by Laurie Sullivan
Search on Facebook stinks. Let’s face it. The in-site search engine works well to find people, but when it comes to optimizing information for events or recommendations for products and services on Fan and community pages, marketers struggle. Secrets to optimize successfully on the site are closely guarded by Facebook execs, but marketing professionals need to know more.
For starters, let’s not confuse Fan with Community pages. Facebook Community pages let you connect with people who have similar interests. They focus on topics or experiences owned collectively by communities of people who connect to that page.
Marketers want to take unstructured data posted on a variety of these pages and help consumers find value in posts that otherwise turn into what amounts to a stream-of-conscious dialog and get lost. Valerie Hoecke, vice president of digital experience and commerce at Benefit Cosmetics, hates to think of how much good information consumers see, but may not read. It becomes lost in a flash when they try and search for the post.
Hoecke says Benefit Cosmetics customers spend tons of time on Facebook, but it’s difficult to have more than a fleeting moment with them. And while there are opportunities on the social site, she “can’t wait for Facebook to do what needs to be done.”
Facebook needs better search tools and relationships with search engine marketers. Although marketers are not pulling back in the amount of campaigns launched on the site, the company has lost search market share during the past few months.
Facebook experienced search query growth earlier this year — 48% in March — but it has since seen queries drop 4% in April to 624 million and then another 2% in May to 609 million, according to comScore. Two-thirds of comScore’s U.S. Top 100 Web sites and half of Global Top 100 Web sites have integrated with Facebook.
Recently, search marketing firm aimClear took a deep dive into ranking factors to determine what affects content and search in Facebook. Marty Weintraub, aimClear founder, plans to release findings Monday that explain the problems, after nearly a month of research. “Facebook search sucks,” he says, noting if people could really search and find information in Facebook “the FCC and every privacy group on this earth would light up like a roman candle.”
Finding and exploiting Facebook privacy leaks for competitive analysis becomes the best way to use the in-site search tool, according to Weintraub, who began researching hacks more than a year ago. Their internal search provides a tool to leverage competitive intelligence to determine a company’s friends. Marketers can use the privacy leaks to mine all their friends when they find the information. “If Facebook made search a priority they could probably own at least 15% to 20% of the U.S. search market,” he says.
The inability to search on Events in Facebook probably provides one of the most troubling experiences for brands. Marketers wanting to make events searchable should “invite a big pile of people to the event,” so when connections of those people start typing the first word in the suggest box the name of the event will fill in automatically, Weintraub says. Those wanting to promote a product at the event should include the name in the invitation. The events search feature isn’t based on geographic location, attendance, invites or keyword relevance.
Weintraub suggests reverse engineering the marketing strategies to get into ranking factors. Aside from inviting a whole bunch of people to an event, marketers need to find ways to get people to Friend members with a related keyword in their name, for example.
Some clicks actually take the subscriber out of Facebook. Marketers will need to deal with that, too. Web results for Bing search don’t correlate to those in Facebook, and nor do the same search ads don’t get returned, Weintraub says.
Weintraub plans to publish a set of ranking factors from the company’s extensive testing, offering insight and speculation as to what may be best practices for SEO on each of Facebook’s non-people search engine results queries (SERPs). The advice provides a roadmap for marketers who want to optimize in Facebook. Original research comes from a recent report prepared for SMX Advanced in Seattle. The report goes as far as segmenting subscribers by relationship preferences such as heterosexual or gay/lesbian, but later this week you can expect to see data from Weintraub backing these claims.