Facebook makes more tweaks to search: tests ‘top hit’ and increases size of results

Some Facebook users noticed changes to the social network’s search feature this weekend, including a larger window for typeahead results and a “top hit” option.

With search-based ads called Sponsored Results in beta with partners like EA and Match.com, Facebook seems to be working to improve its search offering and make it a more prominent part of the site. For years people have wondered what type of moves Facebook would make in the search space. The changes we’ve seen this summer suggest that search is something the company is putting more weight behind and something investors and others should begin watching closely.

This weekend we noticed the list of search results now appears in a window that extends beyond the frame of the search bar. This helps focus a user’s attention, but also could allow for longer advertising messages that accompany sponsored results.

A new “top hit” feature is appearing for some users on select queries, though there is no clear pattern for when it shows up and why. Facebook typically organizes search results by category: people, pages, apps, groups, lists, shared links and more. With “top hit,” Facebook seems to be trying to give users the most relevant result from among all those categories, but from what we’ve heard from users who have the feature, it doesn’t always do so. For example, in the search below, the user was looking for the official Heroclix Facebook page, of which he is a fan. The page does not appear at all in the typeahead.

[Update 8/21/12 8:53 a.m. PT – Of “top hit,” a Facebook spokesperson says, “We are currently testing different designs as part of the Sponsored Results test. We have no further details to share.”]

Facebook has a long way to go in terms of providing relevant search results, but the company currently has three open positions for software engineers focused on this area. The job description includes the line, “You can help build the next-generation search experience for Facebook to help 800 million people around the world find what they’re looking for in a quick, fun, easy-to-use way.”

It is likely that Facebook users most often search for their friends and pages or apps they are already connected to. But if people begin to use Facebook search to find things they want more information about, as they do on Google, advertisers and users could find more value in the product. In June, Facebook updated its search bar to include the words, “search for people, places and things.” Last month, the social network added a “search the web” function to its typeahead search results, which leads users directly to a page of Bing results. Previously, conducting web searches through Facebook required a few additional clicks.