Pay attention, because this is a big one.
Facebook is quietly testing a new feature called “Professional Services” that helps users search for local businesses with the best Facebook reviews and ratings. This new feature positions Facebook in direct competition with Yelp, Angie’s List, Google My Business and other local business directories. Some industry experts are dubbing Facebook’s stealth project as the “Yelp Killer.”
This is an absolute game changer for the local search marketing industry.
According to Wired, Facebook’s Professional Service feature has approximately 85 distinct categories for local businesses – plumbers, photographers, event planning, etc.) And don’t let the name "Professional Services" fool you – the search feature returns results for bars, restaurants and ice cream parlors.
What Facebook has unveiled is a comprehensive local search directory for its users and it will unquestionably impact your business sooner than later. In an emailed statement, Facebook spokesman, Mike Manning, said, "We're in the early stages of testing a way for people to easily find more Pages for the services they're interested in."
The market has taken notice too. Shares of Yelp (YELP) fell about 9 percent to $26.87 after the project was first discovered by Search Engine Land.
How Facebook’s Professional Services feature works.
As I mentioned above, the Professional Services feature has approximately 85 different categories for users to choose from based upon your current location. These categories are linked to more than 50 million businesses that have Facebook Pages with consumer reviews.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, Facebook allows consumers to leave reviews for local businesses using a five-star review system. Consumers can choose varying degrees of visibility for their reviews, but every business receives an aggregated score between one and five.
As the Professional Services page states, “Find local businesses with the best Facebook reviews and ratings,” so this aggregated score is likely one of the top influencers in determining a local business’s ranking in search results.
However, as Search Engine Land astutely points out, Facebook has one of the deepest knowledge bases of individual preferences along with an immense amount of demographic and psychographic information about its users, so search results will likely be customized based on this information. For example, businesses that you’ve previously interacted with or businesses that your friends are connected to may rank higher in search results.
I tested this hypothesis with a co-worker and we found a difference in ranking order of three search results. (Note: my co-worker “Likes” Alfie’s on Facebook and I do not).
The results page offers similar information to Yelp or Google My Business. Users are presented with the business’s name, address, phone number as well as its aggregated review score and a preview of the most recent consumer review. There is also a map that allows users to explore similar and nearby businesses.
Right now, Facebook’s Professional Service feature is only available on Desktop and is separate from Facebook Places, an application that allows users to “check in” with mobile devices and discover where their friends have been. It’s highly likely that Facebook has plans to integrate these features, but that remains to be seen.
What does this mean for your business?
Well, it means two things. First, your business must have a claimed and optimized Facebook business page. This includes adding all of the pertinent information that users are looking for. There’s a very real chance that Professional Services feature can slice into Yelp or Google’s search traffic. Facebook has over 1.55 billion active monthly users, so if consumers adopt this new feature, it presents a tremendous opportunity for your business.
On the other hand, Facebook knows the eventual success of this feature rides heavily on its usefulness to its users. This is why the search results algorithm is so important. Facebook needs to get it right, and to do so, it’s starting with consumer reviews.
Your business must have a consumer review strategy in place. If you’re looking for a place to start, check out Renown, our review marketing platform. Renown’s powerful deep linking technology helps business owners gather, market and generate Facebook reviews so their business can be found, be validated and be chosen by local consumers.