Facebook search results will be ‘totally irrelevant’ because ‘likes’ are 50% fake

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Facebook this week unveiled a new search engine called Graph Search.

Some believe this could eventually help the company steal search advertising dollars from Google.

But in a damning blog post, Entrepreneur and engineer Steve Cheney argues that Graph Search will be basically useless.

He says it’s as helpful as “me screaming in an auditorium for which doctor I should see for my cough.”

He says it’s all based on a “crook”.

Cheney says much of the structured data in the Graph Search database is “totally irrelevant and dirty.”

By “dirty,” Cheney doesn’t mean vulgar. It means the data is “outdated” and inaccurate.

The problem, according to Cheney, is that the data is informed by Facebook likes.

He has a very low opinion of “likes”.

He says at least half of them on Facebook have been bought by advertisers.

In the world of brand advertisers, CPMs have been the preferred metric (people won’t click on an ad for Coke; instead, its purpose is to influence you). Over the past few years, the big advertisers on FB have actually run huge amounts of paid media to acquire fans. They literally I like bought.

Why? Early on, FB made the point to brands that they had to have fans… along with ad agencies, they convinced the Cokes of the world to spend money to be competitive (hey Pepsi is there too). Then FB promised, something miraculous would happen. Your friends would see in their newsfeed that you liked Coke!

So… FB convinced big advertisers to spend massive amounts of money on CPA-like ad units whose sole purpose was to acquire fans. Advertising agencies have dedicated creative, planning, and strategic resources to getting Cokes and American Express around the world to pay for users to click, almost 100% of the time because the user was promised participation or a contest.

Recall any past campaigns you skipped where you might “like to participate” or “like to qualify.” They are literally everywhere and are always tied to fan acquisition.

The numbers are shockingly large: for example, in recent years AmEx has actually spent approximately half of its ad spend on the purchase of likes – tens of millions of dollars. Your friends didn’t just go to the American Express fan page and “like” the company for no apparent reason. They did it because they got something.

Overall, major advertisers were asked to spend 50% of their ad spend on fan acquisition alone. It’s a dirty little secret in the land of ad agencies. Believe me. I’ve seen it firsthand from the marketing, advertiser, and agency side.

Ultimately, Cheney’s argument boils down to this: a Facebook “Like” isn’t always what the team that built Graph Search thinks it is – a signal that a user has actually have an affinity for the object to which it is connected.

Sometimes it means that. But only about half the time.

The rest of the time… who knows.

So why would a search engine built on an accurate signal 50% of the time be any good?

Cheney thinks it won’t.