Facebook has dominated the conversation in the tech world this week (for several reasons), but especially because of its unveiling of Graph Search. We've been waiting for years for Facebook to "get into search" and "take on Google," and we appear to have the company's first real attempt at doing so.
Do you think Facebook has a legitimate shot at cutting into Google's share of the search market? Let us know in the comments.
It is very clear that Graph Search is not going to instantly come out and reduce Google's piece of the search pie very significantly. It's in very early beta and limited preview. Facebook says it is rolling out slowly, and many who have already signed up to be part of the preview are still waiting for a chance to actually use it. The company knows it has a whole lot of work to do on this product. It's starting off by focusing on four main areas of search: people, photos, places and interests. These are four major things, but there is so much more that Facebook could (and will) do. Facebook posts and open graph actions will be added in the coming months, according to Mark Zuckerberg. Mobile will eventually be added as well. So will Instagram, and probably plenty of other things in time.
In other words, it's not so much about what Facebook has unveiled, as what Graph Search could evolve into. Could it evolve into a Google killer? Probably not, but who can say for sure? The reality is that it doesn't have to be a Google killer to be successful, and a useful tool for Facebook users. More time spent on Facebook (especially time spent using search on Facebook) has the potential to draw away some amount of ad spend from Google to Facebook, which really could hurt Google to some extent.
Facebook has a legitimate shot at being a real player in search because, for one, it has over a billion users already, and for two, because it can provide answers that Google can't. There is plenty of room for Facebook Graph Search to flourish with or without Google dominating traditional web search, because Graph Search is not traditional web search. In fact, one of the first things Zuckerberg said when he introduced the product on Tuesday, was that it is "not web search".
Facebook does utilize its partnership with Bing to add the web search element, and as Liz Gannes at All Things De writes, Graph Search should only help Google's case for increased competition in search when it comes to antitrust scrutiny.
Some have dismissed the offering as "not a big deal". I'm not so sure I agree with that. Either way, we at least owe it to Facebook to let the product show us what it can do before rushing to snap judgments. Give users a chance to figure out what they can do with it. Give Facebook a chance to move it forward out of beta, and add the stuff it really wants to add.
Privacy concerns generally come attached to any major Facebook product launch. The controversy the company has drawn in the past with regards to privacy doesn't help perception. Still, privacy was a major point of discussion by Facebook as it unveiled Graph Search. In fact, they released a video with some privacy tips just as they announced the product.
The fact of the matter is (at least this is what Facebook is telling us), is that users will only be able to see things on Facebook that they already could. The only thing that changes is that users have a new way to discover these things. Still, that could be enough to make some users feel uneasy, which is why Facebook recommends checking out how you're already sharing your data. Indeed, if you haven't perused your privacy settings lately, you might want to take a look and make sure you're comfortable with them.
Okay, now let's get to the business side of things. Graph Search may just present businesses with some great new opportunities to get in front of users on Facebook, a feat that has become increasingly challenging as Facebook has tinkered with the way it displays updates from Pages in the News Feed. With Graph Search comes a whole new area of search engine optimization. Whereas optimizing for Bing might be pretty similar to optimizing for Google, optimizing for Facebook's Graph Search is bound to be an entirely different beast.
For one, optimizing for Graph Search is not about optimizing a web page (although it might make your Bing rankings of greater concern).
Facebook has already shared some optimization tips for businesses. “The search bar first returns the top search suggestions, including people, Pages, apps, places, groups, and suggested searches,” the company explains. “People can search for things like restaurants near them, hotels in places they want to travel to, photos posted by Pages they like, or games that their friends like to play.”
“These search suggestions take people to a unique results page,” it adds. “The results returned are based on factors that include information that has been shared by your business and the connections of the person searching.”
Facebook will also make suggestions in the search bar, and will display Bing results (and ads) for web searches. Pages and apps will continue to be able to use sponsored results. These will continue to appear whether or not the user has Graph Search yet.
Here are the specific tips Facebook offered for "making sure your Page is complete and up-to-date".
- 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.
- You can learn more about fan acquisition and Page publishing best practices here.
You may also want to consider going through Facebook's "Managing A Page" help section, which covers: getting started, accessing your page, settings/general administration (editing, notifications, managing admins, usernames/page addresses, claiming/merging duplicate pages), customizing how it looks, growing your audience (best practices/reaching more people), private messages, apps, using your page on mobile, policy questions, page insights (analytics), page admin privacy, bugs/known issues, and posting/moderating posts by others (page posts, offers for page admins, translating page posts, moderating what people post on your page, and photos/events/links).
It's hard to know this early in the game how businesses will best be able to use Graph Search for increased visibility, but you can rest assured, people will be trying to take advantage. It will be interesting to see just how gameable the system is. Facebook is likely going to have to take on this issue with its own set of "quality guidelines" the way Google does, which will enable it to manually (and algorithmically) penalize Pages that are in violation.
Facebook does already have a business resource site here.
Facebook also notes that app developers have a lot to gain from Graph Search. The company says, "Apps are now more discoverable on Facebook with Graph Search. In addition to showing up in search results based on your app’s name, they can show up in search results based on criteria like 'strategy games my friends play' or 'apps my friends who live in San Francisco use.' To optimize your app for Graph Search, please make sure your app details are up-to-date and that your app is properly categorized."
Potential Relevancy Problems
You know how paid links is a problem for Google optimization? It will be interesting to see how "like buying" fits into the Facebook picture as it pertains to ranking in Graph Search.
Steve Cheney has an interesting blog post on how businesses may be able to influence the results based on how much of their marketing budgets they put toward fan acquisition.
"For the past several years big advertisers on FB have actually been directing massive amounts of paid media to acquire fans. They quite literally bought likes," he writes. Why? Early on FB made the case to brands that they must have fans… together with the ad agencies they convinced the Cokes of the world to spend money to be competitive (hey Pepsi is here too). Then, FB promised, something miraculous would happen. Your friends would see in their news feed you liked Coke!"
"So… FB convinced big advertisers to spend huge sums on CPA-like ad units whose sole purpose was to acquire fans. Ad agencies dedicated creative, planning and strategy resources to get the Cokes and American Expresses of the world to pay to have users click—almost 100% of the time because the user was promised some sweepstake or contest," he continues. "Recall back to all the past campaigns you’ve ignored where you could 'like to enter' or 'like to qualify'. They are literally everywhere and are always tied to fan acquisition."
He goes on to note that over the past several years, American Express, for example, has spent about half of its ad spend on buying likes, which he says equates to tens of millions of dollars, and that "across the board, big advertisers were told to spend 50% of their ad buy solely on fan acquisition."
Of course outside of these massive marketing budgets, pages give users deals for "liking" them on Facebook all the time. These are not necessarily genuine liking of a business, and this could dilute the relevancy of search results for users actually looking for some useful information to help them make decisions.
Another potential relevancy problem is that people change their minds. Just because you liked something two years ago (or longer) does not mean it represents your current opinion. People get older and grow up. They have bad experiences with businesses that they used to like. They're not always going to go back and unlike things. It's simply not going to occur to everyone. For that matter, Facebook has already buried so many updates from pages in the news feed, users are no doubt forgetting that they ever even liked some pages to begin with, since they never see updates from them.
Then there's the fact that a lot of Facebook users aren't taking the time to "like" everything they actually like.
"Consider me," writes Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land. "Not only have I not liked my electrician, my plumber, my dentist, my doctor or my tax person on Facebook, but I don’t even know if they have Facebook pages. I have nothing to offer to my Facebook friends in this regard. Similarly, despite the huge number of books I read through my Kindle, I never go to like those books on Facebook, so books I love are more or less invisible on Facebook."
Despite all of this, there's no question that Facebook has the strongest social signals of any service on the web. It has the volume, and has the close, personal connections. It has your family and the people you have known all your life. it has your co-workers, your old friends from all levels of school, and it has the people in your town. It also has the people on the other side of the world. If social signals are ever to be important to the relevance of search results on a mass scale, wouldn't it have to be Facebook's?
We had a conversation with blekko CEO Rich Skrenta about Graph Search and social signals. He tells us social signals are “critical” for search relevance.
“PageRank originally measured the web’s primary social signal — links,” he says. “Facebook has even better social data which would be great for ranking recommendations. And they could be personalized to you, based on your friends.”
“Facebook Graph Search addresses a completely new class of searches that you can’t do today on Google,” he says.
"Another difference is the layers of searching or refinement that Facebook Search offers compared to Google," writes Sullivan. "For example, a Google search can show you restaurants in San Francisco, a pretty much single dimensional view.
"A Facebook search can show you restaurants in San Francisco liked by your friends," he adds. "Or further, those liked by your friends who actually live in San Francisco, as opposed to those who live elsewhere. Or those liked by your single friends, your straight friends, your gay friends, your friends who work for a particular company."
Clearly Facebook has a lot of challenges ahead of itself if it wishes to be a serious player in search, and while Graph Search could pose some threat to Google, not just a search destination, but as a more complete web experience, it has a long way to go. Even still, the amount of data that Facebook has at is disposal, along with the engineering talent behind the offering, led by former Googlers, it's hard to imagine this offering won't be at leas an important too for Facebook itself, if not a bigger deal for the web itself.
Do you think Graph Search is a big deal? A threat to Google? A useful Facebook tool? An important tool for businesses? Let us know in the comments.