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The Evolution of Social Search – Creepily Awesome

As many of you might know Facebook launched a new search tool called Graph Search a couple of weeks ago. Now the name itself is a little bit of hint into exactly what’s going on behind the scenes. Facebook has an obsession with what they call the social graph. An ever connected social web of interests, friends, mutual friends, and on and on. Well you can probably imagine where the search part comes in. Basically, it combines all this data to give you recommendations on real physical things. Now I’m going to be perfectly blunt. At times it is downright creepy, and I think that dating services have more to worry about this than Google. For example, I tried a query, “Friends of my friends that are from Sherwood Park, Alberta and are single and are female and are interested in men”. Now I did get limited results (fewer than 100? Dang.) but that’s based on what people have their privacy settings set to, and the fact that I searched for only friends of my friends. Now the cooler/creepier part of this is all the filtering options that show up on the right. You can get very specific. And then you can take these matches and as long as there is enough data, figure out where they’ve studied, lived, what interests they have etc. Ultimate stalkers tool? You got it.

So, its bad?

Facebook's New Graph SearchNo. There is some good, and I mean REALLY good, side effects to all of this cree- uhhh, data, that Facebook has on you. Since it knows where your friends like to hang out, eat, party, shop, etc., when you search for the best Chinese restaurant, you are more likely to get results better suited to you based on friends interests. Things like similar likes, interests and also what kind of Facebook user base the restaurant may have, are key determining factors in how things are ranked. And that is very good, because when I search I don’t mind that Google or Facebook or Bing collect data on me, because it means I get results that better match what I’m looking for and would be interested in. Less hunting equals a happier me!

Social Done Right – Finding You a Restaurant

Facebook Local Search

For example, maybe I want to know what the best restaurant is in Edmonton. As any search for local business would begin I use a query similar too “Food and Restaurants in Edmonton, Alberta.” (For the sake of this experiment I’m using generic terms such as restaurant A, B, C, D, in order to identify the listings). Couple interesting things you may want to note from the screen grab here. First off, info at a glance. You have a map on the top right, giving you an idea of how far away you might be from the different results. Another nice addition is the photos in the bottom right that people have taken from these places giving you an idea on what the atmosphere is like at these places. Secondly, let’s take a look at how things are ranked. Two engagement stats. How many people have liked this particular location (not just the business itself) and how many people have checked in.  Another interesting point is just what type of listing these are. Most of these are actual pages that are managed by either the business themselves or a marketing firm. However the restaurant C’s listing is not. There is nowhere that they interact with customers, it’s just a generic listing because Facebook knows people visit there, but the business just hasn’t taken the time to create a page. Now as you can see it is outranked definitively by the two listings above as they both have pages and far higher engagement stats. But the other thing you can note is that the system is not always predictable as restaurant C outranks D is a managed page. 

What Does this Mean for My Business?

Now as a business owner, you may have heard of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and its importance in getting you noticed online. You’ve maybe even heard of Social SEO, or the addition of Social presence in tandem with traditional SEO, but to optimize for Facebook truly is something different. This is Facebook SEO, for lack of a better term, and it’s not easy. Like a website is ranked for content and visits and everything else, Facebook uses things like user engagement, likes, and other things on Pages to determine how they will rank for certain queries. But none of that optimization happens on your site, it all happens on Facebook. Seems pretty standard. But keep in mind two different people with completely different friend recommendations may see different results entirely. And that’s where things are unpredictable. Let me give it to this way. In their introductory blog post Facebook recommended the following ways to ensure that your brand/business is more discoverable:

  • 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.               
  • Source: Facebook  

Now although it may seem like very similar in terms of optimizing there’s only so much you can do. In order to have likes and engagement you need to post useful and interesting content, and engagement only happens when you have likes, and vice versa. Unfortunately it’s all connected and one without the other could end up dragging down your results, when there’s really nothing wrong with your business. The best way to avoid this is by encouraging people to check out your business on Facebook or online, and to constantly engage even when it seems like you’re getting no response.

What About the Traditional SEO?

Although this new form of optimization is very different and more than likely a future for how websites receive traffic, the way we’ve come to know SEO as of late is not going away anytime soon. In fact, for anything that Facebook’s graph can’t find for you, they shall query Bing to see if they can find something relevant. And for that yes traditional SEO is very important. In fact, if you have not really bothered optimizing your sites for Bing yet, I would highly recommend at least putting a little more effort into it as it may in the future, or possibly already now affect rankings in graph search. As always Graph Search is right now in beta, and Facebook’s info on the ranking factors are very vague so treat this review with a grain of salt. Things will change. Traditional ranking factors may get a heavier weighting in the future. More search parameters added. But as it is right now, and what most likely is very close to what will be released to the public, this is the way things work. And you know what? I like it.