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Facebook Graph Search: What it means for your local business

Facebook announces Graph Search during its January 15th, 2013 press conference

Nobody appears to fear this change more than Google itself. They suddenly face a competitor able to index loads of data that they cannot access. Don’t worry Google: Facebook isn’t launching a traditional search engine like Google or Bing. They are launching a social search engine.

It’s a social search engine most likely to succeed if compared to Google+, considering its billions of users who are already members of the site as well as the vast amounts of data that users enter into the site every day.

Most of us see Facebook as one giant scrapbook, but in reality it’s a huge database full of useful information.  Facebook users are familiar with browsing one page of information at a time. With the Open Graph search tool, Facebook users can now search this database for a unique, personable experience.

Facebook Graph Search

How did the Graph Search get started?

Lars Eilstrup Rasmussen who previously worked for Google (and designed Google Maps) joined Facebook’s existing search team. There was a problem to solve: while Facebook was already a repository for loads of information, it was difficult for users to sort through it all. Users had questions like “Who are my friends in Vancouver BC?” and “What TV shows are my friends watching?” but Facebook had no way for users to easily access this data.

Facebook Graph Search now provides answers to such questions:

“People use search engines to answer questions,” Zuckerberg says. “But we can answer a set of questions that no one else can really answer. All those other services are indexing primarily public information, and stuff in Facebook isn’t out there in the world — it’s stuff that people share. There’s no real way to cut through the contents of what people are sharing, to fulfill big human needs about discovery, to find people you wouldn’t otherwise be connected with. And we thought we should do something about that. We’re the only service in the world that can do that.”

This new announcement is exciting for any businesses who

  • Has a Social Media focus
  • Is a B2C
  • Is a local business
  • Relies on  word-of-mouth marketing
  • Wants to show up in search results for un-branded search queries.

How is Facebook Graph Search different from Google search?

When we use Google, we are searching through web pages. The pages that appear at the top of search results are largely based on the number of incoming links a website gets from other sources – each of which acts like a vote for that webpage/site. The number of quality links (links from authoritative websites) a page has helps Google decide where to place it on Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs).

With Facebook Graph search, we aren’t searching for webpages but rather for representations of real-life places, people and products. The way Facebook decides on top results is based on how many “likes” that product, place, or person has. Other connections determine which search results will be relevant for an individual user, instead of using links as a measure of authority as with Google’s case.

Facebook also has layers of search and can show demographics for who “likes” certain products or services. For example, you can see if your friends “like” pubs located in Edmonton, AB, other Facebook users who like pubs in Edmonton who actually live in that city, and even see a sub-list of which pubs your married friends, gay friends, or single friends “like.” This could help you choose a pub to suit your needs.

Facebook’s Graph Search and a traditional web search are very different. Web search algorithms take a set of keywords (for example: “used Toyota Corolla”) and then show top search results that include those keywords. With Facebook Graph Search you can combine phrases (for example: “my friends in Edmonton who like Toyota”) and search results will include photos or other content that has been shared and liked on Facebook surrounding the specific question.

For now, Facebook only includes people, photos, places and interest posts in their results. You can’t just search anything as you would with Google.


Future uses could range widely from finding job openings near you, to sorting your friends by city, to finding which of your friends have kids under the age of 3 so you know who to invite to your child’s first birthday party. You can get answers to questions quickly, and don’t have to resort to asking questions in your status.  How often have you seen your friends on Facebook posting statuses to ask their friends questions?

You can also sort your behaviours on Facebook: typing in “View photos I’ve liked” will divulge a collage of images you have liked from various parties, pets, travels and more. It’s a feel-good experience.

How do I make sure my business gets found in Facebook search?

It’s not all about who you know, but rather who knows you. If you have the right audience when people search for information from their friends about your industry, Graph Search will connect them.

Your “Fans” are your marketing force. With Graph Search, people who “like” your Facebook page and then share your posts and tips will be marketing on your behalf. Facebook has always said to focus on attracting the right fans to your page so you can engage directly with them. Their algorithm will pick business pages with the most “likes”  in conjunction with higher user interaction over those with less.

Facebook will need to encourage users to start sharing and liking more if they want this search feature to take off properly. I have never “liked” a book I’ve enjoyed, or even a restaurant where I find the food delicious unless there is an incentive for me to do so. Is the Facebook page offering me discounts and coupons, information, tips and user interactions? No? Then I would be less likely to “like” the page.

My advice is to continue marketing your Facebook page to the right audience with store contests, incentives and helpful information. If you aren’t focusing on this now, you should make it happen immediately. Appoint this task to a staff member knowledgeable in social media or hire someone who knows the industry to work closely with your Marketing and SEO departments.

Other tips directly from Facebook include:

  • The name, category, vanity URL and information you share in your “About” section all help people find your business and should be shared on Facebook.
  • If you have a location or a local Places Page, update your address to make sure your listing appears when someone searches for a specific location.
  • Focus on attracting the right fans to your Page and on giving them a reason to interact with your page on an ongoing basis.

Will Facebook Graph Search surpass what Google+ attempted to achieve?

The Facebook Open Graph search engine will never entirely replace Google Search. Yes, it does create a more personable search experience and will be useful for some search types such as local service searches. But will people start to take two steps when researching online? Will searchers start to use the Graph Search in addition to Google Search to see what their friends “like,” or will that be too many steps to find a local plumber or car dealership?

Will Facebook users change their search habits entirely and only use the Facebook Search Graph for local searches? Or perhaps Facebook users will use the Graph Search solely as a Social Search engine to help sort through their Facebook data. It also depends on whether Facebook users will begin to share and” like” business, product or people pages more often.

Google+ already has this service in place: you can already “plus” any webpage directly in Google SERPs. So far I haven’t found this service to be useful to me, as my Google+ friends aren’t recommending content regularly. I’m eager to see if people start to correlate their search results based on how much their friends share on Facebook.

Will users begin to share and engage in more “likes” to help their friends find the information they are looking for? What demographics will start using these features more? Many questions come up when I think of the future and I’m enthusiastic to see how this will affect Social Media Marketing and the SEO industries.


Samantha Goettel

SEO Team Leader


Facebook (Social Media Platform)

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