On Tuesday, Facebook hosted a Jobsian event to launch their newest initiative, a long rumored entry into search. They ended up announcing Graph Search, and despite its name and implications, is not quite the search competitor that some were expecting. I’m going to examine Graph Search as well as explore its potential and limitations, specifically through the lens of the online/search/social marketing industry.
Facebook Graph Search: What is it?
At least, besides this slick new search box that their design team probably discussed to death:
I’m going to keep this short and sweet, I’m writing this to discuss the implications of Graph Search and how to incorporate it into some best practices, not rehash Facebook’s press conference. Graph Search is a Facebook search overhaul that uses social networking to provide context to serve up search results similar to the way that Google uses links. This may be an over-simplified explanation, but I think it really helps frame what they are trying to do. Facebook will use its vast data warehouses full of information to provide relevant search results to users based on what their friends “like”. This includes things like shares, check-ins, likes as well as information contained on various types of Facebook pages (people, pages, apps, places and groups at first).
Besides a new way of retrieving SERP’s, Graph Search also changes the way people will enter search queries. Typing in “Books that my friends who like Homeland also like”, into a Google search will not get you the specific answers you are looking for, but on Facebook and with Graph Search it will, at least theoretically. Since the product is still in beta you have to sign up for it (after which you are put on a waiting list). However, Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land has a fantastic hands-on that will show you how the experience plays out with actual use cases. Of course it wouldn’t be a new Facebook product without a potential privacy nightmare, so make sure that you have your personal privacy settings tightened up if you don’t want to appear in friends of friends Graph Search queries.
Graph Search’s Implications for Web Marketing
If you want to know what Graph Search’s implications are right now then that answer is pretty simple: not much. Social proof is the current hotness in online marketing, and this would seem like an all you can eat buffet of social proof delivered on demand and specifically targeted. If you think this, like I did at first, you would be both very right and very wrong. It’s right because Graph Search has the potential to be a game changer, and it’s wrong because it most likely will not be (at least right away) for several reasons:
- It’s still in beta and will be rolled out slowly. That means very few people currently have access to it. Limited access means limited ROI for any investment you may put into a Graph Search strategy. I will discuss building in best practices to future proof for Graph Search in the next section.
- It requires a shift in how people use Facebook. Do you “like” a contractor, i.e. plumber, when you get good service? How about your favorite brands? Do you always check in at restaurants? Do your friends? Those books on your Kindle that you actually like, have you liked them on Facebook? How about your physical books? These are the kinds of behaviors that need to happen ALL THE TIME in order to get the best, most relevant data, out of Graph Search. Since the vast majority of Facebook users don’t do this, it will require a sea change in the way people interact with the social network before the true potential of Graph Search can ever be fulfilled. I know I stopped liking all kinds of things when they started showing up in my news feed regularly, and this isn’t going to make me go back.
- It’s also not as relevant for either local business or the local search community as you would think. This is mainly due to its lack of mobile availability now or in the foreseeable future. Facebook’s mobile strategy has always been something of a disappointment (I mean how buggy are both the iOS and Android apps?) Some thought that was going to change with the launch of Nearby in December, but Graph Search’s exclusion from mobile looks like more of the same. Google has been saying that over 50% of mobile searches have local intent for a while now. This means that not offering Graph Search on mobile will put a huge damper on the potential for local discovery that Graph Search represents.
There are several other reasons that Graph Search has an uphill battle to climb, but I think these three are some of the most relevant to marketers.
Planning for, and Winning, the Long Game
Facebook is definitely planning for the long haul with Graph Search and so should you. So, while Graph Search may not be incredibly relevant right now, its ability to change local discovery and capitalize on the importance of social proof/signals is utterly without question. Social proof is by far the most effective way of conveying trust. Besides all the data that backs this up, it just makes anecdotal sense; you share similar interests with your friends and are more likely to take the advice of a trusted friend than an stranger (even if that stranger is an authority). Graph Search theoretically allows you to get recommendations from your most trusted and/or like minded friends with a few key strokes and mouse clicks. Even if it’s not at that point yet, this possible eventuality is easy to plan for by incorporating a few practices into your marketing efforts:
- Claim your page – While this may seem like the most obvious thing ever, if you don’t claim your page and someone else checks in at your address, or under some other circumstances, Facebook will automatically create it for you. The problem with this is that it won’t be optimized. For example it won’t display the content you want it to help you drive business.
- Likes – These vanity metrics went from irrelevant to meaningful in a couple of hours. I’m sure many of us have created (or run) campaigns designed to increase likes. Before Graph Search, these were just vanity metrics that had no bearing on driving business, but now they are the glue that binds a business, brand, place or page to end users via Graph Search. This is easy to focus on for the future because you can run campaigns and promotions dedicated to getting Facebook users “friends” to like and share specific pieces of content which will help drive visibility in Graph Search. You can also target ads to taste makers to get them to like and share your content so it will show up in their friend’s Graph Searches. I see a tool like FollowerWonk, which lets you analyze how influential people may or may not be, becoming even more relevant for Facebook marketing in the near future. Unfortunately, this will most likely be a native and/or ad based tool or maybe even an upgrade to Facebook Insights. Regardless, there are plenty of tactics to help bolster likes, without paying for them (Don’t do it! The last thing the world needs is a Facebook disavow tool)
- Create meaningful and unique Facebook content – A shocker I know, but inbound marketing really does work. The most likely way to get your content shared and liked is for it to be well crafted, relevant, unique and timely. Do that and you will not only drive business via your Facebook page right now, but you will virtually guarantee yourself top results if/when Graph Search takes off.
- Use relevant keywords in your Places and Pages – This comes directly from the Graph Search development team. You should also note that this includes vanity URL’s. Exact match domains used to be worth their weight in gold for ranking in Google searches and it looks like Facebook is going down that same path.
- Bing – If you use Facebook search you have probably noticed that you are able to search the web as well as within Facebook itself. To do this they partnered with Bing. Graph Search only deepens this integration. Optimizing for Bing is similar to optimizing for Google, but there are some subtle differences. Bing tends to put more focus towards on-page, technical SEO. You can also use an analytics program like Google Analytics to segment out search traffic by source, so you can better understand and optimize for Bing/Yahoo in general.
Notice anything about these ways to future proof for Graph Search? You should be doing them all right now! They will help drive business and generate revenue regardless of Graph Search’s success. If you are doing these things and Graph Search takes off it will function as a huge multiplier to your already successful Facebook strategy, and if it doesn’t take off who cares? You are already using Facebook to successfully accomplish your business objectives anyway. All in all, Facebook’s Graph Search represents an exciting new concept for social search. Unfortunately right now Graph Search is mostly just that, a concept.