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:
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:
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.
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?
- 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
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.