According to Facebook, Graph Search is the ability to search for people, places, and things within your Facebook network.
Facebook describes the new product as able to solve nuanced, social questions that a regular search engine like Google couldn’t answer, for example ‘What movie should I see?’ ‘What band might I like?’ or ‘Where is a good dentist near me?’ You can also use Graph Search to expand your network by finding friends of friends who like things you like. Unlike Google, search results will be socially contextualised, and each individual user will be presented with completely personalised and unique search results based on their network of friends.
Graph Search is still in beta and has not rolled out to the entire Facebook user base yet. Facebook is taking the time in testing this product to get it just right, and is rolling out slowly. Mark Zuckerberg himself has said that it will become one of the three “pillars of the Facebook experience” alongside News Feed and Timeline, and that they’ll be working on it for many years to come.
A New Interface, Not New Data
Graph Search has created a discovery portal to find, sort and display data that was already publically available – information your friends have shared with you, and information that users display publically. Graph Search has not made any previously private data public to other Facebook users.
Graph Search’s structured data searching means you can continue to refine results with the various filters Facebook provides eg. location, gender, age, likes, sexual orientation, relationship status etc.
Not Just Your Network
You can also search publically available information outside your own friend network to discover places and things, for example you could try ‘Chinese restaurants liked by people who lived in China’ to find your most authentic local yum cha joint.
Answers, Not Links
One main point of difference is that Facebook is attempting to serve you a page of answers as search results, not a page of links as Google currently does. Another way of saying this is that Graph Search results contain Entities (places, people, photos), not Documents (status updates, comments). This is a direction Google has also indicated it is heading towards with its Knowledge Graph.
Why Is Graph Search Important?
Facebook’s long-awaited search offering is a challenge to many established technology giants.
Watch Out Google and Bing…
The vast amount of user-generated content (over 1 trillion connections) means Facebook can create a search experience which no one else could hope to replicate. And these socially contextualised answers from your social network are more valuable than those from a search engine – Facebook can deliver trusted recommendations from known sources. Google’s foray into social with Google+ has not been a roaring success thus far. Could Facebook’s entree to search fare better?
…& Yelp & Foursquare and LinkedIn
The local search functions of Foursquare and LinkedIn are replicated by Facebook Graph Search, but overlayed with the richer data of Facebook friend activity in the form of likes and check-ins acting as personalised recommendations. Similarly, Facebook Graph Search for people and workplaces replicates some of the professional networking functionality of LinkedIn.
The Missing Piece Of The Facebook Ad Puzzle: Intent
Graph Search finally brings purchase intent to Facebook Ads, one of Google’s major advantages to date. Whereas currently Facebook Ad campaigns focus mainly on building and engaging fan-bases, advertisers will soon be able to pay to appear in the search results of people looking for local businesses.
Mobile Graph Search
It’s not available on mobile yet, but Facebook Graph Search could one day displace Yelp and Foursquare for local friend recommendations on-the-go. This is another threat to Google, as local/mobile search is not something the search giant has yet perfected.
GSO (Graph Search Optimisation): The New SEO?
With an improved Facebook search functionality will come a new discipline of SEO for Facebook. Get ready for likes, shares and check-ins to replace links and keywords.
Verticals Which Should Take Note
Some businesses, particularly those with real-world locations and lifestyle-type services, will stand to gain (or lose) more than others. Some of the industries which should be acting now to prepare for Graph Search are bricks-and-mortar retailers, hospitality businesses such as restaurants, tourism entities like destinations and attractions, entertainment brands such as ticketing and live music events, dating services and recruitment services.
Why Should Marketers Be Excited?
Likes Are Meaningful Again
Yes engagement is just as important as it ever was, but the more page likes you have, the more search results you appear in.
Finally – Determine The Value Of A Like
After the endless debates about proving social media ROI, Graph Search could make this equation as easy to quantify as it is for Google SEO.
Location, Location, Location
There’s a real opportunity here for location-based businesses – people will be using Facebook to search for restaurants, stores, attractions locally, and eventually on their mobile phones. Local pages are now as important as brand pages, and check-ins will feature heavily in results. Local B2C companies – a contingent who have struggled up to find value in Facebook marketing until now – may benefit the most.
Businesses can search the (public) information of their own fans and fans of competitors, for example what music they like or where they check in the most. Searching ‘music liked by people who like Brand X’ could indicate which music track to choose for their next TVC, or searching ‘celebrities liked by people who like X Brand’ could give a clue as to who their next ambassador could be.
New Advertising Opportunities?
It’s extremely likely that the new-ish Sponsored Results (paid search results similar to Google’s AdWords) will roll out to Graph Search eventually. This is a shortcut to getting above your competition in search results by bidding on search keywords.
What Are The Negatives?
This new way to mine Facebook data has already thrown up negative applications. After the recent clumsy changes to the Instagram terms and conditions which saw the network lose half its daily users according to some reports, will the integration of advertising into Graph Search cause a similar revolution against Facebook itself? A recent Edelman study found 90% of social media consumers care about data security and privacy, so it’s not too far-fetched to imagine some sort of negative consequence from the Facebook user base.
Publishing your private information on your Facebook Timeline, and publishing your data to be searched, sorted and easily discovered by a sophisticated search engine are two very different things. Will the average user be shocked when confronted with the totality of their data that Facebook has acquired? And will this create a backlash, or result in users tightening privacy controls, making Graph Search less useful?
Graph Search is only as good as the underlying data, and this can change from friend group to friend group.
Some potential weaknesses are outdated likes which reflect the music you listened to when you joined Facebook and not what you’re listening to now, inactive or under-active users who may not like much at all and generate very little data, and the tendency for your likes to reflect who you’d like to be seen as, not who you are or what you truly enjoy.
An Unknown Algorithm: Facebook SearchRank?
What will search results be based on? The algorithm may be similar to the current Edgerank formula which controls the news feed. Possible signals SearchRank could draw upon are total size of a page’s fan-base, fan activity (how engaged a brand’s fans are), number of check-ins at a place, the location of searcher, the relevancy to searcher, and the relevancy to the friends of searcher.
What Should We Do Now?
Facebook Graph Search is all about layered data eg. you can search (1) Single, (2) Straight, (3) Male (4) Friends who (5) Live in Sydney and (6) Like My Little Pony…. So your data and information needs to be spot on!
Sort Out & Update All The Info On Your Pages
Firstly, check the Category and Info sections in the About section of your page, and update if necessary. Make sure your profile picture is clear and contains your logo as it is the image that will display when you appear in search results. Un-tag spammy photos that users have attributed to your brand – photos are now searchable as well. Continue to grow your fan-base – the more likes, the more results you’ll appear in. Ensure place pages are correctly set up and encourage check-ins at your venues.
Location is more important than ever for businesses which have real-world store/venue locations. For example, for people searching ‘Mexican restaurants in Surry Hills,’ the number of likes or level of engagement of the main Mad Mex page is irrelevant. What’s important is that the Mad Mex Surry Hills page exists, is current, has correct location, opening hours and contact information, and has as many likes and check-ins as possible.
Multi-location brands should look into claiming all their Facebook pages under the Facebook Parent-Child relationship (one main ‘parent’ brand page with location-specific sub-(child) pages) – check with your Facebook representative, as this feature is still in beta. Identify and merge any fan-created or duplicate places/pages. Encourage local page likes and check-ins. Post geographically relevant information to local pages, and grow a genuine, engaged local community of fans.
Facebook Graph Search SEO
Just as Facebook’s Edgerank algorithm sorts the content delivered to news feeds, so will some kind of ‘Graphrank’ algorithm sort Graph Search results. Graphrank will probably follow Facebook’s Edgerank’s formula of Weight, Affinity and Recency to an extend. For example, when Facebook needs to decide which photo will take first place in search results, it could do this by attributing it an Affinity score by the number of likes, comments and shares it has received.
If this is correct, engagement will be as important as the number of page likes you have acquired, and following current Facebook page management best practice will lead to Facebook Graph Search optimisation. Steps all brands should be taking are providing clear and up-to-date company information, continuing to grow your audience, extending your reach through organic and paid means, encouraging engagement and sharing, attaining influential and popular fans, and using the same keywords on Facebook that you use for your web SEO.
Three ways to ready your brand for the roll-out of Facebook Graph Search:
Brand Fan & Competitor Insights
Find out what fans of your brand and your competitors’ fans are interested in, including admired public figures, tastes: music, movies, books, interests: games, hobbies, activities.
Graph Search Optimisation Recommendation
Ensure your brand ranks as high as possible in Graph Searches with an information and category health-check and a multi-location page set-up.
Optimise your GraphRank by increasing engagement and reach, including a content recommendation and Facebook Advertising recommendation.