The Potential for Facebook search

With rumours circulating of Facebooks move towards the development and implementation of its own search strategy to rival that of Google, Mark Oldfield, account director for SEO at Aegis owned online agency iProspect discusses the possibilities and the implications it could have for search rivals.

Google’s success to date has been down to the relevancy of its search results compared to its competitors. It has seen search engines come and go over the years. Most have gone because they couldn't match Google's search results and its simple yet elegant user experience.

Facebook would be seen by many as Google's core competitor, even before they begin competing with them in the search space. A critical advantage Facebook has over other search engines that have tried to compete with Google, is the personal data that users share in Facebook.

Google has been pulling out the stops recently to promote and increase usage of its own social network, Google +. This product allows Google to gain more personal data to power its search engine and if it’s successful, it will significantly increase its advertising effectiveness and revenues. Recent above the line advertising of Google + demonstrates just how far they are willing to go and how important social is to the future of its business.

In the UK, Google is still the dominant search engine, with a circa 90% market share. In the US they have less of a monopoly, but still command the search market, with Bing a distant second place. However, in the last 18 months Google had started to receive some criticism of its search results, where poor quality, ad-driven sites were outranking real content sites. It took steps to solve this last year by rolling out its 'Panda' algorithm update, removing a number of poor quality sites from the top of the search results. More recently it has been removing paid-for linking sites out of its index and penalising sites that were trying to use paid-for links to artificially boost their search result position. These efforts highlight the fact that Google takes the quality of its search results seriously.

Facebook does have the scale to affect Google’s search engine share, with 800 million active accounts across the world compared to Google + having 90 million accounts. Facebook search will be able to use the personal and social data in its algorithm to provide users with highly relevant - and personal - search results. It will also mean users will not have to leave their browser or application to search for content, improving their overall user experience in Facebook.

Ultimately Facebook is also likely to monetize its search product by rolling out advertising in its search results. From a marketer’s perspective the introduction of Facebook search will mean a new consideration in terms of budgets and priorities. Facebook search results could offer a fusion of Google PPC ads and Facebook Fan style ads, extending the market for paid social advertising and providing a new targeted channel for paid search advertising. For those in the SEO field, a continued increase in social SEO campaigns will be imperative, albeit with further focus on Facebook engagement. Ensuring your site’s content is shared, liked, commented on across Facebook, will allow your site to gain strong visibility in organic Facebook search results.

Although not everyone who uses the web has a Facebook account, this new product will be a serious concern to Google (although they will have been expecting this move for some time.) With Facebook’s large user base, it could cause a reasonable dent in the number of searches performed on Google. Just like Google's move in to social, Facebook will be aggressive in its efforts to deliver a solid search experience for its users. Just how much of a share they take from Google will be proportional to the relevancy and quality of their search results.

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