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Local Search Is Where Facebook Could Quickly Take A Stab At Google

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On Tuesday, Facebook unveiled Graph Search, and I’ve been doing little but reading and writing about it ever since. There’s one conclusion I’ve drawn about it so far, above all else, and that’s that we have no idea how big this thing can really get.

Mark Zuckerberg made it very clear that this is the “very early” version of the product, which is only in limited beta to begin with. The company is rolling it out slowly, and will improve on it in time. To me, the biggest potential that Graph Search holds, in terms of making a real mark on the search space, is what lies in the Open Graph, which accounts for a huge chunk of the web (all of those sites that have some kind of Facebook integration). That goes beyond what happens in your News Feed, or on your timeline.

Even out of the box, however, we’re seeing signs that this could make a major dent in the local search space. Think about it. People arguably go to their friends for recommendations about local businesses than they do for any other kind of query. This is why Google has made such a push for social in its local search results. First it was that Hotpot thing, and then last year, they even went so far as to make the switch from Google Places to Google+ Local. You have to be signed into your Google account to review a business, and with Google’s social search features, Google will show you when you happen upon a result that one of your Google+ connections has engaged with.

While this is all great in concept, it’s severely lacking in execution on Google’s part, most of all, because Google+ does not have the kinds of connections that Facebook has. Naturally, that’s where the world’s largest social network comes in. That’s what they have. That’s what Facebook does. They connect people, and have done so for over a billion users. You’re far more likely to find meaningful (to you) opinions on Facebook than you are on Google+, and especially at the local level. Your everyday friends – the friends that you live close to and work with – are on Facebook. These are the friends that are going to the stores and restaurants that you are likely to visit.

Furthermore, the businesses in your town are far more likely to have Facebook Pages than Google+ pages (as well as the “likes” from local residents that are associated with them). No wonder Facebook is calling on businesses to optimize their Pages for Graph Search.

Restaurants nearby

Zuckerberg opened up Graph Search’s introduction by saying that this is not web search. He doesn’t want us to think that Facebook is really going after Google with this product, and in many ways it is not (at least not yet). People aren’t suddenly going to go to Facebook Search to find everything they want to know. However, when it comes to seeing what the people they actually know think about businesses they’re actually thinking about checking out, Facebook automatically has the more relevant results. The results may be incomplete because you can’t rely on all of your friends to “like” everything they actually like (Danny Sullivan made some great points about this), but the results must be more relevant than Google’s for those looking for their friends’ opinions, simply because their friends are present.

There’s nothing Google can do about this problem, short of a deal with Facebook (which it could find a way to get if it wanted to badly enough, from the sound of it), or people magically abandoning Facebook for Google+ (and that’s not happening anytime soon either). In some circles (no pun intended), Google+ might be able to fit the bill. If you work, for Google, for example, you know a lot of people on Google+. For the rest of the world, I’m not so sure.

Local Search Is Where Facebook Could Quickly Take A Stab At Google
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  • wade

    Chris,
    Thanks for all your information on this. I enjoy your dissection of Graph Search.
    I don’t understand how Facebook will take on local search traffic from Google from this? No one uses the current FB search. What about this is going to cause people to find a local biz through FB?
    My experience is that local businesses are flocking to google+, mainly because they have to. FB’s mangling of the Places/Pages situation is still fresh in many businesses mind.
    I look at this as a desperate move by FB to stop the bleeding from businesses using Google+. The negative publicity from the algorithm change wasn’t heard by the public in general but big advertisers noticed. All the campaigns to increase Likes have been completely devalued.
    Interesting times we live in.

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    I don’t trust that my friends will know every Thai restaurant in a 5 mile radius from my house, so maybe I use Google to find the nearest one and then Facebook to get opinions…I can appreciate what Facebook is trying to do and I think it has potential but I don’t know how big of an impact it will have on Google’s local search.

    • http://www.webpronews.com/author/chris-crum Chris Crum

      Good point on starting the search with Google and finishing up with Facebook. I can see that happening a lot.

  • http://www.webpronews.com/author/chris-crum Chris Crum

    Do a search for “mexican restaurants” in graph search, and it already shows nearby restaurants, their star ratings, their hours, their locations, and which of your friends like them. The key is that your actual friends (at least for a lot of people) are on Facebook. They’re not necessarily connected to Google on this level. If you have specific friends whose opinions you trust, the feature becomes more powerful, as you can narrow it down like that. “mexican restaurants liked by John Smith” or “italian restaurants liked by jane doe and ndamukong suh” or whatever.