STUDY: Facebook beating out niche sites for local search

Through Facebook’s Graph Search, the company is trying to become a player in local search. As Yext discovered in a recent study, Facebook is already a more popular local search engine than TripAdvisor and other niche sites, yet still has a long way to go to catch up with Google.

When more than 1,000 people were asked about websites they access to find local business information, 12.4 percent said Facebook, while 6 percent said specialized sites. This pales in comparison, however, to Google, which earned a 50 percent mark on that question.

Yext did find out that small businesses love Facebook, as it was the most widely-used social media tool for promotion — 68.7 percent of those polled said they used Facebook to promote their business. While 42 percent said they had no plans to spend on online advertising, 28 percent (the most of any positive answer) said they ran Facebook ads.

Opus Research senior analyst Greg Sterling, who worked with Yext to compose its quarterly report on local search, talked with Inside Facebook about the study. He feels that Graph Search could be a major player for the company’s progression:

Right now Facebook has a huge audience and the social graph. But generally it has few advantages because Graph Search and Nearby remain relatively crude from a content perspective. However over time as content improves and the search capabilities are refined, Facebook’s social filtering could become quite valuable as a source of local recommendations.

Facebook could become a huge source for local recommendations if it continues to invest in Graph Search. Places is one of the primary features of Graph Search (and obviously Nearby). Word of mouth has historically been and continues to be the main way that consumers find local and trusted business referrals. Obviously Facebook is right in line with that pattern.

It’s important to keep in mind that the questions were asked in March, just two months after Graph Search rolled out in beta. It’s likely that, as Graph Search rolls out to U.S. English Facebook users, more people will become familiar with it and it can become a force for local search. Facebook has been pushing users to recommend places they’ve checked in or liked, so Graph Search users can see better results.

While there is currently no algorithm in place (i.e. results ranked by number of friends’ check-ins or recommendations), Facebook does display a list of friends who have checked in or recommended (with a star rating).

At the time of the survey, more than 70 percent of those polled were ambivalent or negative toward Graph Search (though Sterling noted that men and younger users were more receptive to it).

While the divide between Facebook and Google may be wide, Sterling said that with Graph Search, Facebook has a chance to gain ground:

Facebook is hypothetically in a position to challenge Google — again if it continues to invest in search. I don’t see the company challenging in general web search but in local and in certain other categories it could become a challenger. More likely it will be a companion or complement to Google usage. Search is not a zero-sum game, especially in local. People use multiple sources and resources.

Readers: How could Graph Search improve?

Chart courtesy of Yext.