What Facebook Didn’t Tell Us In Its “How Facebook Search Works” Video

At the end of November, Facebook gave us a really big look into how the search function of the social media platform works. Particularly, they revealed all of the factors that they claim influence a user’s results when they perform a search on Facebook. For SEO professionals, this is a big ‘man behind the curtain’ moment.

See, one of the supreme mysteries in the lives of SEOs is understanding exactly how search engines function. What factors do they use to influence search results and how can we use those components to optimize our position in the rankings?

Google and other search engines do a good job of keeping SEO professionals hungry in the quest to understand their intricacies. They routinely tease out small details and updates into how their systems work. Yet, they never fully pop the hood and let us see the engine.

For Facebook to lift the veil on how its search engine works, it’s like being handed high-quality, not-blurry video footage of Bigfoot. Or, a mathematical equation that answers how it is possible for Santa Claus to visit all those houses in a single night. Because he does, you know.

However, it’s important to look at the motivations behind Facebook for releasing this video and how that impacts the information they’ve decided to include.

Why Now?

If you’ve paid even half attention to the news, you know that it has been a particularly bad year for the Facebook public relations department. First, stories emerged about Facebook being used for election interference through a proliferation of fake news stories and accounts. This brought up a number of questions about the privacy of user data on the social media platform.

Then, capping it off was a not-so-enchanting testimony by CEO Mark Zuckerberg before Congress. There’s quite possibly no one looking forward to the clean slate of the new year more than Facebook’s PR team.

In the wake of all of this negative press, the search engine company has decidedly become more transparent. This is in an effort to restore some user trust in the search engine and help people understand what parts of their personal data is used and how it used to influence the search results they receive and content that populates their feed.

Facebook Search Factors

The biggest distinction that Facebook set out to make is that your search results when browsing through the social media service are only influenced by your activity on the platform and not what you’ve searched for on Google or another browser.

The Facebook activities that can influence your search results are:

  • What your Facebook friends share with you
  • Events you’ve joined and participated in
  • Pages and people you follow
  • Groups you’ve joined
  • Posts you’ve interacted with in your News Feed
  • The information listed on your profile
  • Locations that you’ve been tagged at
  • Previous Facebook searches you’ve made

Your searches are also impacted by the larger Facebook community and what they are searching for. In other words, trending and popular topics, pages or stories may appear in your search results as well.

The Problem For SEOs Behind Facebook’s Motivation

Again, it is important to look at the motivation behind this release. Facebook is not releasing this information for the benefit of SEOs and businesses trying to improve their search visibility on Facebook. Their motivation is to: “be more transparent about what happens when you search for content on Facebook.”

Arguably, the core purpose of the post is to make it clear that our off-page activity has no bearing on the search results while on Facebook. This helps keep users at ease about the types of data Facebook is gathering and using.

Why is this a problem for SEOs? If we take this post as the Holy Doctrine of Facebook SEO, then, based on the ranking factors that the company lists, we have little-to-no control over Facebook search results and rankings. That just isn’t true.

What Facebook Left Out

When I first read this Facebook release, my immediate question was ‘how does this affect my current SEO strategies on Facebook?’ The answer I quickly arrived at was it really doesn’t. And, that’s what Facebook forgot to mention.

There’s a lot of Facebook SEO tactics that influence search that are still just as important today.

Keyword research is where it all starts: User activity on Facebook may heavily influence results, but, at the end of the day, you need the right, relevant search terms incorporated in your pages that match what people are actually using in their queries. Facebook’s search bar may not be a traditional search engine, like Google or Bing, but it still functions the same. If you aren’t using the right keywords, people aren’t finding you.

Facebook has a built in analytics dashboard, which can help you zero in on better keyword strategies.

Content, content, content… content: In the Digital Age, content is, has and will always be king. Not only is it the home for your keywords, but it also grows your customer experience. It gives your brand a voice and persona beyond the products and services. It is content that demonstrates a brand’s commitment towards giving customers value beyond deals and discounts.

Content is particularly impactful on social media channels, like Facebook, where would-be followers look for brands with an active presence. On average, branded Facebook pages post 8 times a day!

Always push for engagement: Content only gets you so far. Engagement is really what drives your page performance. Likes, comments and shares will not only expand your reach, but also increase the visibility of your page. Facebook doesn’t directly tell us that a page’s total number of  “Likes” or followers influence search, but they do tell us that results are affected by the activity of the entire Facebook community. Thus, we can hazard to guess that pages with more activity and followers rank better.

If you really want to boost engagement, you can always incentivize it. 42% of Facebook users commit to liking a page when that action is connected to a coupon, discount, contest or other offer.

Get local: Facebook lists a number of ranking factors that have to do with location. It starts with the user’s profile information, including where they live, and extends to events they’ve participated in and locations they’ve checked into.

This is why Facebook is such a powerful tool for local businesses. You can enhance the local SEO of your Facebook page by doing a few simple things:

  • Make sure that your business’ location is included on your company page
  • Use location tags for your posts and content; not just of your business but also popular attractions in your area (parks, monuments, tourist spots etc.)
  • Join Facebook Groups, look for Events pages and follow other local pages in your area
  • Encourage your customers (especially the local ones) to ‘Like’ your Facebook page


It’s nice to see Facebook deciding to become a little more transparent with their activities, especially in light of all of their negative press. From an SEO perspective, however, the ‘How Facebook Search Works’ release wasn’t as insightful as hoped. If your strategies on Facebook are paying off, you shouldn’t have to change anything; this information won’t impact them.

On the other hand, if your Facebook SEO strategies aren’t working, then I hope some of the tips included in this discussion will help you set your tactics on the right tracks. The best advice I can give is to be very active and participate in the “Facebook Community” as much as you can. The more effort you put in, the greater the return.

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