This morning, Facebook announced that it is rolling out new privacy tools to its 350 million users that it initially announced in July. Why the new tools? While Facebook is not requiring users to open up their privacy settings, it is strongly encouraging users to make a lot more content visible to everyone, not just their friends, or friends-of-friends.
These steps reflect the priority Facebook has placed on starting to open up the content that lives within its system by letting those users who want to share more openly do so. As a result, we’re likely to see big changes in the value of Facebook’s new “real time” search service, and the emergence of new Facebook SEO strategies.
More Content Flowing Through Facebook’s Public Timeline
In the privacy transition tool, Facebook is giving the option to every user to share the content they post to Facebook (status updates, links, photos, videos, notes, etc.) with everyone. Interestingly, Facebook is choosing to set the default-on option in the new privacy transition wizard to “everyone” for many users – a pretty aggressive move that it knows will earn it some backlash.
While we don’t expect most users to choose this option, some users will. And even those who don’t choose a blanket open setting may choose to share some content with everyone via the new “privacy” control inside the publisher. The net result? While Facebook Search has been relatively sparse to date, starting today, there will be a lot more content in the “Posts by Everyone” search results.
This means Facebook Search is likely to start generating much more traffic both to Facebook Pages and profiles, and publisher websites. In other words, while organic, “viral” clicks generated from friends clicking on links has represented most of Facebook’s outbound traffic to date, expect to see search playing a much larger role over the coming months. Optimizing for Facebook Search is now something marketers, publishers, and developers need to start thinking more about.
We will also likely see more interest from search engines in gaining priority access to Facebook’s public real time stream, as has been the case with Twitter. Two days ago, Google formally announced that it is partnering with Facebook to include content from its real-time stream in search results. Twitter charges search engines for priority access to its stream, but we doubt Facebook will follow suit any time soon, because it has other priorities.
Increasing Importance of SEO
There’s two aspects of “search engine optimization” that are changing with Facebook’s new privacy controls. One, the changing role of Facebook Search as a tool for content discovery inside Facebook. Two, the increasing amount of content that Facebook is making public and, we assume, indexable to search engines like Google.
Fundamentally, by sharing more content publicly, Facebook stands to gain a lot of SEO benefit by encouraging users to open up. As long as users don’t misunderstand the new privacy tools and share too much, today’s moves should improve the overall quality of the “profile stubs” that Facebook allows Google and others to index today, increasing the quality of Facebook profile stubs in Google’s eyes, and thus SERP rankings and resulting traffic.
Going forward, that means more of users’ Facebook identity will be public record. This is, of course, a hard tension that Facebook will have to continue to walk a tight line on. While a huge part of the trust that users place in Facebook comes from their understanding of Facebook’s privacy model, Facebook wants to also benefit from openness wherever possible. Fundamentally, though, we believe most people will never feel comfortable publishing many things for the whole world to see.
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