Graph Search Optimization: The New SEO and What it Means for Social Advertisers

This is a guest post by Todd Herrold, senior director of product marketing at Kenshoo Social, a Facebook Strategic Preferred Marketing Developer with Facebook Exchange access.

Facebook introduced Graph Search in January signaling a major shift in social search. Graph Search matches natural language search terms with content from the searcher’s network (social graph) to identify and return relevant results based on several factors.

The volume of Facebook users alone could propel Graph Search to be the first true challenger to traditional Web search engines, but the announcement of this revolutionary search technology prompted a number of questions from social marketers including:

  • How will consumers respond/adapt to social search?
  • How does Facebook determine relevance?
  • What can we do to ensure our pages will appear in search results?
  • What advertising options exist in Graph Search?

Determining Relevance

To determine which pages are relevant to a search query, Facebook utilizes a natural language processor (both to suggest search terms and identify connections) combined with algorithms that examine the “nodes” or connections of a searcher’s network to find content friends have “liked” that match the search. Graph Search can also consider second-degree connections or friends of friends, as well as content which has been shared either directly with the searcher or publicly on Facebook.

Unlike standard search engines, Facebook owns all of the data (page posts, photos, videos, etc.) which has ever been posted to the network. This inherent advantage enabled Facebook to implement a unique indexing structure to categorize the data based on a number of predefined properties. This indexing of owned data allows Facebook to quickly search, sort, identify and return relevant content. They dubbed this infrastructure “Unicorn.” Similar to a standard search engine, it supports search queries including “multi-hop” queries in a series of steps while searching “nodes” in a similar style to the way a search engine utilizes keywords.

The results then get scored based on a number of criteria depending on the search terms. Facebook implemented all of this with the goal to “maximize searcher happiness.”

Graph Search Optimization (GSO)

When marketers initially started exploring how to boost their website ranking in search results they coined the term Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Graph Search spawned an analogous process of searching for answers on how to optimize content to ensure it appears in Graph Search results; think of it as Graph Search Optimization (GSO). While Facebook hasn’t revealed the exact formula it uses to determine Graph Searching of content (they did provide a look “under the hood” which marketers may find helpful), we can identify several factors which likely impact Graph Search rankings.

Brands seeking Graph Search visibility should consider the following tips:

  • Use photos and videos to drive engagement: posts with photos and videos routinely see increased engagement levels, which Facebook uses as a signifier of quality content.
  • Multi-location brands should claim local pages for all physical locations: a strong local presence with accurate location data boosts visibility in local search results.
  • Create a local engagement strategy: combining local data with engagement will significantly boost visibility. Engage customers with check-ins and promotions and be sure to ask for customer reviews.

Where are the advertising opportunities?

When Facebook announced Graph Search, it made no mention of how (or if) advertising would be incorporated, but that doesn’t mean Facebook isn’t working on it. In fact, Facebook recently began testing ad placements on Graph Search results pages, though they’re not targeted to a user’s search query yet. There’s simply too much advertising potential for Facebook not to monetize its new search capabilities in some capacity. Combining the GSO insights with knowledge of existing Facebook ad types and examining the test ad placements allows us to predict some advertising opportunities we are likely to see in Graph Search’s future: