS and Android apps.

Nearby used to be a feed of friends’ check-ins, but now it will enable users to search for specific places, browse categories or see broadly what’s around them, organized by their friend’s recommendations, check-ins and other social cues. Place listings include business hours, a location map and description, as well as an option to call the business, check-in, Like the page and visit the business’ Timeline. Facebook has also begun displaying star ratings for places based on information it began collecting a few months ago. Users can only rate places that they have previously checked into. Recommendations are also included.

This signals a major push into the local search space, which could help Facebook establish its mobile strength and open new opportunities for monetization, such as promoted places, sponsored results, click-to-call advertising or other mobile location-based ads. For now, Nearby lives within the main mobile app, but we imagine it would be a useful standalone app as well.

 The social network has had a little-known location search feature for years on its desktop site, but it never seemed to be a priority of the company’s to develop it further or promote it in any way. It’s still accessible from city pages and other unclaimed community pages, but it makes sense for Facebook to focus on a mobile version since that’s when users are most likely to be looking for places to go. Facebook says 150 million people visit pages on Facebook every day. And in the U.S., more than half of page visitors are coming from mobile devices. The image below is of Facebook’s desktop local search feature.

Businesses with physical locations should consider updating their pages to be better optimized for discovery with Facebook Nearby. Facebook recommends that pages designate a proper category for their business, fill out the info section of their Timeline and encourage visitors to Like, check into, rate and write recommendations for their place. Although Nearby search takes users to a landing page rather than directly to a business’ Timeline, the page includes information pulled from the business’ Timeline and includes a link to it.

Related article: What Facebook search can answer