Facebook’s social search product Graph Search could pave the way for a host of targeting opportunities for advertisers, but must be extended to mobile fast, according to industry experts.
Graph Search, unveiled by Mark Zuckerberg yesterday as Facebook’s “third pillar”, lets people search their friends based on the information they have given Facebook permission to publish, across four categories: places, photos, people and interests.
It is designed to take a precise query and give you an answer, rather than links that might provide the answer and integrates more closely with Bing, providing web-search results for those queries Facebook can’t answer.
Agencies have welcomed the changes with some believing it could trigger a shift of paid search budgets away from Google towards Bing in future, while others expect the changes to pave the way for more sophisticated ad targeting on the social network, in turn becoming more of a direct response channel akin to search.
Aegis-owned iProspect’s head of paid social Angus Wood said the move marks a “major moment” for both social and search and could result in some effective commercial opportunities around paid search and Facebook ad targeting. “Bing has always had a problem with volume but its link with Facebook dissolves that and the two together can do more to chip away at Google’s market share,” he said.
Although the social network did not unveil any details on how it will commercialise the product, Zuckerburg said it will look to monetise it in future.
Wood said, “Wherever there is discovery there is sponsored discovery. Facebook has always said its ad product is in the demand-generation space rather than a demand fulfillment one and therefore doesn’t lead to actual conversions. But this would change if people start using Facebook to search for things as they would on the web,” he said.
Facebook has a huge amount of data about who people are but traditionally has been less well informed than Google regarding what people want to buy at any given moment. However, agencies believe if Facebook could combine existing data such as demographics with people's search activity it could give the social network a bigger role in the path to conversion.
Combining these different levels of data could be “immensely powerful”, providing much-needed data based on a user’s intent, according to Wood. “This would mean it can start serving messages related to what they have been searching for. If it gets that right there is a huge commercial opportunity for Facebook to up its game in the direct response market - something it previously hasn’t been able to do,” he said.
Facebook has been on the lookout for new ways to increase its advertising revenue streams and this launch has given it the mileage it needs to do so, according to Marin Software’s commercial director, EMEA, Jon Myers. “Facebook, with its one billion users, is an enormous entity and is fast becoming the gateway to the web. So far it hasn’t managed to crack the advertising side with ads at times feeling intrusive on its pages, but Graph Search will create real opportunity there for advertisers,” he said.
Myers believes the move will, in time, grow the search market and steal share from Google, which will in turn introduce new opportunities for advertisers and consumers. “For the Bing and Facebook alliance it’s a big step forward. They must try and take share from Google and with the UK search market valued at around £2.2 billion even a one per cent share would be worth £30 million so is still substantial,” he said.
Agencies are also now stressing the need for advertisers to ensure their Facebook pages are optimised for SEO following the rollout. Ben Gibson, managing director of The Search Agency, said, “Advertisers will need to apply basic SEO, including vanity URLs and business information, within their Facebook pages to ensure their content can be found,” he said.
Most agree the integration with Bing search is not as advanced as it could be, but if the partnership continues to evolve the opportunities for commercial search and advertisers will become compelling.
Once it is more fully integrated with Bing web search there will need to be a “recalibration” of search budgets, with a larger portion dedicated to Bing, according to Gibson. “If people really start to become more familiar with searching on Facebook then we could start to see a migration of people from Google to Bing,” he added.
The development could also help finally deliver monetary value to a Facebook Like, according to Gibson. Graph Search will index results based on what pages an individual’s friends have Liked and recommended.
“There has been much discussion over the last few years regarding the value of a Facebook Like but Graph Search will make it even more important for brands to generate quality Likes so their pages can be found,” he said.
Facebook Graph Search is being rolled out in beta slowly and is not yet on mobile. Experts agree the social network mustn’t waste any time in extending the product to mobile to ensure it capitalises on the growing trends towards mobile search.
“Facebook has put a good initial stake in the ground with this launch but it will be its extension to mobile that really accelerates it. Mobile is the biggest game changer since Google launched AdWords – it is really coming of age and once 4G kicks in that will drive it further,” said Myers.
LBi’s head of media innovation Andrew Girdwood agrees the lack of a mobile version of the product is currently a barrier. "It's a real obstacle Facebook has at the moment because Graph Search is likely to work best when people are out and about, so they need to move fast there," he said.
Girdwood also believes the move could spell the rise of a new portal, with Facebook becoming a doorway to the rest of the web.
“Facebook to some extent is already a portal – it’s the first thing people check on their mobile phones in the morning and often people’s desktop home page. But so far it hasn’t been that good at directing people elsewhere. If it does start doing that and people start going to Facebook to search then paid search on Bing will get a big boost,” he said.
Facebook has released a blog post to help guide businesses on how they can use Graph Search.