Facebook SEO and BeastRank: 12 Potential Ranking Factors for the Upcoming Facebook Search Engine

Facebook Search Engine

We all know it’s coming.  Actually, many of us in digital marketing are surprised it’s taken so long. I’m referring to a real Facebook search engine, which has the potential to turn the search industry upside down. Mark Zuckerberg explained at Disrupt a few weeks ago that Facebook will tackle search, and that they are “uniquely positioned to answer the questions people have.”  He also explained that Facebook sees about one billion searches a day, and that’s without even trying. Last, and most importantly, he said, “At some point we’ll do it. We have a team working on it.”

Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, also commented about Facebook search recently, explaining how the recommendations of your friends can be important for users looking for information. She spoke about how the social network can tap into the “wisdom of friends” over the “wisdom of crowds” in a recent interview with CNBC. Needless to say, with both Mark and Sheryl talking so publicly about search, you know it’s only a matter of time.

Debuting at Number 2 and the Revenue Implications

One thing is for sure, the potential revenue implications for Facebook are huge. And that’s especially important as Facebook struggles to find sustainable sources of revenue. Search can be a powerful way to drive more revenue (if you can provide strong results, gain users, build query volume, and then monetize those results with relevant advertising).

From a user perspective, Facebook has over one billion active monthly users. From a query volume standpoint, Facebook already has one billion searches per day. There’s quite a bit of ad inventory already.

Think about this for a minute … Facebook has so much query volume now (one billion searches a day) that it would turn into the number two search engine overnight (behind Google). Google sees approximately 100 billion searches per month globally, and if Mark’s statistics are correct, then Facebook would come out of the gates at approximately 30 billion searches per month. And by the way, that’s with horrible search functionality in place now! I often joke that you can’t find yourself via Facebook search. :)

Facebook sees one billion queries per day, and without even trying:

Facebook Search Queries

New Engine, New Ranking Factors

So what if Facebook launches a killer search engine? What will it look like and how will it work? And more importantly for digital marketers, what will the ranking factors be?

As Mark and Sheryl both said during their interviews, Facebook has the ability to handle search in a different way than Google or Bing.  They believe the power of your friends could drive the answers you require. I started to think about their quotes as soon as I heard them, and it was easy to see that Facebook search can definitely get interesting for webmasters, SEO’s, Social Media Marketers, and Paid Search Marketers.

But, until Facebook launches a serious search engine, SEOs will continue executing, analyzing, and refining their efforts based on a number of SEO ranking factors related to websites, webpages, links, on-page optimization, domain authority, etc.

Sure, Google and Bing continually update their algorithms, but we know that on-page optimization is important, building high-quality links is important, pumping out high-quality and unique content is important, etc.  So, what happens if a big player jumps in the game with a completely different set of ranking factors?  And I’m not talking about a slightly different set, I mean really different.

Facebook search ranking factors could be very different from traditional SEO ranking factors:

Facebook Search Ranking Factors

SEO’s and Social Media Marketers

Depending on the path Facebook chooses to travel with its search algorithm, SEO’s might find themselves neck deep in social activity (or trying to get neck deep in that activity), while social media marketers might hit the ground running and leverage their already strong social skillset. As many SEO’s already know, SEO and Social have been blending more and more over the past few years. To me, it’s hard to execute a strong SEO strategy without Social Media Marketing playing a role.

But, there definitely are many SEO’s and webmasters that haven’t taken the social plunge (and least not full blast). For those people, a Facebook search engine could lead to a very uncomfortable experience. That’s because the ranking factors could be so engagement-focused, that many of the traditional SEO factors might have very little effect on Facebook search rankings. Talk about a game-changer.

The Power of Your Friends or The Power of Similar People?

Before we dig into the potential ranking factors, I wanted to mention an important distinction. There are some people that believe social search should reveal answers to your questions directly from your group of friends. I believe that can be powerful, but only if that tight group of people truly holds the answers … With most people only having 100-200 friends on Facebook, that’s not realistic (in my opinion). And that’s where Google shines.

Ask Google any question, no matter how complex, and you’ll find an answer instantly. Even if that person with the answer is located half way across the world, and has no social connection to you. But wait, they actually do have a connection to youa similar interest.

Even if you never met that person, they might have a similar interest to you, which means they have similar questions about that interest. That positions them in a strong way to answer questions you have about that topic, and vice versa. And this is what I believe will be at the heart of Facebook search.

If Facebook could effectively connect you with friends, friends of friends, and other people with similar interests on the largest social network in the world, then Facebook search could indeed be a serious player in the industry. And if those results provide amazing answers to your questions, then the revenue could start to flood the social network.

Google generates approximately $40 billion in revenue per year, and 96 percent of that is from paid search. So yes, Facebook could get a serious shot in the arm from its upcoming search engine. Actually, it could transform its business.

Friends can influence search rankings, but so could friends of friends, and people with similar interests:

Facebook Search Friend Influence


Potential Facebook Ranking Factors

Facebook sees an incredible amount of data on a daily basis. With now over a billion active users, there are tens of billions of updates, shares, likes, etc. occurring on a regular basis.

Facebook knows what is getting shared, by whom, and where. It understands what’s getting hot, what’s being shared quickly, and what’s going viral by country, region, and city. It understands age, gender, interests, hobbies, the industry you work in, and more. It knows if you’re single, married, actively dating, divorced, etc.

The core point is that Facebook has a darn good profile of you, and your friends, which can help it determine and craft an interesting search engine results page (SERP) based on your queries.

Also, for the purposes of referencing the Facebook search algorithm throughout the rest of the post, I decided to name it BeastRank (named after Mark’s dog). Sure, I could have named it EngagementRank, SocialRank, FaceRank, or ZuckRank, but I have a feeling Beast could brand the algo.  :)

So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at possible Facebook Search Ranking Factors:

1. Pure # of Likes for a Piece of Content

Let’s start with a simple metric. Facebook knows every single like that occurs across the Web and on Facebook. Facebook can also see the velocity of likes, including how likes are being sustained over a period of time. For example, is the content receiving likes over a long period time (evergreen content), or is it going viral for a short period of time and then tailing off?

For SEOs, likes could be the equivalent of the raw number of links pointing to a webpage. But like inbound links, all likes are not created equal … I cover more about that soon.

Likes per piece of content could be similar to raw links per webpage:

Facebook Likes

2. Pure # of Likes for a Given Domain

So, if “likes” are similar to links, then “likes by domain” can contribute to domain authority. Facebook can understand how many likes a given domain or subdomain has gotten over time. It can understand if a site is new or established. It can determine if it is receiving likes from dummy accounts, new users, or trusted accounts.

Likes by Domain can absolutely help Facebook tailor the right search results by weeding out low-quality domains based on their history. Also, Facebook can determine “likes by domain by category” to start to understand the power of a given domain within a certain niche. More about categories and interests soon.

3. User Engagement for a Specific Object Shared on Facebook

Facebook already has Page Post metrics for “Engaged Users,” “People Talking About This,” and “Virality,” and you can view these metrics in your Page Insights. Facebook could easily use these metrics for all types of content shared on the social network, which could influence the search rankings.

Glenn Gabe
Featured SEO Writer for SEJ Glenn Gabe is a digital marketing consultant at G-Squared Interactive and focuses heavily on SEO, SEM, Social Advertising, Social Media Marketing, and Web Analytics. Glenn has over 18 years of experience and has held leadership positions both in-house and at a global interactive agency. During his career, Glenn has helped clients across a wide range of industries including consumer packaged goods (CPG), ecommerce, startups, pharmaceutical, healthcare, military, education, non-profits, online auctions, real-estate, and publishing. You can follow Glenn on Google+ here.

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24 thoughts on “Facebook SEO and BeastRank: 12 Potential Ranking Factors for the Upcoming Facebook Search Engine

  1. A Facebook search engine could be just what the search industry needs to change things up a bit. I don’t think anyone will use Facebook search to find a plumber but from an entertainment standpoint I can see it working out great. I’m not saying anyone needs to put a dent in Google because I totally respect what they have built but a Facebook search engine might just stir the pot a bit for the industry.

    1. Thanks for your comment Maciej, and I definitely agree. I think many people dismiss an engine built on social engagement, but when you dig deeper, you can see how it just might work. While writing the post, it was easy to see how many possible factors Facebook could use to craft a valuable SERP. Now, the proof is in the pudding, but they have a boatload of data to work with. That’s for sure.

  2. The only problem I can see with Facebook Search (and social search in general) is that people aren’t really themselves on social networks. Granted, as the above noted, there’s something to be said about a FB search engine from an entertainment standpoint. Facebook could certainly make an excellent discovery engine. But people don’t talk about their mundane life experiences or things they consider private like they do on Google. That’s where, if it ever really takes off, Google+ has an edge. They can tie search history with a particular users social graph and provide those deep and shallow insights you mention. I think Facebook knows this and that’s why they’re not really making moves on their (awful, deplorable, terrible) search.

    As a side note, I’d be curious to see what proportion of those ‘searches’ were.. well, searches. I feel that most would be users searching for friends or Pages, not actually submitting any kind of query.

    Just my .02. Great piece!

    Dan

    1. Great points Dan. I agree regarding people not sharing everything via Facebook. Think about medical searches, certain problems people are having, etc. That’s why I think Facebook needs to have a traditional SEO influence, in addition to the social signals it can use. And I also agree about Google+. I wrote about AdWords+ last year, where I explained that Google could do some very interesting things with the social data from G+, the search data from Google, and the location data from mobile.

      Regarding one billion queries per day, that’s a great point. I can only imagine that there are a lot of “people searches” going on… That said, Facebook isn’t even trying yet and they get one billion per day. There’s a lot of potential there.

      Thanks for your comment.

  3. Glenn,

    Fantastic post – really well written and raises a lot of points to think about. That being said, I kind of disagree with a lot of it (sorry!).

    I honestly can’t see Facebook releasing a search engine within the next 3 years… and my guess would be that, in the traditional sense, it never happens. The complexities around launching a search engine that indexes the internet are huge – especially when they haven’t yet been able to get their core business to work properly. Let’s be honest, Facebook as a whole is buggy as hell, and they’ve got far more important things to worry about (like actually making some money to placate their investors before they lose even more of their stock value).

    1 billion internal monthly searches is an impressive number but I’d bet my house that the majority of those are for connections that people have already made. Friends, Page, Apps… all of which is (relatively) simple to index and return. As you mention, that’s as flakey as a flake at the moment and this is basic search functionality – no LSI or anything fun like that.

    There’s then the question of abuse. Faking social signals is just as, if not easier, than buying links. What happens when there’s an entire marketplace where absolutely anyone in the world can early a few cents by liking a web page? You could scale payments based on the number of connections a user has and how active they are (easy to do with the API) meaning that professional ‘Likers’ become commonplace, leading fake Facebook lives – connecting with as many people as they can, posting worthless updates and therefore degrading the platform as a whole. There’s a risk that you quickly go from a social network to an antisocial whorehouse.

    Even with all of this being the case, your tips for the future do hold fast – because they generate traffic and engagement which is really how we should be looking at things. Whether your trying to rank on Google, Bing, Facebook or a search engine that doesn’t yet exist it all comes back to driving engagement and incentivising people (by being absolutely freaking awesome) to share what you’re doing. Whether that’s through a link, like, tweet or plus it doesn’t really matter… if it works and converts, go with it :)

    Matt

    1. Matt, thanks for your thorough comment. You make some outstanding points! I don’t think I can address everything you brought up, but I can address a few things.

      I do think Facebook will launch a search engine sooner than most think, but I don’t believe they will be indexing the web (in a traditional sense). They have so much data shared within the network that they can analyze engagement from users, pages, influencers, etc. I do believe they need to understand the destination page and domain, but that’s much different than indexing the web like Google does.

      Regarding queries, I agree with you regarding the main search box, but I have a feeling Facebook might be looking deeper than that. For example, one of my Facebook friends asked where she can find a certain costume for her daughter today. That’s a query, but not entered into a search box. I’m wondering if Facebook could flag updates like that and somehow provide answers (and possibly paid ads that can help). I’m just thinking out loud here, but there are very interesting ways Facebook could tackle Search beyond a search box. But again, you’re probably right about the main search box. I’m sure there are a lot of “people searches” going on.

      Regarding spam, that’s a huge problem that Facebook is going to have deal with (and refine over time). I’m sure there will be loopholes, but I think Facebook could address those over time. Nothing is foolproof (as we see with Google every day), but using a number of signals, Facebook could start to weed out low quality user accounts, pages, domains, etc. I fully expect to see Panda and Penguin-like filters for Facebook.

      Regarding revenue, one thing is for sure, Facebook can absolutely use a shot in the arm. And Search can be that shot in the arm. After hearing what Mark and Sheryl had to say, I think it’s a lot closer than some think. Remember, “there’s a team working on it” :)

      Again, thanks for your comment. Needless to say, I’m eager to see how this goes.

  4. Facebook is NOT a sleeping giant! I agree with Gabe, here. Do not think for one minute that Facebook hasn’t had something like this in the works for some time now.

    “Buggy” or not, just about anyone can launch a search engine. That’s no big whoop. Facebook has some of the most talented, dedicated, brilliant, creative genius behind their services. I’m certain anything they produce will be of high quality and well planned out. The bugs will work themselves out, as we all say. “I think Facebook could address those over time. ” (spot on)

    Just think of how exciting it’s going to be! I hope they release FB Search sooner, rather than later. Some of us from “back-in-the-day” used Facebook before “social media” even HAD a name. We *love* and embrace change; especially “challenging changes.” (say that 3 times fast)

    I used to tell all my clients to set up their FB Pages, not because it was industry standard back then, simply because I knew it worked & would get easily indexed in the SERPs. Now just look at it all! It’s glorious. All the business owners I ever consulted have hopped on the Facebook-Twitter Train. Had they listened to ME, they’d have left the station a long time ago.

    Never before in history have we been able to connect & communicate with each other on such a grand scale…right from our phone, even. Technology is amazing and Facebook has been a large part of that global effort! I’m not counting them out.

    Who cares about a few “bugs?” I ain’t scared of no bugs. (I was more afraid of a ‘Penguin’)
    With each new release, update, upgrade, and transition, we all came out on the other side just fine and all the better for it. I’m super excited about the proposed Facebook Search Engine. It’s going to combine elements of Search we never even imagined before and we’ll all still be just fine.

    *spam* —> that’s where it might get tricky

    Thanks for the superlative article in advance of the exciting changes to come…I hope.

    1. Thanks for your ultra-enthusiastic comment Laurel. I definitely agree that it would be an exciting new addition for digital marketers. As I got deeper into the post, it was apparent that Facebook can use some very interesting signals to help it craft a uniquely valuable SERP. At least, I think it will be uniquely valuable. Again, the proof is in the pudding. :)

      But like you, I’m excited to see the Facebook Search Engine roll out. And I’m hoping that’s sooner than later.

  5. Waiting for the arrival of New “Face Search Engine ” 😛

    Also, very eager to learn new SEO factors of facebook search engine as it is entirely different from traditional SEO algorithms.

  6. Thanks for sharing this! its amazing to know that facebook is getting so many queries everyday but even if facebook creates its own search engine it will be very difficult to compete with Google because its algorithm is very advanced and Google provides the most relevant results far more better than yahoo and Bing. However it will be good to see facebook search engine.

  7. Holy cow, Glenn, this is some thought provoking stuff. It’s easy to dismiss Facebook’s search potential because of how awful their current search function is, but we need to separate “Facebook Search” from “Internet Search.”

    Sure, they haven’t proven that they know what to do with search. But MAN. The amount of data they have that could create exponentially more relevant search results is mind boggling.

    I won’t repeat every point you make about why it could be amazing. I agree with you completely. Facebook has shares, clicks, likes, interests, friends, friends of friends, brand affinity, geography, age, users by authority, on and on. They have every tool necessary to make a killer search engine.

    The thing is, it wouldn’t NEED to be related to my friends and friends of friends. I think that’s where people get hung up on Facebook search (and many of the people here seem to be thinking along those lines). Facebook search can be awesome because of people similar to you who have liked/shared/commented on content related to your interests or written by a person with authority in that niche. They don’t need to be a friend.

    I’m convinced, my man. Maybe Google isn’t in trouble. But like you say, traditional SEO’s may be. And the stock of people like me may be going up.

    Thanks for the inspiration, Glenn. I’ll be writing a post about this tonight (full Google-loving attribution back to you)…

    1. Hey, thanks for your comment Jon. It sounds like we are absolutely on the same page. :) As I got deeper into writing the post, more doors would open, more layers exposed, etc. There is so much data to analyze within the social network, that I think Facebook could craft a very interesting SERP. In addition, and it’s what I mentioned above, they could probably flag questions in status updates and provide some type of helpful listings (including paid listings). The possibilities are endless.

      And you’re exactly right regarding the influence of friends vs. friends of friends vs. people with similar interests. I don’t need to be connected with someone for them to influence my own search results. I think that will be at the heart of Facebook search. With most people only having 100-200 friends, it’s a necessity on top of being smart.

      Thanks again for your comment, and definitely let me know when your post goes live. I’d love to read it.

  8. As Google focuses more and more on quality, user-friendly content, traditional SEO keeps evolving away from the “mechanics” on the page and becomes more about serving the visitor’s need for information. I can totally see how a Facebook Search Engine would address that in so many ways that you already outlined. I found this article to be truly thought-provoking and your tips for the future certainly can’t hurt, no matter how long it may take to launch the BEAST. Wow– thanks for the insights and making me sit up and take notice about a whole new way to “get found” on the net. I’m an SEO Copywriter tasked with creating well-written, informative and optimized content and this will definitley shake things up a bit.

    1. Thanks for your comment Deb, and I’m glad you found my post interesting. If Facebook goes down the path I mentioned in my post, it could absolutely rock the industry. Debuting at #2 and having a completely different set of ranking factors can have a big impact on SEO’s, Social Media Marketers, Paid Search Marketers, and copywriters like yourself. Needless to say, it’s going to get very interesting when BeastRank hits. :)

  9. I truly hope Facebook succeeds in its search endeavours.

    Put simply, Google need the competition to kick them back into shape. It’s not going to come from Bing (despite their best efforts) and it’s certainly not going to come from Yahoo,

    “Facebook knows what is getting shared, by whom, and where. It understands what’s getting hot, what’s being shared quickly, and what’s going viral by country, region, and city. It understands age, gender, interests, hobbies, the industry you work in, and more. It knows if you’re single, married, actively dating, divorced, etc.”

    Big data is key, and, as you mention, Facebook is positively drowning in it.

    How their engineers utilise it in a way that’s going to add value for consumers above and beyond Google’s offering and create a platform to be monitised — well, that’ll be interesting to watch.

    1. Right, I’m sure alarms went off at Google when Mark and Sheryl elaborated on their search project. :) And you’re absolutely right about your last point. How Facebook engineers implement its search functionality is critically important. Like Google does, Facebook will have to make continuous adjustments to the algo to ensure it’s meeting the needs of users. That’s easier said than done. That said, there are some brilliant minds working there, and they have so much data… I’m eager to see how this ends up.

  10. Great information. I am still wondering though if Facebook will compete with Google in the search area. I still think that to many people are used to Google, and they will continue to have a stronghold on the market. I know many people that have gotten away from Facebook. Since you will always have this attrition, regular search engines will still have their place for many years to come.

    1. Thanks Ryan. I agree, Google isn’t going anywhere. But Facebook could debut as the #2 engine right out of the gates. And since the ranking factors could be so different than what we’re all used to, it could rock the industry. And that could lead to a lot of revenue for Facebook (if it can monetize the search results well). Needless to say, it should be a wild ride. :)

  11. Holy cow Glenn! What a fantastic post. This is very interesting indeed. I could see Facebook becoming a shopping portal as well. What company wouldn’t want to sell their product directly from their page on Facebook? None. Facebook could then sell advertisements (revenue round 1) that directed users to a company’s Facebook page which sold products which could also be monetized by (revenue round 2). So many possibilities…

    1. Thanks Ryan. I’m glad you found my post interesting. That’s a great point about the double-dipping advertising setup. They absolutely could provide paid search ads that drive users to f-commerce apps, and then take a percentage of the sale. If something like that could work, it wouldn’t be just a shot in the arm for Facebook, it would be a gigantic shot in the wallet for them. I hope we see BeastRank sooner than later. :)

  12. Holy cow Glenn! What a fantastic post. This is very interesting indeed. Great information. I am still wondering though if Facebook will compete with Google in the search area. I still think that to many people are used to Google, and they will continue to have a stronghold on the market.

    1. Thanks for your comment George. Yes, this should be very interesting. A new search engine that could debut at #2 and that uses totally different ranking factors than traditional search engines could shock the entire digital ecosystem. I’m eager to see how this works… :)

  13. Thank for a great post! I have bookmarked so that I can digest all the info later. I think that it will take a while before a Facebook search engine would bother Google’s guys. I don’t think that Microsoft would have thought that Google would still have the lions share so long after Bing was launched. As to whether Facebook can make a dent with the new Home with the search integrated in Google’s fender is anyone’s guess.