For more than a year now, buzz around location apps like Foursquare and Gowalla has been building, culminating last week in speculation that Yahoo is considering acquiring Foursquare, with a valuation in the neighborhood of $100 million.
While Foursquare is indisputably the most buzzed-about service and seems to have the most traction with advertisers, the big players are already in the game, or are about to be. Yelp has its location check-in service (though few seem to know about it or use it), for instance. Google Latitude has 3 million users (many more than any of the start-ups out there) and is rumored to be adding check-ins in the coming weeks. And Facebook is apparently gearing up to add check-ins as part of its mobile app.
For its part, Foursquare continues to innovate to keep its momentum going by adding a Facebook "Like" feature to each of its locations so that, in addition, to checking in, one can also, like, "Like" where they've checked-in. (Duh.)
Right now, marketers can advertise via check-in using special offers that pertain or are adjacent to the place where users have just checked in. One can imagine that someday (maybe with Google's offering) there will be a bid marketplace (for instance, via AdWords) to get an offer in first, or at the top of several offers, each time someone checks into a location.
For those involved with search engine optimization, there will be a growing need to ensure that "Like"-enabled Web sites, and their associated Facebook Pages, are well-optimized to take advantage of location-based check-ins with "Like" features. The growing interrelationship between Web sites, Facebook Pages, mobile ads, location check-ins, check-in offers and "Like" designations may not always intuitively fall into the hands of a search marketer (for instance, many companies will give this job to a social marketer instead), but at my company we're seeing increasing instances where search marketers are the ones picking up the ball.
This trend makes some sense. Search marketers have always understood more about underlying technology and optimization than other sorts of marketers, so it's natural for them to pick up some of these emerging marketing channels as natural extensions of their search marketing work. The challenge, however, may be around time management.
While search marketing is now pretty darn efficient thanks to the many enabling technologies (not to mention the technology infrastructure that Google, Yahoo! and Bing have built), much of the underlying plumbing for monetizing services like "Like" features or location-based check-in offers is rudimentary at best. Plugging into, playing with and optimizing this stuff is a lot of work, especially when you've got a fully formed search marketing effort under way.
Still, another adage rings true here: "The early bird gets the worm." Those enterprising brands that get in first and figure out how best to leverage these new channels will likely reap the earliest rewards and be best-positioned once maturity sets in.
What do you think? Are you a search marketer getting his or her hands dirty with all this emerging stuff? Are you optimizing websites for the Facebook Social Graph? Latitude? Mobile in general? Are you thinking about Foursquare or Gowalla? Yelp? Facebook Pages? I'd love to hear about your experiences and where you see legitimate areas of overlap.