Will Facebook Revolutionize Search Engine Marketing?

Jan 21, 2013
Tom Ryan

Presenting a potential challenge to Google and review websites like Yelp, Facebook last week launched a limited test of Graph Search, a new search engine that incorporates its mountain of social data around personal relationships and interests.

Facebook users can type in queries in a large search box near the top of their Facebook page, such as "What cupcake stores do my friends like?" The results are said to be more personalized than other web searches because they’re based on Facebook users’ pictures, ‘Likes’ and check-ins rather than a generic link to other websites.

"In web search it is very often the case that if you do a search for ‘apple’ and I do a search for ‘apple,’ we’re basically going to get the same results," said Kari Lee, engineering manager, in a video Facebook released. "Maybe I’ll get slightly more technical results based on Apple computers and maybe you’ll care about the fruit a little bit more but [the results] are not that different from each other. Whereas on Facebook when you do the same searches we’ll get completely different sets of results because of the depth of personalization that we do."

[Image: Facebook Search Graph]

If a user wants a recommendation for a store in a particular city, searches will be displayed based on those that are most popular with their closest Facebook friends. Results similar to the searcher’s existing ‘Likes’ and interests may be ranked higher. Suggestions may also be complemented from Microsoft’s Bing search engine, especially if those from the user’s social network aren’t so rich.

A review on The New York Times likened the difference to how users would probably rate the opinions of their friends on a new restaurant higher than the "advice from a professional food critic or from a stranger on Yelp" that may come from other web searches.

The test faces numerous privacy hurdles and Facebook promised that information access would be controlled. With the average number of Facebook ‘Friends’ per user slowing recently, the success also depends on the social network’s continuing popularity.

But if Graph Search takes off, an analysis by Internet Retailer found that retailers with more active Facebook fan bases would be bound to land in more searches. Optimizing their Facebook presence for search would also become a priority.

Most articles particularly explored the marketing potential of being able link online ads to browsers’ interests based on their Facebook network.

"Advertisers are going to be able to better target what you’re interested in," Brian Blau, an analyst with Gartner, told The New York Times. "It’s a much more meaningful search than keyword search."

What do you think of the potential of Facebook Graph Search as an outreach and marketing tool for retailers and brands? Will tying searches to a Facebook user’s social network transform web search?

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13 Comments on "Will Facebook Revolutionize Search Engine Marketing?"

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Ryan Mathews
7 years 9 months ago

I think Graph Search will be too easily “gamed” and in the end, it will offer too parochial view of the digital world.

To begin with, many FBers already have lots of “friends” they don’t know. For another thing many “friends” aren’t geographically proximate, so knowing their favorite cupcake shop may not be useful information.

So … in the short run, manufacturers and retailers may try to dog pile on Graph Search, but in the long term, my bet is it won’t be everything everyone—especially Facebook—hopes it will be.

Peter Fader
7 years 9 months ago

If we’ve learned only one thing in the Facebook Era, it’s that people want to separate their buying/browsing activities from their socializing/stalking activities.

It doesn’t matter how good Facebook’s new search engine will be (and it probably won’t be very good), but it won’t make a dent in Google’s dominance in search, nor will it bring marketers to the Promised Land of making a Facebook a good platform for selling stuff.

Max Goldberg
7 years 9 months ago

Graph Search’s results are incumbent on your friends posting information about their experiences. This would involve more than a simple check-in. In many instances all Facebook has is a check-in.

Does a “like” really mean that your friend likes a company and recommends it to others, or does it mean that the company was giving away something and required consumers to “like” its Facebook page to participate?

There are many questions that need to be answered before Graph Search becomes a useful tool. What it does highlight is the need for retailers to actively engage consumers on Facebook. And there alone, Facebook wins.

David Livingston
7 years 9 months ago

Facebook seems so 2008 right now.

Ken Lonyai
7 years 9 months ago

Facebook’s Graph Search offers a lot of potential if it lives up to it’s promise, but the devil is in the execution. Only time will tell how it plays out. Clearly, a “Like” has been a relatively easy to garner reaction to a prompt, but to date, they haven’t proven any consistent business advantage. So search results based on likes alone will turn out to be meaningless. One-time check-ins are also about as useless. My bet is that FB knows this and will continually refine its algorithm to add more meaning to the true influence of friends in order to make its search function more meaningful to users and ultimately advertisers.

For businesses, this now means that a second look at their presence on FB and a rethink of how (if?) they interact with FB users may be in order. If… in 6-12 months reports indicate that users have made something tangible of Graph Search, then yes, the dynamic of search will change—but don’t bet against Google too quickly….

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
7 years 9 months ago

If I wanted to know my friends’ recommendations I can ask them. When I am searching for information I do not necessarily want that information filtered through my friends’ preferences, especially if I do not know all of those friends. It is an interesting take and may be well liked by some users, but I am not sure everyone will use this feature.

Ben Ball
7 years 9 months ago

I’m at a bit of a loss here. First off, I am not an avid Facebook user. So my opinions are not those of a “fan.”

Having said that, I am an avid life-long student of marketing. And the Holy Grail of marketing has long been acknowledged as word of mouth endorsement. Facebook is creating the opportunity for users to proactively seek out their friends word of mouth (online) opinions, quickly and unobtrusively.

What’s not to like? Clearly online consumers are open to this type of endorsement if the popularity of Pinterest is any indication.

Whether Facebook commercializes this successfully, manages the privacy issues adequately, etc. all remain to be seen. But the basic idea seems intuitively powerful.

Zel Bianco
7 years 8 months ago

This new search method will certainly help retailers and brands that are active and have a following on Facebook. The more followers and activity a retailer has, the higher the probability to show up in these searches. I don’t think this will replace Google’s search engine anytime soon, but it will make a difference with regards to searching to see what your online friends recommend.

Steve Montgomery
7 years 8 months ago

Lots of potential, but likely the reality of its impact will be far less the hype would have you believe. Like Ben I am not an avid Facebook user so my view is tainted—in fact, when someone sends me a friend request I often tell them yes, but very, very seldom ever check my page and never post anything.

I expect there will be some likely younger consumers who will be very interested in their friends’ opinions of this or that, but many more will say, if I want to check with a friend on x, I know who my knowledgeable friends on the topic might be and ask them. If it is a different subject then I am likely to ask a different group of friends or gasp, check what Google users have to say.

Lee Kent
7 years 8 months ago

I believe that FBs Graph Search has a ways to go and prove itself before it becomes an outreach for retailers. Google will continue to dominate, however, this could resonate with certain age groups who use FB avidly. IMHO

Craig Sundstrom
7 years 8 months ago

Whatever usefulness this may have will be tied to how much control users have over adjusting the results. If, as some people noted, the algorithm answers a question like “I’m going to NYC next week, where should I go?” with (NYC>friend>Steve>) Dunkin’ Donuts, then it will have a (deservedly) brief day in the sun. Google itself is already is suffering from too much paid promotion in its results; I have little desire to see another kind of “helpfulness” in its place.

Dan Frechtling
7 years 8 months ago

To paraphrase Business Insider, Google is like advertising at a mall and Facebook is like advertising at a party.

Marketers will run into the same challenges they have in the past with Facebook if they try to turn innovations into marketing opportunities too early. Remember how big F-commerce was going to be? Facebook stores haven’t lived up to the promise.

Graph Search is intended to improve the Facebook UX. The use case is helping Facebook users explore photos, find common interests with their friends, and the like. It’s not an advertising opportunity today.

Facebook Nearby is a local discovery app. The use case is helping Facebook users browse places and businesses around them. It is an advertising opportunity today.

Facebook Search isn’t going to threaten Google in search. Instead, Nearby will threaten Yelp and Foursquare in local discovery.

Kai Clarke
7 years 8 months ago

This is a solution looking for a problem. Users are less concerned about their friend’s specific needs via web search instead of just texting, twittering or even calling them to ask them (if they don’t already know). It is another way to mine data, that users don’t need, and advertisers don’t want.


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