I recently warned you not to ignore the pay-per-click opportunities on Facebook. Yet, the bigger long-term opportunity is Facebook SEO. This has absolutely nothing to do with Facebook Pages. Take a peek into the future and the quickly evolving world of Facebook search.
In the past, Facebook was about optimizing a ‘fan’ page or encouraging people to share content on Facebook via Facebook Connect or through a Facebook Application. The goal was to get into the news feed for as many users as possible or to create a Facebook presence that engaged users.
With the implementation of the Open Graph, the focus of your Facebook efforts should shift to search engine optimization. This isn’t about optimizing your ‘fan’ page to appear in Google search results, but instead is about optimizing your own site and pages to appear in Facebook search results.
Facebook SEO is a reality and while it’s not largely understood, nor mature, those who participate early will be rewarded.
The Open Graph
What is the Open Graph? Bookmark the Open Graph protocol documentation and read it when you have a chance. In short, the Open Graph takes pages outside of Facebook and sucks them into Facebook. So, open might not be the right word for it.
The Open Graph is essentially Facebook's version of Google's search index.
Yes, there are differences, but they're more similar than you might think. The Open Graph is populated through two mechanisms: Open Graph Tags and Facebook Likes.
Open Graph Meta Tags
Instead of crawling pages like Google, Facebook is relying on sites to insert unique RDFa formatted meta tags on pages. Don't fret, this isn’t that different from putting meta tags on your pages, though the Open Graph meta tags are a bit more robust.
Here's a list and description of the Open Graph tags.
This is the title of the object. It is what will appear in Facebook search results. Think of it as the title tag for Facebook.
This is the type of object the page represents. Unlike Google's approach, Facebook is hoping that sites will self-identify content to produce an installed taxonomy. The type is also at the heart of the semantic web, which is what the Open Graph is supposed to make a reality.
At present, there is no validation that the right type has been selected, opening Facebook up to a lot of dirty data and spam. The types are rather self explanatory and I'm guessing the variety of types will expand as the Open Graph matures.
This is the URL for the object. And just like regular SEO, you want this to be the canonical URL. There's no real mechanism for a 301 redirect within the Open Graph, so you need to get your URL right from the get go or risk restarting or splitting your object's Facebook presence.
This is the image you want associated with the object and will appear in Facebook search results.
This is the description of the object. Think of it as the meta description for your Facebook search result.
This is the human readable name of the site the object resides on. Simple and straightforward.
You must associate a page with Facebook user accounts so you can administer the page on Facebook. It's not really SEO related, but it's necessary in setting up your tags appropriately and enables the ability to publish updates to users who Liked that object.
You must associate a page with a Facebook Application so you can take advantage of built in analytics. Don't panic, you don't actually have to create an Application. Instead, go to the Applications page, type in your site's name and home page and you've now created an Application that comes with an App ID and App Secret code. Think of this as Facebook's version of Google Webmaster Central verification.
Associate your site and pages with your Facebook Page. Since I began research on the Open Graph this tag seems to have been deprecated or at least made optional. In the current environment it would simply create another association with the Open Graph. That this tag is now less prominent should make you think twice about investing substantially in Facebook Pages.
Having the open graph meta tags is only part of the equation. It makes pages eligible to be in Facebook’s Open Graph.
Facebook Like Button
Pages make it into Facebook’s graph through the Like button. This is comparable to a link in Google’s index and confers a level of trust and authority upon that page. And much like Google, the more Likes a page has the more likely it is to be surfaced in Facebook search results. Let me say it again.
Likes is to Facebook as Links is to Google.
The implementation of the Like button is fairly straightforward. That said, I wonder if Facebook is planning a Like bookmarklet (similar to the one developed (and abandoned?) by Kyle Bragger) that would increase the breadth of the Open Graph beyond just sites that could install the Like functionality.
In addition, be sure to implement a version of Like that allows users to add a comment.
If users do add a comment, the story published back to Facebook is given more prominence.
This probably refers to prominence within the news feed/activity stream, but it could also be a signal for future SEO algorithms. Either way, having this enabled will likely provide more downstream traffic from Facebook from the initial Like.
Open Graph Implementation and Tools
Does Facebook really think that sites are going to be able to implement all of these meta tags? Sites are implementing the lightweight Like button but how many will install the more complex Open Graph tags?
The answer is no. Facebook uses other elements on the page to create an ‘entry’ for that page in the graph. You can see how Facebook interprets other markup using their Linter tool.
Facebook obtains images through <img> tags. They use the normal title tag in lieu of a specific Open Graph (og:) title tag. They even use the rel=canonical attribute to resolve the proper URL.
While this type of extraction is nice, it may not produce the best result for a page. Facebook SEO starts with ensuring that your pages enter the Facebook graph the way you want them to appear, not based on a Facebook translation of your mark up.
For example, the meta title on your page will likely not be the right title for Facebook. The search experience on Facebook is radically different than on Google (right now). However, you can optimize for both at the same time – you don’t have to pick one over the other. Nothing that you do for Facebook is detrimental for Google.
Is Facebook really interested in search?
The Open Graph is a fairly overt way to create an index of pages. How they leverage that index is the question. Look no further than an excerpt from a June 2010 internal email from Mark Zuckerberg regarding the promotion of Bret Taylor to CTO.
When I look around product and engineering, there are so many unique things we’re building with very leveraged small teams right now. Platform is the foundation for an entire industry, and our team has about 30 engineers. News Feed is the home page for more than 250 million people every day, and our team has fewer than 15 engineers. Our search type ahead serves the same order of magnitude of queries as Google, and our team has fewer than 15 engineers. These are examples of transformative products that we’re going to build out over the next few years and I’m focused on making sure we build them out the right way.
The emphasis is mine but the meaning is clear. Search is important to Facebook. They view it as a transformative product and they’re comparing themselves to … Google.
The way in which Facebook displays results is not fully understood yet and changes frequently. However, we know that the ‘type ahead’ query logic referenced above by Zukerberg – what Facebook suggests to you as you type – is highly dependent on your social graph. Here's a full explanation on type ahead search from Facebook Engineering.
The interface is amazingly similar to Google Instant, don't you think? (Well, it's actually the other way around since Facebook type ahead has been around for over a year.)
Here's what I get when I begin to type in a query for the term 'search'.
By the time I get to 'sear' three of the results are pages outside of Facebook. Clicking on them takes you directly to that page. This is Facebook SEO.
The first outside result is to the edgy and hilarious Zombie campaign by Sears. But look at how poorly that page has entered the Open Graph - no image and a poor title make it far less effective.
Two other results are from outside Facebook, one from Search Engine Land (nice going Danny) and another from my colleague Jeremy Post. In total, this demonstrates just a fraction of the future power of Facebook search and the importance of Facebook SEO.
While these results are not being returned with great frequency now, the opportunity to do so is there and growing every day as the Open Graph grows in size.
What about Facebook Pages?
The future may be far less about Facebook Pages and more about how your website is surfaced in Facebook search. In fact, Pages may become footnotes in the scheme of things. Jesse Stay seems to think so in his Facebook-hosted "Pages" no longer necessary post.
The Facebook Page hosted on Facebook.com is not the future. Your website is the future, and Facebook has made it completely possible for you to own this experience.
As Facebook adds non-Facebook pages to the Open Graph, the need for Facebook Pages may diminish and the resources spent on supporting unique functionality on this sub-set of pages may simply prove to be too high.
Tracking and Communication
Facebook knows we're manic about measurement and is investing in better analytics. Facebook Insights, a relatively new Facebook tool, allows you to track the number of Likes and Shares from your domain.
For example, you can now view analytics around specific stories liked on your website, or how many users commented on posts made on your Page (note that this is anonymized aggregate data and does not include personally identifiable information). From there, you will have a better idea of what your audience finds most interesting and capitalize on that content.
We encourage websites with objects that people may want to more permanently connect with, such as a brand or product, to publish relevant updates to its connected users. For example, publish a special offer to users who have liked a specific product. Simply add a few Open Graph tags to your Web page and click on the Admin Link (only visible to admins) to use the Publisher.
If you’re publishing to more than a handful of Pages, you now have the ability to publish to multiple Open Graph Pages via the Graph API.
Analytics is certainly something that will help benchmark efforts, and the publishing capability can be integrated into overall marketing strategy but also could be used to drive subsequent Likes on other pages or products.
When will Facebook reveal itself to be a real search engine? I wish I knew! Despite the rapid progress, there are many obstacles including Like spam, Like fraud and competing product integration (Facebook Places, Facebook Questions). I sense there are some competing visions (internally) for how Facebook can emerge from the Web 2.0 world like Google emerged from Web 1.0. Or maybe I still don't see the full picture.
But I do expect to one day wake up and find that my Facebook page looks different.
Will you be ready?