Facebook vs. Google Mobile: Local Search Smackdown – Who’s Winning?

Facebook vs. Google Mobile: Local Search Smackdown – Who’s Winning?

Two facts have become clear in the past year: local mobile is growing and both Google and Facebook want a piece of it. Both companies have made significant changes recently to their mobile local search experience.

Given that over 70% of mobile searches have local intent, it’s not hard to understand why!

In the wake of these changes, it’s useful to compare the pros & cons of their mobile local search experiences and compare the two side by side.

What Are the Recent Changes?

Google: Google has introduced “Google Now” to the app experience while also redesigning the maps design interface. At the same time, Google has been tweaking its “Google Places” local search desktop/laptop experience in searching for local business by integrating in Google Plus Local.

It’s clear these changes will continue as they focus on improving the user experience on both mobile and desktop.

Facebook: Facebook has been testing renaming of it’s local search service to “Facebook Local Search”. Facebook announced its endeavour into the local business search back in December 2012 with “Facebook Nearby” – a layer within it’s mobile app which allows users to find local businesses which “Friends” have recommended or liked, among other things.

Facebook’s switch to “Facebook Local” indicates increased efforts to hone it’s local product. Insidefacebook even wonders if the feature will become a standalone app.

Comparing Facebook vs. Google: Mobile Local Search Standoff

As both companies step up their mobile local efforts, it becomes clear each is putting more focus on the local space. The good news is: increased competition usually equals improved products & better user experience.

Let’s take a look at a direct comparison between these two mobile heavyweights.

Overall Usage

Even though Facebook was most used mobile app in 2012, Google Maps was a formidable and close 2nd. However, most users were not using Facebook to find a local business.

Clearly, Google has a large head start with mobile local searches. Google Maps accounts for over 1/3 of all local business searches. It’s interesting to note the tablet searches are nearly equal.

Apps use in business searches

*taken from Neustar Localeze study March 28, 2013 http://www.localsearchstudy.com/local_search_study_2013.pdf

Design of Results Pages

Facebook is attacking Google where it cannot yet compete – with the social and open graphs.

The Facebook results page highlights Friends who have interacted with the business, likely giving weight to the local businesses with the most likes, check-in’s, comments, and other interactions. It appears in some searches that just have 1 ‘like’ by a friend can catapult a business to the top rankings in location based searches!

Google app and Facebook app

Design of Business Pages

Both apps present social interactions with “Reviews” and “Likes” visibly present. What is most interesting is the actions which each app is driving.

The Google app is driving clicks on the “call’ and “driving directions” buttons, while Facebook is driving “likes”, check-ins, and messages. This is a clear distinguishing element in the two experiences.

Facebook vs google business pages

Let’s make no mistake – a highly important ‘conversion’ for a small business owner is a phone call/email or a visit from a customer (driving directions). The Google app appears to be much more likely to drive a small business ‘conversion’ than Facebook’s, while the Facebook app drive’s awareness through likes and check-ins. The “call to action” on a Facebook business page is a check-in or message which happens after a customer has made their choice to visit a location.

Overall User Experience

While achieving slick design and attractive top banners, Facebook’s weaknesses here are are considerable. While the app drives users to “like”, check in, or message the business (which is highly engaging) the driving directions are linked to Apple Maps which have received criticism for lack of quality. Also, the Facebook app has a hard time handling misspellings. In fact, it can barely handle them at all.

Lack of these two features, arguably the most important, creates a big gap in usability. Maybe Facebook is attempting to improve the driving directions experience while looking to purchase WAZE?

However, the Facebook experience does give the user the ability to message a business directly from the mobile which is high value add.

What Does This Mean for Business Owners?

As a business owner, it’s important to know many of your customers are likely using a combination of both apps to find what they need each day. Therefore, your business needs a strong presence in both areas.

By this time, your business should have a Facebook page which is managed and kept up to date. As Facebook local search usage grows, it will be important to build your presence in the Facebook graph by building “authority” in the Facebook local search algorithm.

Here are a few quick tips to build up your presence on Facebook & Google Maps –

  • Increase the number of page “likes” to your page and increase relative to your competitors
  • Increase amount of interaction your customers have with your Facebook business page through comments and likes
  • Build interaction through mobile devices with Facebook check-ins
  • With Google, one of the most effective things a business can do is build up “Reviews” posted by clients
  • Optimize your business using standard local search tactics to boost your ranking & presence in Google Maps

What Does This Mean for Local Search Experts?

Changes in this space are happening at a dizzying pace. It’s crucial for the local search expert stay up to date and continue to make changes to their clients’ websites, both mobile and desktop, to gain competitive advantage.

A few things to consider:

  • Install Facebook’s open graph markup language in client’s websites.
  • Look at Facebook “SEO” tips here including including correct information and increasing “Likes”.
  • Drive mobile local signals for clients through customer engagement. Clients should be driving any kind of interaction through customer’s mobile phones to their website. Clients can (carefully) encourage customers to leave reviews or check in at the business location. Businesses can incentivise Facebook reviews on location. While Google has strong policies against encouraging reviews of your business at a location, Facebook’s are less stringent.

Got a different viewpoint on this subject or some useful insights you want to share? We’re interested in publishing unique content written by smart marketeers on our blog. Contact us with your details & ideas and we’ll get back to you ASAP!

About the author
Jacob Puhl is Cofounder of Firegang Dental Marketing, a local SEO and digital marketing agency for dental practices.