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:

Sponsored results: Similar to sponsored results in search engines, these paid ads will likely receive prominent placement atop relevant search results. How these ads might be targeted is interesting to consider. Currently, Facebook Sponsored Results (non-Graph Search) can be targeted to users searching for specific objects, like pages, place, and apps. Facebook doesn’t currently offer keyword or key phrase targeting. Enabling this for targeting sponsored results on Graph Search could be very powerful and would bring Facebook one step closer to direct competition with traditional search engines.

More product-specific ads: Advertisers are increasingly running product-specific advertising, especially through the Facebook Exchange (FBX). We may see this or something similar to Google’s Product Listing Ads in Graph Search as well. Facebook is currently testing standard, right hand side-style FBX ads in Graph Search and we are likely to see more creative units in the future.

Offer ads integrated into results: Facebook Offer ads seem a natural fit for incorporation into Graph Search. We may see offers show up as part of the organic search results themselves or as one of the ad types available as sponsored results.

Local advertising: Graph Search offers tremendous potential for social local advertising. Some of the most common searches will be for restaurants, bars and other local businesses and we are likely to see some new advertising units or targeting capabilities as a result.

Rich media ads: Third-party developed rich media News Feed ads could grow in popularity; they offer a unique advertiser experience with interactive video and photo options and the ability to convert leads and other conversion events directly within the advertising unit itself.

Graph Search offers enormous potential for Facebook, its users and advertisers, but for now, we can only speculate on if/when Facebook will roll out Graph Search more broadly to its user base and make advertising in search results available on a wide scale as well. The fact that Facebook is already testing ad placements on Graph Search results pages tells us that monetization of this new feature is a clear goal for the social networking giant.

Previous Facebook product enhancements have often followed a path of unveiling the new user feature, gaining widespread adoption and incorporating advertising at a later time. It appears that in the case of Graph Search, advertising may be an integral part of the wide scale release.  So, for brands, the time is now to develop a GSO strategy.

Todd Herrold has more than 15 years of digital marketing experience and currently serves as Kenshoo Social’s senior director of product marketing. In this role, Todd leads the product marketing team for Kenshoo’s global social media platform, a technology solution that helps agencies, brands and performance marketers illuminate and activate the full value of their social media investments. Before Kenshoo, he served in various product, marketing and management roles at companies like Yodle, AT&T, Time Warner, MarketWatch and IDG. 

Publish date: April 22, 2013 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT