With its Jan. 15 announcement of Facebook Graph Search, has the social network changed the art and science of organic search engine optimization (SEO)? Or has nothing changed at all for businesses that are already practicing SEO, social media and content marketing?
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To find out, we asked three experts to walk us through Facebook Graph Search and explain what it means for businesses today and in the near future.
1: What Is Facebook Graph Search?
Facebook Graph Search focuses on people, photos, places and interests. Graph Search replaces Facebook's more limited search tool and lets users perform specific searches that connect the dots between people in their network.
In Pictures: Facebook's New Graph Search
For example, you could search "music my friends who live in San Francisco, California listen to." The result will be a graphical list of musician and band Facebook fan pages your San Fran friends "liked" (by clicking Facebook's Like button). You'll also see which of your friends liked each artist, and you can click the "Like" button within the search results, too. Microsoft's search engine Bing remains integrated into Facebook search to help users find content outside Facebook. Meanwhile, when you're signed into Facebook using Bing, the search engine recently includes a sidebar of keyword search results from content in your Facebook network.
2: Is Facebook Graph Search Available to Everyone Now?
No. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says that Graph Search is in "very early beta" and will roll out gradually to U.S. English users. It will eventually become available to Facebook mobile users and those in other languages.
"Several Facebook product people are on record saying they still have work to do to figure out how to scale the computationally intensive searches across millions of concurrent users," says Ben Straley, vice president of social technologies for Rio SEO and Covario. "Nontrivial engineering challenges stand in the way of mass availability."
In a statement, Facebook notes that users can search for a subset of content on Facebook. "Posts and Open Graph actions (for example, song listens) are not yet available," the company says. "We'll be working on these things over the coming months."
To start using Facebook Graph Search as soon as possible, get on the waiting list.
3. How Is a Google Search Different From a Facebook Graph Search?
Google (and other search engines) index the entire public Web so you can quickly find the latest news articles, videos or other online content related to a specific keyword or phrase.
In contrast, Facebook Graph Search combines phrases--"people who like tennis and live nearby," for example, or "languages my friends speak." The Graph Search results are the people, places, photos or other content accessible to you within your Facebook network.
4: What About Facebook Graph Search and Privacy?
Facebook says its built Graph Search with privacy in mind from the start, adding that the company "respects the privacy and audience of each piece of content on Facebook. It makes finding new things much easier, but you can only see what you could already view elsewhere on Facebook."
Those comforting words aside, Facebook Graph Search has some security experts and privacy advocates concerned. "Facebook claims to have built Graph Search with privacy in mind, but Facebook has a mixed track record on this front and is in the habit of pushing privacy to the limits of what is acceptable," Eden Zoller, principal analyst at technology consultancy Ovum, tells CIO.com in How Your Facebook Privacy Settings Impact Graph Search. Others suggest that Facebook Graph Search will be great for phishing attacks.
Meanwhile, the Web is already buzzing with the potentially embarrassing and disturbing connections Facebook Graph Search can create. There's even a Tumblr blog devoted to the topic, Actual Facebook Graph Searches, with screenshots of search results for such terms as "current employers of people who like racism."
5. How Will Facebook Graph Search Result Rankings Differ From Google?
There is some similarity in how search results are ranked on Google and Facebook. Google sees legitimate links from other Web pages (and social networks) to a particular piece of Web content as votes of confidence in that content. As a result, a blog post, Web page, YouTube video or other content that receives legitimate links from other sites will rank higher in Google search results than other relevant content without external links.
Analysis: Is Facebook's Graph Search a Google Killer?
In other words, Google tends to reward Web content that has compelled people across the Internet to endorse or share it online with links. Similarly, Graph Search can surface Facebook content that has compelled people in your network to like it, share it, check in and/or comment. The more interaction your Facebook posts get, the more likely those posts will be found in a Facebook Graph Search.