So, Facebook is ready to take on Google (Trip Advisor, Amazon, and Ebay…), or is it? Launched with much hype as the ‘third pillar of Facebook’ (the other two being News Feed and Timeline) Graph Search is, in some corners, being cited as Facebook’s answer to Google Search whereas others are wondering what all the fuss is about.
So what does it do? In the simplest form, Graph Search allows users to ask for recommendations, for example, a pizza outlet in Manchester or best shows in Covent Garden. After scouring public data within Facebook, the product then serves the most relevant results.
This new product relies on publicly available data – photos, posts, likes, shares - information posted on Timelines and News Feeds that users have not set as private. In turn, it relies very much on people’s understanding (or non-understanding) of their access levels within Facebook. Facebook says that users can opt out of the search results, but to what extent and how is not yet understood. The poor tech-savvy Facebook user is far more likely to unwittingly have publicly-available information whereas the more tech-savvy user will have considered the availability of their data on the web. Facebook will need to continually educate and innovate if they are to extend their visibility and use of data within their network.
What does this mean for the potential of advertising?
The results presented aren’t ads and, currently, there isn’t the ability to sponsor the results like Google Adwords, but surely it’s only a matter of time? Many users are already expressing an annoyance with ads within their News Feed, although at Found we’ve experienced great success for our clients with Facebook advertising, so Facebook is likely to initially watch, learn and discover before releasing this service as a paid platform for advertisers.
And until a separate Facebook paid platform arrives for SEM marketers to capitalise on - Facebook is currently serving Bing results with its internal results - Graph Search is not a lightning bolt to capitalise on with PPC budgets. At this stage Facebook cannot be targeted separately in Bing’s Adcentre and differences in data between the engines will be merged and unobservable to marketers.
Facebook’s current display advertising platform has caused many marketers serious frustration over the last three years, leaving 3rd parties open to capitalise on the API with separate platforms. I imagine these developers will have their eyes all over the paid platform demand Facebook could bring with this launch.
What does this mean for SEO?
Graph Search could become very powerful for local businesses, especially those where recommendations and word of mouth counts for a lot. Restaurants, hotels, shops, music tickets - all will benefit. The data that Facebook has on check-ins and ‘likes’ means that Graph Search becomes more powerful as a recommendation engine than Google+. It’s too early to say how this will impact SEO but it goes without saying that by structuring website data so that Facebook can read it (Open Graph Protocol) merchants will be in a prime position to benefit from Graph Search and the next stage in Facebook’s evolution.
All said and done, this is great advancement for localised, relevant, recommended content – the next step to truly consumer-driven results. It was only last year that we predicted Facebook would soon be the access point to the internet and it looks like its set out its stall to achieve this goal. Graph Search is unlikely to see Facebook’s value soar (stock has actually reduced by 3 per cent upon this announcement), nor eat into Google’s market share, but it will get people talking and, love it or hate it, Facebook’s here to stay.
Tina Judic is managing director of search, social and mobile agency Found