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It’s been a year since Facebook launched its semantic search engine called Graph Search. For many users accustomed to the traditional keyword-based search style they use on other search engines such as Google or Bing, it has been a difficult adjustment. Whether you just want to connect with friends and family, or you’re utilizing Facebook to promote your business, Graph Search can bring a lot more value to your experience on the social media platform once you understand the concept behind it and how to use it.

First of all, it is important to understand why Facebook uses Graph Search for its user data and refers to Bing for searching the web. Basically, Graph Search runs on your associations with people, places, things, and events, and the similar associations of those close to you. Using Graph Search is basically like searching your own personal Internet. This works great for Facebook, because the data they have is primarily association-based. It is easy for Graph Search to mine Facebook and show you “photos taken in New York uploaded by my friends,” but if you type in “the state bird of New York,” you get a hodgepodge of results. Type these same searches into Google, and the opposite happens. The first gives you incomprehensible results, while the second immediately presents you with a picture of an Eastern Bluebird.

So, how is this useful? Well, let’s say you wanted to organize a dinner gathering for friends at a seafood restaurant, but you were unsure of where to go. Using Google, you would probably type in “seafood restaurants” and the town in which you live. You would then review the results and possibly look for user ratings to assess which is the best choice.

Altering the way you search on Facebook provides you with a wealth of information. A search such as “seafood restaurants in (my town) that my friends like” will not only help you determine which restaurant to go to, but you can also make your guest list with this search: “Friends from (my town) who like seafood restaurants.”

If you are a small business owner who questions the value of social media, alarm bells should be going off for you right now. As more social media associations are integrated into search, the more critical it will be to build online connections with your customer base. And this doesn’t just apply to Facebook. Last year, Google made the move to a more semantic-based algorithm (see our blog post on Google Hummingbird), and with Google+ gaining new users every day, it’s just a matter of time before some of the Facebook searches we used as examples will work equally well on Google by pulling social media information from Google+. As for Bing, it is pretty clear why they are cozying up with Facebook — if they don’t, they are going to lose big in the next round of search wars.

The mobile explosion is another very important aspect to consider as search becomes more semantic and connection-based. Not only is the mobile market expanding, but it’s also where some of the most important social media connections take place: check-ins, tagged photos, likes, follows, etc. A mobile-optimized website makes your physical business more appealing to your cell phone-clutching customer base, and will prove to be more and more critical to brick-and-mortar small business success (click here for more on technology developments between mobile and brick-and-mortar retail). If you own a seafood restaurant that didn’t come up on the searches above, you could start getting more creative with your online presence — for example, by adding QR codes to your menus that interact with your social media, or by running specials for your followers.

A lot of change lies on the horizon in terms of Internet search, and it looks like it will sneak up on us gradually and organically, rather than coming by way of a product roll-out or press announcement. This means you have an opportunity to get ahead of the game and pay closer attention to how you and your business connect to people, places and things.

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