What Is Foursquare’s SEO Strategy?

Two weeks ago, Foursquare launched a new version of its homepage which Greg Sterling touted as “taking on Yelp” by adding a search box. Naturally, my first reaction was to figure out what Foursquare’s new SEO plan. Imagine my surprise when I discovered there was none…

First a bit of data. According to SEMRush, Foursquare’s organic traffic has been growing aggressively since July of 2011:

Foursquare SEO Traffic

This traffic growth appears to have been the result of the launch of Foursquare’s “Self Serve” pages for Business. Clearly, the growth of mobile and Foursquare’s profile, created a lot of incentive for businesses to claim and update their pages. This combined with a few billion check-ins and the addition of content like restaurant menus clearly added some fuel to the SEO fire. Millions of new URLs with tons of fresh content is just what Googlebot ordered.

But what intrigued me about Foursquare’s SEO performance, and what continues to intrigue me about it after last week’s update, is that for the most part, it’s invisible.

This is basically what Googlebot sees on Foursquare’s home page:

Foursquare Home Page Google Cache

Notice anything? No links.

When you get to a deep page like a user profile, there are plenty of internal links – see below, but besides the new search box, there is no way for search engine bots to easily find either business or user profile URLs. Andrew Shotland Foursquare

So how is Foursquare’s SEO working?

Foursquare’s onsite SEO relies on XML sitemaps for accessibility. The location of these sitemaps can be found at http://foursquare.com/robots.txt. If you look at the sitemaps, you’ll see they are feeding several million URLs to the search engines.

Foursquare’s offsite SEO relies on everybody and his brother writing articles about Foursquare, other sites displaying tips from Foursquare’s API and linking to them and local businesses linking to their Foursquare page.

So what’s the big deal about Foursquare’s SEO strategy?

For me, the big deal is that Foursquare’s site architecture is contrary to traditional local directory SEO. Look at the homepage of any big local site and you’ll see links-a-plenty. The separation of Foursquare’s home page from rest of the site link-wise is kind of unprecedented, and yet it works.

So, what’s Foursquare’s real SEO strategy?

  1. Have a brand that people talk about
  2. Get users to create a lot of unique content
  3. Don’t worry about optimizing the site to the nth degree

If you want to get lot of organic traffic for a local directory site, it’s that simple.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Foursquare | Local Search Column


About The Author: is the proprietor of Local SEO Guide, a local search engine optimization consulting company specializing in yellow pages seo and local directory search—the blog is pretty fabulous too.

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  • sergio_redondo

    Curious post, Andrew.

    Looking at Foursquare’s SEO strategy (or the absence of it) is an example of how sometimes world-wide recognized brands don’t need to do SEO efforts like less known ones. And this has a simple explanation: if Google and other search engines are proclaimed defenders of Internet quality, offering the best possible results should be one of its top, and seeing the rise of platforms like Foursquare, then it’s necessary to display them on the SERPs.

    Thanks for the post.

  • http://www.radicalmustache.com/ Mikel Zaremba

    Definitely food for thought, Andrew.

    Kind of makes you wonder what happened to local businesses getting a pretty good ranking for their listing on here a couple of years ago.

  • http://twitter.com/coreyeulas Corey Eulas

    If you look at the rankings after the homepage update – they tanked. (looking at searchmetrics).

    Secondly, the reason they do well is probably because of social signals, among many other things.

    Interesting article – thanks.

  • Michael

    Have a brand that people talk about
    Get users to create a lot of unique content
    Don’t worry about optimizing the site to the nth degree
    This isn’t a strategy, it’s the end result of their efforts (which may or may not have been the objective of their plan.)

    This is a kind of non-article. No insight, all filler. You want to provide value through your writing, Andrew, let’s get to the details behind even one of the above points.

  • http://twitter.com/iriyas Muhammed Riyas

    Thanks Andrew. This made my day :)

  • http://twitter.com/JulieGallaher Julie Gallaher

    Foursquare is, by a long mile, my favorite social local platform. It doesn’t cater to the snarky crabapples who annoy melike Yelp does. I disagree with their non-existant SEO though – they could do so much more for business. One of our local restaurants has a 9/10 score, 50 photos, 217 tips but their Foursquare profile comes up on page 3 way behind their yelp, urban spoon, trip advisor and zagat profiles.

  • http://www.marcpoulin.ca Marc Poulin

    SEO strategy? They hardly have a business strategy besides getting bought! They will be history in a couple of years.

  • http://www.pimediaservices.com/ Mark Weyland

    A very interesting blog! if these strategies can be implemented by other companies as well, I believe that it may work out for them in the positive direction also or it may go the other way. However, I think that effective SEO can help any and many companies get a good rank in the various search engines, namely Google. if a little bit of out of the box ideas can be used, then it may also help.


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