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:
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:
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 you—a 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:
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:
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.