Facebook Announces Graph Search

It's not the end of the world ... but it does change things

As with the launch of any product from Facebook, there is much speculation around how Graph Search will impact digital marketing. The fact that this time Facebook is launching a search engine means there is even more buzz across the industry and online businesses as a whole.

While traditional search (i.e. Google, Bing, etc.) is about connecting people with relevant information, Facebook’s Graph Search aims to connect people with relevant, well, people. And not just any people – people who you trust, people who you “like” and people who you interact with often.

Graph Search works by tapping into Facebook’s vast database of over 1 billion profiles, 24 billion photos and 1 trillion connects to provide users with social search results. For example, the natural language search engine would connect the query “which restaurants do my friends in Denver recommend” with a list of friends who have recommended a Denver restaurant in their statuses or wall posts, uploaded photos of their meal at particular restaurant, etc. In addition to the social results, Facebook has partnered with Bing to provide web-based results to fill the rest of the results page with content when Facebook cannot. So, theoretically, Bing could serve ads to Denver restaurants, Denver food critic blogs, OpenTable, and so on. In this case, the instantaneous Graph Search results sure beat posting a status, “Anyone recommend a restaurant in downtown Denver?” and waiting to see if someone comments.

It sounds simple and helpful enough for an individual Facebook user, but why was this announcement such a hot topic among digital marketers this week – even being referred to as the “Google Killer?" Will Graph Search change the lives of businesses and marketers? Look at it this way, the digital world has been changed by Graph Search but it hasn’t ended.

What Graph Search Means for Google

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Although not direct competitors, Google and Facebook have long battled for tech supremacy and the introduction of a Facebook search engine does step on Google’s toes. In the press conference on Tuesday, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, "I don't necessarily think that people are going to start coming to Facebook to do Web searches with this.” And he is right. Facebook will probably not be a user’s first destination to conduct a search, however, Graph Search will likely increase the time an average user spends on Facebook each session. More time on Facebook means less time on Google. The idea that the extra time spent on Facebook is being used to conduct searches stings even more for Google. More searches for restaurant recommendations on Facebook mean fewer searches for restaurant recommendations on Google. To add some salt to the wound, Facebook is becoming even more integrated with Bing, the second most popular search engine, through Graph Search. This could mean a potential decline in search engine market share for Google.

What Graph Search Means for Digital Marketers

Digital Marketers, Search Marketers and SEOs in particular, will need to adjust their standard Facebook practices to accommodate for the new Graph Search capability. While there is no need to raise concerns with clients around Facebook budgets tomorrow, it is something that should be worked into your 2013 plan. As a first step, digital marketers should be advising all of their clients to create a Facebook Business Page if they don’t have one already. A Facebook Business Page is preferred over just letting people check-in to your location because you can control the content on a Business Page. While Graph Search is still in limited beta, Facebook has already gone as far as making the following recommendations to businesses who want to optimize their page for Graph Search:

  • The name, category, vanity URL, and information you share in the “About” section all help people find your business and should be shared on Facebook.
  • If you have a location or a local place Page, update your address to make sure you can appear as a result when someone is searching for a specific location.
  • Focus on attracting the right fans to your Page and on giving your fans a reason to interact with your content on an ongoing basis.

Ultimately, the more information and interaction your page has, the better the chance that your page will rank higher in the search results.

In addition to optimizing Facebook Business pages, there are more efforts digital marketers can make to capitalize on the new Graph Search functionality:

  • Bing – While Facebook and Bing have been integrating for awhile now, if Graph Search really picks up then it will become essential for digital marketers to focus more efforts on Bing. Paid Search Marketers and SEOs alike will want a presence in Bing in order to secure real estate within Graph Search results pages. Running paid ads and optimizing organic placements will give digital marketers more control over their brand’s message within Graph Search. Companies currently just funding Google search will have to find a budget for Bing, which may boost Bing’s market share.
  • Local – Digital marketers will want to pay special attention to local Graph Search. Facebook has made it clear that Graph Search will be offering local search from day one. Facebook’s current local search tool, Facebook Nearby, will likely play a role in the local search results. With the ability to see local results that are liked by your Facebook friends, Yelp should be nervous - as already evident in Yelp stock dropping as much as 8% after Facebook unveiled Graph Search. One area where Google and Yelp are safe for now is local mobile search. Google reports half of all searches on mobile devices seek local information. "It's going to take years and years to index (all the information on Facebook)," Zuckerberg says. "In the future, we want to get to mobile, non-English languages, and all the posts and all of the content on Facebook." For now, Facebook is directing users looking for local results to Nearby. Given the fact that 54% of monthly users access Facebook via their mobile device, we assume mobile Graph Search will roll out sooner rather then later.
  • Special Deals/Offers – Marketers are already offering users who “like” their brand special incentives and advertising to relevant customers through Facebook Offers, Sponsored Stores, the Facebook Exchange and more. It is inevitable that these deals will find their way into the Graph Search results page, especially deals that are shared or “liked” by friends. This will be used as another selling point for marketers to advertise to very targeted audiences within Facebook. 
  • Instagram – At some point, Facebook will likely integrate data from its biggest acquisition into Graph Search. With photos already being a core focus of the new social search engine, we predict that eventually Instagram photos will appear when a user does a photo search or a search of a business. For advertisers already using Instagram, this is good news. But should advertisers who are currently not leveraging Instagram consider including the popular platform in their 2013 social media plans? We would suggest doing so only where it makes sense, such as for luxury brands, travel destinations and fashion retailers. “Instagram data is on the list of things we will one day get to. It’s so clear how much stuff out there you’d want to have in a product like this,” said Zuckerberg at Tuesday’s press event.

What Graph Search Means for You

For the everyday Facebook user, Graph Search provides a unique and valuable approach to social search. Unlike through Google, here you can find people, photos, places and interests based on who you interact most with on Facebook.  You can instantaneously get trusted recommendations from friends, as opposed to from strangers on message boards or review sites.  In terms of your personal privacy in Graph Search, Facebook has stated that "It makes finding new things much easier, but you can only see what you could already view elsewhere on Facebook.” And, you can do it all without leaving the site you are already spending more time on than any other site anyways.

While Graph Search will surely evolve from what it is today while in beta testing, it is clear that there have been exciting strides made for social search through this new product. It appears that the majority of opportunity with Graph Search lies in the hands of the advertisers as opposed to individual users. This makes sense, as Facebook is now a public company and will continually be pushed to deliver more profits. As for Graph Search being a “Google Killer” – we would venture to say it is not even close, not yet.

For more information about Facebook Graph Search, see the articles below:

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