Facebook is taking on local search in an unprecedented move that could change the local landscape as we know it. The social network rolled out Facebook Graph Search on January 15th and mobile-friendly Facebook Nearby nearly a month before that. While Facebook claims that the services aren’t meant to take on web search specifically, many are left wondering if Google should be scared. While we’re on the subject, what about Yelp or Foursquare? At least one expert says that the answer to that question lies in just how much effort Facebook wants to put into its local search venture. What is Facebook Graph and Nearby and how they can possibly put a dent in Google’s local search market? To find out, let’s turn to Facebook directly.
Facebook Graph Search
According to Facebook, the new search feature is designed to help people make all new connections, allowing the platform to get back to its roots. When the social platform first came online, people would search for people they might know, their photos, places they’ve been, their interests and the people they know. Facebook Graph will help facilitate that search much more easily.
Instead of web search that relies on keywords, Google Graph relies on certain filters and rules in order to deliver relevant and accurate search results. As Facebook puts it, “Graph Search and web search are very different. Web search is designed to take a set of keywords (for example: “hip hop”) and provide the best possible results that match those keywords. With Graph Search you combine phrases (for example: “my friends in New York who like Jay-Z”) to get that set of people, places, photos or other content that’s been shared on Facebook. We believe they have very different uses.”
Instead of focusing on links like the search engines do, Facebook will focus on Likes. You can search for things your friends have liked, things their friends have liked and this is designed to deliver information about local businesses, just like web search is designed to do.
So the question remains: Should Google be scared? Journalist and consultant Greg Sterling thinks so. He foresees a future where Facebook joins the other major players in the local search game. He writes, “If Facebook’s execution is successful and the UX is good then the local search market may consolidate around Google, Facebook, Yelp and to some degree Apple in mobile.”
While the new Facebook search platform seems like an ambitious undertaking to combat Google’s local market share, not everyone’s convinced it will take off like the social giant expects.
User ‘martinibuster’ on popular forum Webmasterworld thinks that putting such an emphasis on Likes to deliver search results is just asking for disaster. The user writes, “Acquiring “Likes” is, at this moment, going to be the landrush for gaining higher rankings in Facebook Social Search.”
Mike Blumenthal isn’t convinced either. He says that Google is aggressive at taking on any and all competitor and he has a great point. In the past, the company has taken on Yelp, Foursquare, Groupon, YellowPages and Yahoo, and in most cases won. I tend to agree with Mike when he asks if Facebook can gather enough data to prove troublesome for Google and other local search leaders. “Yes,” he writes, “but it will take time.”
The Facebook Graph roll out is slow at the moment, but it expect it to be rolled out everywhere soon. The service is built with privacy in mind (you still won’t get search results from private pages or data) and should help users find other users and businesses faster than before.
Facebook is relying on businesses (SMBs) to populate the data within its pages, and that will limit the information available on the search platform (at least for now), but according to Facebook 45% to 75% of local businesses already have a Facebook page.
It is still too early to tell if the new Facebook local search platform will be a success. One thing’s for sure, itw ill be interesting to see Google’s reaction. As Blumenthal writes, “Now that Facebook has shown their hand though, Google can now focus their energies. And focused it will be. Will Google win this one as well? We won’t know the answer to that but the games have started and it should great game to watch.”
With popcorn in hand, I can only agree.