Foursquare on Monday rolled out a redesigned Web site that encourages users to seek out local recommendations through a new, prominently featured search box.
The revamped site lets anyone—not just registered Foursquare members—use its Explore service for finding nearby restaurants and other venues, which could help expand the company’s overall audience. The move also puts Foursquare in more direct competition with Yelp.com and Google+ Local as a local search engine on the desktop as well as in mobile.
Foursquare introduced its revamped mobile app in June, with an increased focus on personalized recommendations through the Explore feature. It serves up customized suggestions based on users’ check-ins, “likes” and tips and those of their friends. But until now, the Foursquare site has sported only a small search bar at the top of the page.
In a blog post today, the company noted that recommendations via the new search box in the center of the screen won’t be one-size fits all. “Even if you’ve never checked in, Explore still can make great recommendations, based on a number of signals, like what’s popular in the neighborhood, new places, places that are trending at the moment, where experts go, and what’s popular on that day of the week."
Search results, featuring venue addresses, ratings and reviews, are shown in a column on the left side of the page, with a map of locations taking up the rest of the screen.
Overall, Foursquare says its analyzes more than 3 billion check-ins and 30 million tips to come up with recommendations. It’s also in the process of adding additional information, like when a place is open and prices.
Having to sign up to get access to that local information, though, was something of a barrier. “Now, Foursquare has a lot of data and recommendations from its user base, especially in larger cities, so it can serve as a guide for others,” said David Berkowitz, vice president of emerging media at digital agency 360i. The challenge for Foursquare is that it lags rivals like Yelp and Google, especially in highlighting pithy recommendations and reviews.
Google acquired Zagat last year to upgrade its local search offering. “With Foursquare turning into a local search property, it runs the risk of being an also-ran in a crowded field,” said Berkowitz. At the same time, Yelp has pushed more into Foursquare’s territory, unveiling a more social-centric site in August with new features, including a newsfeed showing friends’ activities on the site like comments and check-ins.
Berkowitz says marketers will need to more closely evaluate Foursquare as a potentially growing destination for location-based search. Foursquare.com (desktop only) drew just 2.5 million unique visitors in September, compared to 33.4 million for Yelp.com, according to comScore data. Foursquare, however, boasts 25 million registered users overall.