Posted by Danny Dover

On August 26th, 2008 Facebook, Inc. reached the milestone of 100,000,000 active users. Since then, its growth has continued to grow exponentially into emerging markets and additional countries. At the same time, the company has remained a relatively untapped oasis for internet marketers.

I recently had the chance to meet Facebook engineers, Andew “Boz” Bosworth, creator of the much talked about News Feed, and David Fetterman, lead engineer for the Facebook Development Platform, and took to the opportunity to find out exactly how the website could best be used by internet marketers and SEOs. The features we talked about are below.

Facebook Search

According to Bosworth, Facebook operates the largest people search engine on the internet. It is run by ten engineers (two of which work solely on people search) and directs traffic for millions of people a day.

People Search’s secret sauce is its ability to employ the searcher’s social graph to find the most relevant Pages (business profiles) and people to a given user. Once the people search engine narrows down the users list of Facebook friends and Pages, it returns five related results in an alphabetically ordered drop down menu. This built in search engine is heavily used and currently underutilized by SEOs.

Facebook Search
Facebook Search

TIP: Note the opportunity to take advantage of the inherent flaws of returning results in alphabetical order. It is not a coincidence that so many companies named themselves with alphabetical order in mind in the days when yellow pages were popular. (Ex. AAA Plumbing) The same tactic can be used to drive users to a given Facebook Page.
The search function also has a lesser known feature that has the ability to drive traffic outside of the site. When a user types in a query that doesn’t match anything in their social graph the search bar provides the ability to search Microsoft’s Live search index.

Facebook Search The Web
Facebook’s Search the Web uses Microsoft’s Live Index

Performing a search of the web through Facebook returns search results and ads that are exactly the same as those returned by Microsoft’s Live.

Facebook Search
Facebook Search Engine Result Page (SERP)

Live Search

TIP: Consider double dipping. Although Live drives less traffic than Google, it might be worthwhile to target Live in SEO and PPC campaigns to automatically encompass Facebook.

Marketer’s can also take advantage of Facebook’s wealth of domain juice to raise references to their brand in the major search engines SERPs. Facebook’s Pages are publicly indexable and quickly rise to the top of many search queries.

Facebook in SERPs
SEOmoz’s page on being returned high in the Google SERPs

News Feed

News Feed is a feature on Facebook that highlights what is happening in a user’s social circle. It does this by analyzing relevant actions taken by a users friend on the site and presenting the most relevant actions on the given user’s homepage.

The News Feed processes nearly every action taken by every user on Facebook. According to the Feeds creator, Andrew Bosworth, this is over 1.1 Trillion actions daily.

Bosworth had this to say about the underlying algorithm:

“First, it gets a list of all my friends and acquaintances on Facebook and considers how often I interact with them. Then, with full respect for all privacy settings, it gets a list of all the things my friends have done on the site since it last checked. It also looks up all the stories it could have published the previous week in case one of them needs to be updated. After looking at all that information and considering my News Feed Preferences, it picks just the few stories that are good enough for publication and puts the rest in a safe place until it gets back to me again. It does all of this for me in 0.00023 seconds." Source

He also said “[News Feed] is keeping track of whom we seem to be keeping an eye on recently as well as remembering whom we have cared about in the past. It is very discreet and never talks about this secret information to other people or systems, it just needs the information to do a better job picking stories”:

His comments and my own research have led me to believe that the News Feed’s algorithm uses the following factors to return results:

Outward Facing Data:

  • Users Friends
  • Fan Pages
  • Group Activity
  • Photo Albums
  • Photo Comments
  • Photo Tags
  • Wall Posts on other users Wall
  • Wall Posts on given user’s Wall
  • Event Activity
  • Notes
  • Relationship Status
  • Friend Requests
  • Friend Request Response
  • Profile Text Changes
  • Status Updates
  • Posts
  • Videos
  • Application Activity
  • Application installations
  • Facebook tools IE “People you might know”
  • Privacy Settings

Internal Data:

  • Profiles that the user views
  • Photos that the user views
  • Friends of Friends
  • Recent activity of the given user
  • Last login of given user

“It doubled the amount of actions taken on the site within the first week, and that boost never went away.” said Bosworth.

This massive amount of user specific data combined with the incredible amount of traffic Facebook receives on a daily basis, clearly has incredible potential for internet marketers. Organic rankings can be gained in the News Feed by performing the actions listed in the factors above while being friends with given users. Alternatively, marketers can buy sponsored stories (called social ads) to appear in users’ News Feeds.

Facebook Social Ad
Facebook’s Social Ads are displayed inside the News Feed

Facebook Advertising Platform

It should come as no surprise that Facebook uses its wealth of user data to match advertisers with very specific user groups. The self service advertising platform is very similar to Google’s Adwords. (In fact, it is now run by Google’s former Vice President of Global Online Sales & Operations, Sheryl Sandberg.) The system allows advertisers to create small 150px by 155px ads which can contain a 110px by 80px image with 135 characters of body text and a 25 character title. Users can run both ‘Pay for Clicks’ and ‘Pay for Views’ campaigns targeted by any of the following attributes:

  • Country
  • State
  • City
  • Sex
  • Age Range
  • Keywords in profiles
  • Schools
  • Workplaces
  • Relationship Status
  • Interest (gender)

To fully understand the value of the advertising on Facebook I ran a mock advertising campaign. I created a company and website (and at the risk of derailing my post) gave it the need to hire models.

For new customers, each ad in hand reviewed to ensure quality.

TIP: The approval process is surprisingly strict. It took me 3 times to get my ads approved due to errors like irregular capitalization (Ex. “Submit A Candidate” instead of “Submit a Candidate”). It is also important to note that the ad reviewers take the time to follow the link associated with the pending ad and decide if the webpage it points to is legitimate. By examining server log files I saw that the person who reviewed my ad not only viewed the landing page but clicked through the navigation to other pages on my website as well.

I eventually got the following ads approved:

Chas Ad Danny Dover Ad Mel Ad Mike Ad
Chas Williams Danny Dover Mel Gray Mike Thompson
Timmy Christensen Ad      
Timmy Christensen      

To make this campaign more fun, I found ugly pictures of my fellow developers and held a competition to see whose ad got clicked the most. The results were as follows:

Facebook Ad Dashboard
Facebook Ad Manager (Two columns removed)

Facebook’s advertising platform is a great value. Currently it has relatively small competition (compared to the major search engines) so its prices are very reasonable. To run a CPM campaign targeting the 23,280 Facebook enabled 18 to 25 aged at the University of Washington, it cost me $20.33 USD for 53,368 impressions. The results were not phenomenal but did establish the Facebook advertising platform as a viable marketing option.

Facebook can be a great resource for small businesses that rely on local customers. The marketing features are still relatively inexpensive and the platform is new enough that marketers still have a chance to shape it. If you have not already tried a test marketing campaign, I highly recommend you do while the prices are low.

If you have expereince in Facebook marketing please feel free to share your opinions and expertise in the comments. As always, feel free to e-mail me or send me a private message if you have any suggestions on how I can make my posts more useful. If that’s not your style, feel free to contact me on Twitter and/or Linkedin. Thanks!

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