I don’t believe that Facebook’s new Graph Search feature is a competitor to Google as some of the front page newspaper headlines have suggested. But it is a major new feature which Mark Zuckerburg hailed as “the third pillar of Facebook” after News Feed and Timeline. So it does warrant some serious thought. Facebook is still used by more than half of the UK’s population, it clearly warrants attention from businesses to assess its future impact. If you missed the launch announcement, Martin Boonham wrote it up on the ClickThrough blog that also looks at the implications. I agree with the assessment that “it’s hardly a killer feature to set the SEO/Internet marketing world alight”, at least yet.
It’s clear from the examples featuring local searches that gaining visibility for local searches is the biggest potential. The business potential of Facebook Graph Search will largely be based on searches related to product categories and in particular, searches users make related to LOCAL products and services. Danny Sullivan has explored this in some detail on SearchEngineLand: He’s not sure, and neither am I, whether people will trust Facebook’s recommendations. But I can see it working for a local plumber, for example - we recently asked friends about this by email, and Facebook would have been an alternative to get more recommendations.
Of course, the volume of local product and service searches will also be important for the ability for Facebook to monetise these searches through advertising, I wonder whether there may be some new AdWords-like formats coming. Early mockups suggest that Facebook is taking a Google+ approach of minimising ads.
There are certainly new opportunities for different forms of advertising as this AdAge article pointed out. This gives another interesting example of targeting through intent:
“But imagine what happens when you combine intent, social context and custom audiences (i.e. the data you have about your customers). All of a sudden, Ford can advertise to friends of their current customers who are in the market for a car today. That’s exciting and opens up many possibilities to take loyalty and social referrals to the next level.”
So, local context or retail recommendations seems to be where this new service will have the most impact. It would be good if Facebook offered something like The Google Keyword Tool or Google Trends to show the volume of searches and so spur companies to increase ad budgets. That would be a great way to show the potential, but until I see it, or see case studies of companies gaining significant sales through Ads targeting this type of search, I will remain a sceptic. Over the years, I have looked for data on search volume on Facebook, but never seen any published
For the moment, we’re left with a lot of speculation. We will have to wait and see since this is a limited beta release for now, and currently accessible to a relatively small number of US users - although you can get a flavour of the feature from some of the sample searches Facebook provide on the launch page.