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Facebook and SEO

Written by David Harry   
Wednesday, 14 July 2010 13:10

Should you care (yet)?

Are you spending valuable time thinking about FaceBook and SEO? If so, then read on my friend and we'll have a look-see if that time has been well spent.

First things first, I don't really like to think of FB as a search engine per se. At least not a web search as we're traditionally accustomed to. This is not a cat fight between Google and FaceBook. A traditional search engine crawls the web, locates, indexes and retrieves information. FaceBook is more of a 'site search' application than a (web) search engine. Sure, splitting hairs, but worth noting. So please, let's stop with this 'Google Killer' hype/crap, m'kay?

Ever since they announced the open graph and search enhancements we've been hearing more and more about the world of FB search and of course, optimization for same.

FaceBook SEO - should U care?

What we know about OpenGraph

Ok, so from what we do know the results are being partially ranked/scored based on 'likes'. These are considered a 'vote' not unlike links are to Google. We can then infer that 'like-bait' will be the currency in FB SEO as 'link bait' is with (web) search engines. This also means that 'like spam' will be the black hat currency as well. Is this a functional scoring system? Not in the least, they'll need some better tricks up their sleeves if it is ever to be truly useful.

We also have a bit of semantic code at play here, not dissimilar to what we know already with RDFa/micro-formats. Some of the supported OpenGraph types are;

Activities

  • activity
  • sport

Businesses

  • bar
  • company
  • cafe
  • hotel
  • restaurant

Groups

  • cause
  • sports_league
  • sports_team

Organizations

  • band
  • government
  • non_profit
  • school
  • university

People

  • actor
  • athlete
  • author
  • director
  • musician
  • politician
  • public_figure

Places

  • city
  • country
  • landmark
  • state_province

Products and Entertainment

  • album
  • book
  • drink
  • food
  • game
  • movie
  • product
  • song
  • tv_show

These are used in the form of (the ever bloating) meta data in the <head> elements of your code. This means there are a wide variety of targeting abilities available. Problem being of course that many common CMS out there aren't really equipped to fully max this out on a page level approach. Not ideal at all.

It is interesting to note that IF this were to be a 'Google Killer' it seems to avoid the simple fact that Google already parses RDFa/Microformats and as such parsing this code, wouldn't be all that hard. Thus Google can readily USE this data....not just FB.

What's the Value of FaceBook SEO?

That my friends, is the real question here. So far, from what I can tell, this really isn't about crawling actual pages and ranking them based on relevance or any of the hundreds of signals the web search cousins provide. It seems heavily skewed towards the meta data provided. This does limit it not only in terms of optimizing, but also in terms of the efficacy of the value to the end user – the holy grail of all search.

On the other hand, there is a massive user base which we may not want to dismiss quite yet.

Next I looked at a few actual search tasks...

FaceBook Search


First, we find that it may never get to an actual SERP because of the drop downs.... and seriously, an 'exact match' search engine isn't revolutionary by any means. This leaves it open to poor results and easier spam-ability.

And the actual SERPs? Not impressive either. We have some exact match, then 'posts by friends' which wasn't enlightening and of course, 'web results' which are powered by Bing... all in all, it doesn't seem like this is a Google Killer and surely seems to have little to do with meta data as it does straight match and 'like' spamming

FaceBook SERP 1

Bing???

FaceBook SERP 3

Now, since this is more of a transactional query space, we'll refine with the 'pages' results set.

FaceBook SERP 2


Man, this looks like straight exact match and some 'votes'. Not exactly the most full bodied search result that I've seen. In fact it kinda reminds me of search engines some 10 years back... this would likely be VERY easy to game. What is the damned use if the results to the end user are going to suck ass?

I spoke to someone in the 'dark arts' about spamming FB and asked what safe guards were in place and only got the reply, “what safe guards?”. Kinda says it all.

 

Going Beyond the basics

Now, all of that being said, it does seem to get a little more interesting as you drill down into the various elements of the search including;

  • People – does a reasonable job of returning results, though exact match is too heavily weighted. Also skewed towards 'friends and 'mutual' friends, which makes discovery problematic
  • Pages – as noted, seems to have some issues that would make topics outside of your social circle somewhat easy to game.
  • Groups – again, outside of one's social circle, the results can be downright useless and relevance signals? Hardly any to be found
  • Applications – doesn't seem to be enough of them to be valuable. But from a marketing perspective, this might actually be a good thing (lots of virgin query spaces)
  • Events – see 'applications' lol... ghost town.

There really does seem to be the most potential here in that there are some ways of searching that we'd not find in most traditional search engines. What is a little more problematic is the lack of quality results (often due to folks not capitalizing) and a somewhat clunky interface. There is a glimmer of hope here.

We shall have to see how it evolves, at this point, it really isn't something I'd find myself using, if I weren't a search geek that likes to play with search engines


Should you be worrying about Facebook with your SEO?

Well, I am a huge fan of 'task ROI' in ones efforts, in short, what will the returns be on one's SEO efforts. First we must consider that FB only accounts for some 2-3% of all searches. That's even less than Bing-Hoo. So let me ask you; how much time to you spend optimizing for Bing/Yahoo? I suggest that you spend 1/3 of that time frame on FaceBook SEO. Oh and for the record, I spend exactly 0 time on that. Sooooooo...

One of the only potential benefits is that people tend to trust their social circles more than an open search. A small consolation at best. One has to consider the poor quality of the results as a serious hindrance to it's adoption at this point.

At the end of the day, if you're already using FaceBook for marketing, then it really can't hurt to keep one eye on the targeting you're doing from an SEO perspective. Furthermore, we know Google is interested in annotations (semantic mark up) and it may well be worth considering the OpenGraph elements where technologically feasible.

And there is my final advice; enhance existing social campaigns. Don't start targeting FaceBook as a standalone SEO strategy. That time is still likely best spent on Google... cause this puppy ain't gonna kill 'em just yet.


What do you think? Is it worth worrying about at this point? Sound off in the comments.


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Comments  

 
+2 # Barry Adams 2010-07-14 13:24
I agree with you 100% Dave. I feel like I'm repeating myself every other week about this whole social media & search thing: a user's mindset in a social networking environment is very different from that user's mindset on a search engine.

That's why search engines will remain the primary focus for SEOs - that's where users actually search for stuff. They do something else entirely on social networks.
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0 # Purple Heart 2010-07-19 15:19
Wow. I heard someone on a SEO forum mention this idea of Facebook replacing google for searchers. That is so untrue. People use Facebook to network with people and to stalk them. (jk) People still use Google and other search engines to find information. Thanks for the article. Hopefully it will make things clear!
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0 # Josh 2010-07-14 13:30
First of all Dave, you are really good at creating hype on a post before actually posting it. Just brilliant.

Now about the post itself, I think all the data you've shown is pretty conclusive that Facebook isn't something we should worry about now.

You have to give it to Facebook though, they've obtained a tremendous amount of information from people. Their pay per click service is unmatched, being able to accurately dial in on consumers via interests, education, etc.

And honestly, even IF, they are able to use the information they have to create a search engine I just (right now) can't see people flocking to it to use it. I mean aren't they all on Facebook to play Farmville?
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+1 # Alex Craven 2010-07-14 13:41
I'm wondering if Google will use the data they can access in facebook to inform the rankings in their own results?

Also I dont think Facebook are really planning to offer an alternative search engine, they are offering something different, a way to access content via your network recomendations.. we have to search less because we get recomended more.

just my 2 pence!
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-2 # Dave 2010-07-14 13:45
@Barry - preachin to the choir there bro!! I have talked about this many times before here on Real Time/Social Search. It really just isn't the domain of the SEO at this point to be honest. As for FB, as mentioned, with a miniscule 3% search volume, yer better off targeting BingHoo... and we all know how much time we spend on that.

@Josh - yea, lol.. did kinda make use of Twitter just before I launched this.. hee hee. As for FB, I still think it is a GREAT channel, just not so much for SEO and I was getting tired of the hype around it in the industry. Maybe some day, just not quite yet.
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+1 # Johannes Korn 2010-07-14 13:45
Thank you for this article. It clearly show how poorly search is implemented in todays facebook. Something that always bothered me.
But I do come to a slightly different conclusion. I think it could be the best time to learn about facebook search and follow its development closely. More and more people tend to use facebook as the main hub of their personal version of the internet. Heck, some even think of the internet as facebook. Zuckerberg sure envisions this. And facebook surely will improve the search functionality over time. Right now you still have the chance to be there right from the beginning. I think it might just be a big mistake not to look at facebook with SEO in your mind.

Quoting Josh:
I mean aren't they all on Facebook to play Farmville?

And this exactly could be the reason why you maybe should pay attention to SEO on facebook. These people who "just play Farmville" made zynga millions over millions in just a year. Yes, Social-Games are something very different from search results. But it shows how people are willing to put trust and money into apps and results on this platform.
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0 # Dave 2010-07-14 14:00
@Alex - actually, as I mentioned in the peice, it is entirely possible Google will actually use the meta-data that OpenGraph supplies. Which is kinda funny considering the 'Google Killer' hype. The fact that Google, or anyone, can actually use the semantic markup that OG supports. lol

@Johannes - most certainly I will be watching.... just as I do with ANY search engine. I written about OneRiot and other RTS/Social engines over the last while. Fact remains though, that with a 3% share, reality dictates we worry about Bing before FB even. And... well.. I don't spend much time worrying about them either. So we shall keep an eye on it, but it really isn't of great importance to me at this time. But you are right, we should pay attention to ALL evolutions of search.
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0 # Tom Demers 2010-07-14 14:31
Hey Dave,

Nice synopsis; the addiction to jumping from "new thing to new thing" in search of "the next big thing" rather than pouring more time and attention into sustainable activities that already work is a pet peeve of mine; I feel like the fractured focus people spend fad-hunting often outweighs any gains they actually wind up seeing from finally finding an area where they're first-movers.

Tom
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0 # Tola 2010-07-14 21:16
I believe there's Social Media and there's Search Engine Optimisation. Frankly, I think I'll be quite upset if I have to worry about Facebook SEO as well! When there are more pressing things like Local Search and Mobile SEO to worry about. Facebook should stay the way it is, Social Media and nothing more! Sure it's great for marketing and all, but the day I actually start optimising my facebook page, that will be the day! :-)
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+1 # Seo paslaugos 2010-07-15 12:09
I agree with you 100% Dave. I feel like I'm repeating myself every other week about this whole social media & search thing: a user's mindset in a social networking environment is very different from that user's mindset on a search engine.

That's why search engines will remain the primary focus for SEOs - that's where users actually search for stuff. They do something else entirely on social networks.
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0 # diva 2010-07-16 13:05
David, this is an awesome piece of writing having clear correlation between SEO and facebbok, btw facebook users must be aware of this knowledge.
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0 # Gareth Rees 2010-07-20 09:53
Hi David, Nice article and I agree with you. The one thing I've noticed with most things Facebook is that it's got a long way to go before it's marketer friendly. I think the ad program is good but there's so many restrictions for small advertisers when surely this should be the area facebook should be cultivating most. I think if they were to get serious in this field the SEO opportunities might follow.
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0 # Manoj 2010-11-30 05:16
Question:

Is there a way to see how the pages that have been indexed are ranked without having to type it in at Google and then start searching.
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0 # templatesspot.com 2011-10-25 12:12
I feel like I'm repeating myself every other week about this whole social media & search thing: a user's mindset in a social networking environment is very different from that user's mindset on a search engine.
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