With the beta launch of Graph Search last week, Facebook introduced a more advanced version of its search offering that allows users to get personalized information about people, places and things based on their network of friends.
The rollout of Graph Search also opens up a new avenue for businesses and brands to gain exposure on Facebook beyond tools like the news feed, Timeline and their own pages on the site. Still, a new report from Digitas highlights some of the early limitations of Facebook’s upgraded search tool and possible shortcomings over time.
Similar to other analysts and ad experts, the agency points out that the same rules for optimizing content in the news feed generally hold true for Graph Search. Content that is shared, commented on and Liked by a large number of people is more likely to rank higher in results. Therefore, developing an active fan base becomes even more in order to show up in Graph Search.
The Digitas report also notes that users can sort search results just by Likes.
“This is welcome news to marketers which may have spent to gain new fans only to find Facebook’s algorithm limited their presence in the newsfeed to a mere handful of them,” it stated. How many people will choose to do that, however, is not yet clear.
Given that places is one of the four primary categories for surfacing results -- along with people, photos and interests -- Graph Search also gives local businesses further reason to launch or upgrade their presence on Facebook. A recent report by digital agency 360i emphasized that point, advising local venues to begin encouraging Facebook check-ins the same way they do with Foursquare or Yelp to help boost rankings in Graph Search.
Still, the Digitas white paper questioned whether the updated search offering will lead Facebook users to habitually search for anything beyond their friends’ names. It suggested that inconsistent use of tools like Facebook Places doesn’t necessarily bode well.
“It remains to be seen if there are enough check-ins at, say, restaurants within Facebook, to make a search of 'friends who have had Italian food in New York’ a result that leads to action,” stated the report.
Even if a search for a local restaurant returns a lot of results, early testing suggests that some local business categories may not attract enough user-generated content to make results useful. A search of “dentists nearby my friends have been to,” for example, generated only one result in a trial search conducted by JP Morgan analyst Doug Anmuth.
Digitas also noted that Graph Search doesn’t yet cover two key areas: Open Graph actions (such as songs listened to on Spotify or photos pinned on Pinterest) and status updates. The ability to track the performance of brand pages or content in search for now will also be limited because of the lack of a Graph Search API (application programming interface).
Search also is not included in the Facebook Insights API or Ads API. There could be workarounds, however, for shared content, such as images and videos. Tools for tracking performance are likely to be added as Facebook continues to build out Graph Search, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledges will be a years-long project.
JP Morgan’s Anmuth projected a full product rollout following the beta period, still several months away.