How Facebook’s Graph Search Could Beat Google, Yelp in Local Search

In the days before Facebook announced Graph Search, widespread speculation that we could be in for a huge announcement – such as “The Facebook Phone” – sent investors into a frenzy and drove the price of FB stock to its 52-week high. Once the announcement was made, it seems that investors weren’t nearly as pleased with what Facebook had to offer. But, par for the course for the Wall Street-types, they were short-sighted on what this announcement means for the future of the internet.

By Chris Warden

In the days before Facebook announced Graph Search, widespread speculation that we could be in for a huge announcement – such as “The Facebook Phone” – sent investors into a frenzy and drove the price of FB stock to its 52-week high. Once the announcement was made, it seems that investors weren’t nearly as pleased with what Facebook had to offer.

But, par for the course for the Wall Street-types, they were short-sighted on what this announcement means for the future of the internet. Facebook Graph Search has the potential to revolutionize the search industry – particularly local search – in a way that we haven’t seen since Google decided to start ranking sites based on those that were linking to them.

Google’s innovation in the search space helped it grow into one of the biggest companies on the planet. If the same widespread consumer adoption happens with Graph Search, it could leave the investors who dumped Facebook’s stock after the announcement seeing red.

What is it?

At its core, Facebook Graph Search is a recommendation engine that aggregates data from your friends based on their online behavior. Every time someone likes a restaurant, plumber, dentist, or a local bar, it’s “graphed” so that the data can be easily accessed later. What this allows you to do – particularly if you have friends who are active on Facebook – is search this data to find recommendations for nearly anything that you can “like” on Facebook.

Rather than asking your friends to recommend a dentist next time you have a toothache, you can just ask Facebook for “dentists in San Francisco that my friends have been to” or “dentists in San Francisco who are ‘liked’ by my friends.”

Obviously the more active your friends are on Facebook – and the more pages they “like” or places they “check in” to – the more relevant the results.

These simple searches have the power to fundamentally change the way we perform local searches.

Google vs. Facebook and the Future of Local

Local search is currently dominated by search giant Google. Google uses a combination of their very own Google Places pages and reviews by users across multiple review sites such as Yelp and the newly acquired Zagat. These reviews, as well as “citations” from other web pages, local media, etc. factor into the overall rank of a business in local search results.

Now, it’s not a bad system, but it has the potential for being gamed through fake reviews and good local SEO practices.

Facebook hopes to take a different angle and allow your friends to recommend places you might like. The potential for being gamed is lower, as – just like in real life – your friends’ past recommendations help you form an opinion of whether or not to trust future recommendations. If you know Friend A’s recommended places have proven to be awful, then you’ll take their recommendations with a grain of salt when you see them on a Facebook search.

In short, Facebook makes the experience more like calling your friends and asking them yourself.

But it goes even further…

On Google, a typical search query for a local business might look like:

“Italian restaurant in New York City”

Whereas that same search might look like this on Facebook:

“Italian restaurants in New York City that my friends have liked”

Or, if you really want to data dive, how about searches like…

“best boutique dress shops my friends from Vogue Magazine have checked in at”

Are you beginning to see the power behind this type of search? Rather than finding a web page based on link data (among other things), you are simplifying the process by finding exactly what your friends like, which is ultimately what most people care about, anyway. We trust friends. We don’t necessarily trust random strangers on Yelp who recommend burger joints.