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Facebook Graph Search & Your Small Business

Here’s what you need to know to take advantage of a potentially powerful new small business marketing tool: Facebook Graph Search.

Have you launched a small business but haven’t set up a Facebook fan page for it yet? Now’s the time.

Here’s why: On January 15, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook Graph Search. It’s a new search tool with the potential to help raise your business’s profile on Facebook and attract new customers.

Facebook Graph Search is currently in early preview mode. It’s slowly rolling out to Facebook U.S. English users. If you want to try it out ASAP, get on the waiting list.

Briefly stated, Facebook Graph Search lets you find restaurants, stores, or other things your Facebook friends like. For example, a search for “restaurants nearby that my friends like” will display a visual list of local restaurant Facebook fan pages (which aren’t the same as personal pages) in your area. The restaurants in your search results are there in part because people in your Facebook network clicked the “Like” button on their fan page.

Graph Search connects the dots between people, places, photos, and things on Facebook. Unlike a Google search, you’ll only be able to see “what you could already view elsewhere on Facebook,” the company says. In other words: Facebook doesn’t want you worrying about privacy. That hasn’t stopped the hand wringing among some privacy advocates, however. And a Facebook Graph Search user has already created a Tumblr blog to highlight “creepy” connections the search tool can make.

To a degree, Google and Facebook Graph Search results are winners of popularity contests. If a piece of web content, such as a blog post or YouTube video, has a lot of external links from trusted web sites pointing to it, that content will likely rank higher in Google than a similar piece without external links. This is because Google sees legitimate links from trusted, authoritative sites as endorsements of the content they point to.

Similarly, Facebook Graph Search will likely rank content higher in search results that has been frequently liked, shared, and commented upon, versus content that lacks such endorsements.

What Facebook Graph Search Means for Small Businesses

Facebook Graph Search offers significant potential for small businesses, especially local businesses that sell to consumers.

Just as many people use Yelp to find and read reviews of local businesses, Facebook users will likely tap the social network’s new search capabilities to find stores, restaurants, business services, or other things their friends recommend. This is why, if your business doesn’t have a Facebook page yet, you should seriously consider creating one.

Facebook Graph Search is not yet available to users on their smartphones and tablets. But it will be in the not-too-distant future. And when it is, Graph Search could really boost local businesses. Consumers perform searches for local businesses more frequently on mobile devices than on desktops or laptops, experts say.

Also, mobile users “tend to share and respond more to content they find” than those who use a computer to search, says Ben Straley, vice president of social technologies for Rio SEO and Covario. “The combination of local, social, and mobile is exploding right now, and Facebook Graph Search could present a gigantic opportunity for businesses that tap into it.”

Even if you sell services to other businesses, you should consider having a Facebook fan page. People at your target companies are probably on Facebook at night and that gives you an opportunity to engage with them, notes Krista LaRiviere, co-founder and CEO of gShift Labs, which offers SEO software for agencies and marketers.

How to Optimize for Facebook Graph Search

Here are 10 tips to help your small business take advantage of Facebook Graph Search.

1. Create a Facebook page for your business if you don’t have one. It’s free and easy to do. Here’s Facebook’s how-to article on creating a page.

2. Make sure the information in your Facebook page profile is accurate and up to date. Your address should be listed, especially if you’re a physical trainer, hair stylist, real estate agent, or other professional who primarily serves local customers.

3. Adding relevant sub-categories in the “About” section of your page will help people find you in a search.

4. Have fun with your posts. Be creative, interesting, funny. Encourage people to respond by asking questions. Bottom line: Make your Facebook posts “Like-worthy” and “share-worthy.”

5. Facebook posts with videos and images tend to get more interaction than text-only posts.

6. Give people an incentive to share or like your content—a discount at your store or on your services, for instance.

7. Have you added Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and other social share buttons to your website or blog? If not, do it now. ShareThis is a good tool to add to your site.

8. Some days are better for getting the most visibility and interaction for Facebook posts. And it can depend upon your industry. I’ve posted two infographics on my blog that break down when to post on Facebook and other tips.

9. Identify your most active and influential fans. Show them your appreciation. Social media, if nothing else, is all about keeping relationships “warm.”

10. Use the same keywords you used to optimize your website. Chances are, if those keywords are driving targeted traffic to your site, they’ll also help people find you with Facebook Graph Search.

James A. Martin is a consultant to small and large businesses on SEO, social media, online reputation management, and content marketing. His Twitter handle is @james_a_martin.