Facebook Graph Search: Why It Could Mean Trouble For Google and Yelp

Ever noticed how Gmail shows you an ad relevant to your email's content? Google has never shied away from trying to get to know you better so it can sell you what its advertisers have to offer. Facebook already knows you very well, but doesn't know what to do with the data. Enter Graph Search.

Facebook's new Graph Search functionality comes from a very simple place: revenue. There's no other reason that Facebook would delve into the search world, especially one that is fully dominated by Google. Facebook's goal is to provide you with search results vetted by your social network. The pitch seems straightforward enough, and fits with Facebook's hallmark of allowing you to know more about your friends without talking to them lesser. Or so it seems anyways. Techcrunch called it creepy, but that depends on whether you're one of the billion or more users, or a marketer looking to tap into the treasure trove of personal data available on Facebook. 

Think about all the pieces of information you've shared on your profile — from where you live to what TV shows you have 'liked' — it's all searchable now. Looking for a pizza place in a new city? Or feeling nostalgic and wanting to see your friends' photos from college? Done. Now how about any brands you've endorsed for that one time deal, or that ironic club you joined about cardigans on dogs? Yep, categorized and searchable. Facebook is scraping all the profile information of its users to help offer more targeted (and money-making) advertising. Given how much information users willingly provide to Facebook (checking in from somewhere? Also searchable) the company ought to have been able to provide highly effective advertising, but it has struggled from the beginning. 

Google in comparison has refined its algorithms with limited data to be able to provide effective results. Google has been the leader in search for over a decade, and its advertising revenue is wholly search-based. Google makes product tweaks like incorporating Google+ into Gmail and Google Maps not to help you have a customized experience, but to help Google improve its algorithms for advertising revenue. Facebook has lagged behind Google, and is comparable to Yahoo! in its average revenue per user.

So why the big launch if this is a marketing tool? Well that's simple — for Graph Search to offer enough search results, users have to provide authentic data about themselves and think to ask their friends for information first. Facebook needs you to put in as many likes, as much detail about your timeline, "like" as many brands as possible so that it has enough to search from. It also needs you to know think to search for a good burrito in Houston on Facebook instead of Yelp or Google. What if you don't have that many friends on Facebook from Houston? Well, you better go find some now.