It seems investors and some of the more tech-minded consumers were a little underwhelmed by Facebook’s recent release of Graph Search. It’s true, on the surface Graph Search looks like just a slightly different, not extremely innovative search engine, but if you dig a little deeper you can see its potential to revolutionize how people search online and its ability to give Google a run for its money in regards to local search.

But, before making any predictions on who will win the battle for local search, take a look at what both companies are bringing to the table.

Google

Google is Google. Truthfully we don’t need to say much more than that. Google is synonymous with online search, it’s a household name, it answers over one billion questions per day. In other words, it’s going to be extremely difficult for any search engine to undermine a company with such a massive foothold in the industry.

Additionally, Google is already offering great local search results that are ranked based on Google Places info, various review sites, citations, local media, and users’ interactions on the social network Google+. Overall, it’s a good system with wide-ranging resources and continues to improve as the search engine makes relevant local results an ever-increasing priority.

The only real downside of searching locally on Google is users are mostly getting recommendations from people they don’t know. Even if they’re searching exclusively In Google+, the network doesn’t have quite the social reach as Facebook, which can make it hard to find reviews or likes from real friends (the people consumers trust most). Also, search results can be overly skewed in a business’ favor through savvy SEO or even fake reviews.

Graph Search

While Google search results are based on behaviors and connections between people and websites all over the net, Facebook’s Graph Search makes things much more personal by first and foremost considering your friends’ online behavior — it only takes into account the larger Facebook community when it can’t find any data within your own groups. This means you can get recommendations from your most trusted advisors with only a few keystrokes.

If you’re unfamiliar with Graph Search, basically it works by keeping track of (graphing) behaviors for every Facebook user. For instance, if you “like” a store or “check in” at a restaurant it graphs these exchanges and uses them later to help your friends make decisions. So, for example, if one of your friends asks Graph Search, “What pizza restaurants do my friends like in Chicago,” any restaurant you’ve given a thumbs up or are a fan of will show up in their search results. Notice the phrasing of queries in Graph Search is much more personal and specific too. On Google you’d search something like “Pizza restaurants in Chicago,” which just seems a little cold and impersonal compared to the Graph Search query.

Also, because the bulk of your results are coming from people you know directly, it’s much harder to get duped on Graph Search than on Google where info is coming from all types of sources. And if you repeatedly get bad advice from a particular friend, just as in real life, you simply quit listening to their opinions.

Ultimately, the main difference between the two search engines is Graph Search’s data revolves around the small, yet personal Facebook community while Google bases search results on information gleaned throughout the entire web.

Graph Search’s Challenges

Arguably, most people would rather get highly relevant recommendations from people they know and trust, which gives Graph Search some major potential to dominate the local search competition. However, in addition to taking on the Google giant, Facebook has some other issues to surmount, namely:

  • Changing online search behavior:  Facebook isn’t normally folks’ go-to source when making online queries, which means somehow Facebook must break people’s habit of automatically turning to traditional search engines. History has shown that changing consumer behavior is a major undertaking — can Facebook do it?
  • Stale information:  People’s “likes” change and businesses close, yet the chances of one of your friends going back to “unlike” a product or of closed business taking the time to shut down its page are probably slim. Thus, at the moment anyway, it seems Facebook doesn’t have a clear way of weeding out stale information. On the other hand, since Google bases its search results on a variety of factors, including regular activity, it is more adept at providing current data.

What Should Businesses Do?

As a business owner, it’s best to hedge your bets by optimizing your web properties for both Google and Graph Search users. Even if Graph Search doesn’t skyrocket it’s still an improvement over Facebook’s previous search tool and undoubtedly more people will use it than before. To make sure your business’ Facebook page is ready for Graph Searchers, do the following:

  • Completely fill out profile – This includes page name, web address, category, and About section (a great place for your website URL).
  • Add location – If you’re a local business, make sure your physical address is listed and current.
  • Add content regularly – People can only find what you offer, so increase your chances of showing up in search results by regularly adding photos, videos, and more.
  • Attract the right people – You might have thousands of followers, but if they are from random places all over the world then they aren’t going to help you much in regards to local search. Try to attract people within your own city and keep them engaged so they are motivated to “like” and interact with your page.

The Future of Local Search

Graph search is still in beta, so some of its issues could be resolved in the near future, but overall, the idea is a smart one that could ultimately change the way people search by putting much more power in the hands of individuals. With it, users aren’t bogged down with anything irrelevant — they ask very specifically what they want and get results from only those they trust (quite an efficient system). And the more Facebook members use it the better it will be, as the search engine will have more and more information to draw on. Still, the major question is will people use it?

What do you think? Can Facebook put a major dent in Google’s local search traffic?

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