Facebook Graph Search: Considerations for Advertisers

Facebook has announced its new search functionality, called Graph Search.  Graph Search enables users to expand their searches on Facebook beyond just pages and entities.  Users can now search names, categories and phrases, and search results include information that the searcher’s friends have shared (like people, photos, interests, places, “Likes”).  To illustrate, a user can search “Chicago restaurants my friends like” to see results for restaurants in Chicago liked by their Facebook friends.


Since 2012, Facebook has enabled advertisers to run sponsored ads within the Facebook search drop-down.  However, advertisers could only trigger ads based on Facebook entity-related keywords, like brand pages.  Because Facebook searches were limited only to Facebook entities, we've seen low impression volume from these ads.  Graph Search is intended to change this.  It opens up Facebook search to a much wider array of search results.  In turn, Graph Search could drive new opportunities for advertisers.  This point-of-view highlights the potential opportunities:

1. Facebook as a Unique Paid Search Channel

Facebook’s interpretation of search is unique because it’s geared to the highly personalized social networking experience.  Although there’s currently no advertising within Graph Search, we do anticipate new, socially-entwined paid search advertising opportunities in the near future.  Given Facebook’s vast database of user information, Graph Search ads could potentially be highly relevant, more dynamic in content and more personalized as compared to traditional paid search.  Of course, Facebook users may have privacy concerns because user actions (like “Likes”) will be used to personalize search results for their friends.  As more Facebook users explore Graph Search, we’ll get a better idea of how privacy concerns could come into play.

Additionally, Graph Search will be unique as it’s likely to include a mix of advertising opportunities, not just traditional paid search ads.  Facebook has plans to eventually integrate listings from services like Netflix and Spotify into Graph Search.  To illustrate, Facebook will allow Spotify to monopolize music-specific searches.  Taking this idea a step further, Facebook could enable certain brands to monopolize vertical search categories, like travel (i.e. users searching for hotel recommendations from their friends) or shopping (i.e. users searching for the best deals that their friends have found on certain products). 

2. The Increased Importance of “Participatory Search”

Over the past few years, Google and Bing have been squarely focused on creating a search results page that is more social.  In doing so, search has become more of a participant-influenced channel.  We’ve called this evolution “participatory search.”  To illustrate, on Bing, search results that are “Liked” by the searcher’s friends float to the top and stand out with the Facebook “thumb” symbol.  On Google, position and visibility in paid and organic listings is influenced by Google +1s.  Participants, by “Liking” or +1ing certain content, are increasingly influencing whether search results get clicked.  Thus, for brands to create the ideal search results page, they need their participants’ help.  An ideal search page is the result of a mutual investment between the brand and its participants.

“Participatory search” is magnified by Facebook Graph Search.  Social signals like posts, “Likes,” comments and shares are the whole basis of Graph Search.  Thus, the key to organic Graph Search visibility is encouraging people to participate with your brand on Facebook by sharing your content.  To do this, brands should:

  1. Create Share-worthy, Relevant, Unique Content:  Focus on content like coupons, deals, contests, polls, humorous videos or informative articles.  And make sharing easy!  Share-worthy content will help propel your brand to the top of Graph Search results. 
  2. Organize Participants: Use Facebook paid media to gain fans and encourage participants to “Like” and engage with your brand.  The more fans, “Likes,” comments and shares your content generates, the more likely your brand will appear in Graph Search.
  3. Focus on Influencers and Advocates: Pay special attention to fans that are always sharing your content or commenting on your posts.  The more personal attention they’re given from a big brand, the more likely they’ll continue advocating for you.
  4. Create Two-Way Conversations: Don’t just listen; do something about it!  Respond to negative feedback.  Consider customer advice.  Remember that everything your participants say about you—good and bad—could show in Graph Search results.


We have been monitoring search behavior since 1998.  Since then, search has greatly expanded to different platforms and interfaces.  People search on traditional engines, but they also search on a variety of other mediums based on specific needs.  For instance, people search using barcode scanners in stores, they search for advice from friends on social media, they search using their voices on mobile, and they search on their GPSs, TVs and refrigerators.  Facebook Graph Search doesn’t change peoples’ needs for traditional search.  It only gives brands a new opportunity to engage searchers that have a specific need—the need to discover advice and recommendations from friends.  Facebook may be better positioned than Google or Bing to satisfy this need, but it remains to be seen whether users will adopt Graph Search.  In the meantime, Google (and Bing) will continue to integrate socially-influenced listings into traditional search in an effort to be a one-stop shop for all needs.

Specialized search engines (like Facebook Graph Search, Yelp or Amazon) are playing a larger role in overall search.  Thus, brands’ search strategies must extend beyond the traditional engines.  Brands must think about delivering the right content, at the right time, in the right place.  We’re excited about Facebook Graph Search because it gives brands more opportunity to do this.

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