Facebook’s one billion users give it a vast volume of searchable content that can be valuable to social networkers – and potentially provide promotional opportunities for digital marketers. So, to capitalise on this, Facebook introduced Graph Search in January 2013.

Graph Search works by examining a searcher’s connections to find content they have ‘liked’ that matches the search term. It also considers second-degree connections or friends of friends, as well as content which has been shared either directly with the searcher or publicly on Facebook. It uses natural language processing technology both to suggest other related search terms and identify connections.

As Graph Search rolls out more widely, how will marketers benefit from this powerful new feature?

A new kind of Search Engine Optimisation

Marketers are well versed in using Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) techniques to ensure their websites rank highly in relevant searches. In the same way as search engines, Facebook hasn’t revealed the exact formula it uses to determine Graph Searching of content, although they did provide a look under the bonnet at how it works. This means Graph Search has led to a similar process of optimising content to ensure it appears in Graph Search results – essentially Graph Search Optimisation (GSO).

While GSO best practices have yet to be established, here are some tips for marketers to improve Graph Search rankings:

  • Be visual. Posts with photos and videos routinely see increased engagement levels, which Facebook uses as a signifier of quality content.
  • Be local. Brands active in multiple locations should claim local pages for all their physical locations: a strong local presence along with accurate location data boosts visibility in local search results.
  • Be engaged. Combining local data with engagement will significantly boost visibility. So engage customers with check-ins and promotions and ask for customer reviews.

Advertising Possibilities

At launch, Facebook didn’t talk about advertising within Graph Search. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t in their plans – the potential advertising revenue is simply too great to ignore. In fact, Facebook recently began testing ad placements on Graph Search results pages, though they’re not targeted to a user’s individual search query yet.

Based on our knowledge of existing Facebook ad types, combined with our GSO insights and how test ad placements worked, we can outline five potential advertising opportunities we are likely to see in Graph Search’s future:

1. Sponsored results

Delivering sponsored results based on the user’s query is a lucrative business for existing search engines. Adopting a similar approach, with keyword or key phrase targeting in Graph Search, would provide marketers with a powerful opportunity to target users with sponsored results in response to searches.

2. Local advertising

A large proportion of Graph Search queries are likely to be for pubs, shops and restaurants, opening up enormous opportunities for local social advertising in Graph Search. Expect to see Facebook introduce new ad formats or methods of targeting to help local advertisers.

3. Integration of Facebook Offer Ads within results

There’s a great affinity between Graph Search and Facebook Offer Ads, which enable businesses to provide discounts via their Facebook page. Offer Ads are therefore likely to be included in Graph Search advertising in some form – either as an ad type or as an organic search result.

4. Rich media ads

Through interactive video and photo options, rich media News Feed ads are proving an increasingly popular way of reaching consumers. Expect these to grow further and be incorporated within Graph Search in some form.

5. Product-specific ads

Facebook Exchange (FBX) already allows marketers to run product-specific advertising. This could be extended to Graph Search or Facebook may introduce an ad format similar to Google’s Product Listing Ads within the feature.

While it hasn’t yet been rolled out broadly across the Facebook user base, Graph Search really is a revolutionary search technology, with a potentially huge impact on Facebook, its users and advertisers. Monetising Graph Search is obviously high on Facebook’s priority list – as demonstrated by the testing of ad placements.

Paid + Organic

This early advertising focus is a change to how Facebook has operated previously. In the past, product enhancements have often followed a path of announcing the new user feature, achieving widespread adoption and then adding advertising at a later date. On what we’ve seen so far, advertising may well be an integral part of the wide scale release of Graph Search.

Even without ads, Graph Search provides tremendous opportunities to brands to reach new audiences. Just as with search engines, making your brand “findable” is critical to success. Over time, brands will have to strike the right balance between organic and paid placement to achieve their goals. Get your GSO strategy in place now and be ready for the future.

Todd Herrold

Todd Herrold


Todd Herrold is senior director of product marketing at Kenshoo.