Facebook Search: Why Google Should Be Worried

by Chad Wittman on Apr 03, 2012
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Facebook SearchBusinessweek reports that Facebook is officially making their move at search.

This is huge.

I’ve been encouraging and predicting for years, that Facebook needs to make a move at search with a serious team of talent.

It is now rumored that Facebook has applied a team of 20+ developers, led by a former Google engineer, to directly challenge Google.

Facebook could be the first legitimate contender to Google’s Search throne.

What Is Facebook Search?

Facebook Search

Facebook Search would be a complete revamp of their current search functionality. Facebook Search could combine social search results, along with traditional web results, to provide the most accurate search on the web. Facebook would listen to social input signals to help define search rankings to enhance accuracy.

Let’s look at the social graph data they could include:

  • Likes
  • Check In History
  • Offers Claimed
  • Profile Interests
  • Friends’ Interests, Check Ins, Offers Claimed
  • Geographical Proximity
  • Previous Status Updates’ Textual Analysis
  • PTAT (People Talking About This)
  • Comparable PageRank Algorithm
  • Quality Inbound Links

Leveraging a combination of these input signals, along with “traditional” input signals (e.g. quality inbound links), Facebook’s search results will be much more powerful than Google’s.

The web continues to evolve along social veins of technology, illustrated by the popularity of sites like Yelp, Urban Spoon, and many more. It’s apparent that the value of a social search result far exceeds a traditional search engine result.

The Competitive Advantage

Search is about delivering the information that the user is asking for. If this need is satisfied, users have little loyalty to the company solving their problems.

Facebook possesses several key ingredients as a potential search contender:

  • Greater Average Time on Site
  • Better Quality Input Signals
  • Comparative Active Users


Facebook is in a position to deliver even more accurate search results than Google.

Imagine that your friends love Joe’s Local Pizza, yet you’ve never heard of it. You head to Google to find local pizza.

When searching for pizza, you are shown the top results based on PageRank. Joe’s Local Pizza doesn’t make the cut, but Papa John’s is #1.

With Facebook Search, the fact that all of your friends dine at Joe’s Local Pizza could result in a #1 result placement.

Papa John’s may still be second due to local and national popularity, but Facebook Search can present you with potentially more valuable information.

Google cannot compete with this data source in the long term. It just can’t. Facebook will inevitably win this battle. Facebook is in an unprecedented position to deliver better solutions to more user search requests.

Google is not going down without a fight

Google is currently fighting this shift from SEO to Social by including personalized search results integrated by Google Plus.

Personalized search results attempt to look at a wider array of quality input signals to deliver the best possible search results. In order to receive truly valuable new input signals, they’ll need it from Google+.

With Google+ still nowhere near competing with Facebook in audience size, the odds of them being able to gather these quality input signals are greatly reduced.

The problem is even further complicated for Google, as Facebook doesn’t necessarily have to hit a home run with the tool to “win”.

Brian Carter (author of several Facebook marketing books) explains “It doesn’t have to be as good as Google, because search result quality, after a certain point, is indistinguishable. Facebook search just has to not suck. Facebook can use their minutes-used-per-day dominance, and perhaps homepage layout changes to get more people to use their “good enough” search option.”

Time Will Tell

Facebook still has yet to release a new search or any details associated with it.

But it is clear that Facebook has an incredible opportunity at hand. Only time will tell, if they’re able to achieve success. I’m not saying Google’s de-throning will be easy, but I believe they are the first real competitor that could disrupt the Google search kingdom.

Google knows this, and they’ll be fighting with everything they’ve got. However, it boils down to the users and their needs. Currently, Facebook knows much more about their users, than Google.

Post Author

Co-Founder & VP of Product at Dolly, an iPhone and Android app that is like Uber meets U-Haul or Lyft for Moving. Former Founder of EdgeRank Checker (acquired by Socialbakers)...

  • Maybe I am cynical, but it would be so easy to game Facebook search with dollars.  Contest likes  and pay for post/share makes it ripe for abuse.  To that end, Facebook is truly an echo chamber of ideas. 

    I agree with you on most points that they have all the data and ability to offer a great search tool.  What they would need to do is add a human filter to remove bad data that appears in search today.

  • You bring up an interesting point. I was disappointed with Facebook when they announced Reach Generator effectively offer an opportunity to exclusive top tier brands to circumnavigate EdgeRank. I could see a similar process happening for Search.

  • Yes, it makes sense for Facebook to get into search. Yes, it’s a good money/investment play, and shows investors that they’re looking beyond their current role and expanding. Yes, they have a ton of social and demographic data on a large amount of people. But…that doesn’t mean that their search results are going to be the best.

    I could be wrong, but I would imagine that Facebook would want you to stay withint their platform/system as long as possible, thus limiting search to what’s IN Facebook. I might not want just what my social graph provides, or what brands match what I’m searching for on Facebook. What I do want is what Google is doing with Search+Personal results. I want the “real” search results, and then I want to see what my social graph recommends. I want both, not one or the other. Unfortunately, Google lacks a truly robust social graph, and Facebook will not (probably) give full access to external results (they could of course, cut a deal with Bing for referral traffic).

    In short, it’s smart, but I expect it will be flawed, at least initially.

  • Ridiculous.  The ‘over-personalization’ of SEO has been done before with terrible results (i.e. Bing).  Google has already defined the language and culture of our queries.  To change that basic paradigm is like G+ trying to change the face of Social Networking.  Disaster will ensue.

  • Anonymous

    Very good post Chad. This will get very interesting! It really is all about the USERS and their needs and wants. Facebook has that on Google IMHO. Facebook’s roots are in knowing their users. Google’s roots are in developing tools to see what users do with them.  This is be fun!

  • I like your comparison to G+ trying to get into Social. In an ideal world, I would love to see a serious partnership between Facebook/Twitter/Google. I think that’s the best solution all around. Highly doubt that is happening. 

    The Bing analogy is less relevant as they really didn’t have full access to OpenGraph. 

  • Michael Jelacic

    Ok well Buffer doesn’t work on a Blackberry Torch 9810 way to wide and getting stuck.. If things could only work like the facebook “like” button then someone should get scared..

    I have a couple epic ideas.. Click like make money for the average user.. We are hungry and broke still with a team and a bunch of work holding as we develop individually to pay the bills until we are organized enough to take on multiple accounts and do it right.

    I can’t have clients that have trusted me since 1996 go through this learn new stuff daily.

    They look to me for stuff that works. Not to figure things out all day and night.

    -mj http://www.facebook.com/michaeljelacic
    inbox if on beach or able developer with time to invest.

  • Michael Jelacic

    I’ll call Mark and help or not.. Hopefully he calls while I’m still broke to get a deal.. Or I’ll make it myself.. Then sell it to facebook. -No question they need this.

  • Facebook can definitely embark on this but they must be sure that it is a battle that they intend to hang long for. As long as results matter – I think Facebook can make it good. They have already partnered with Bing which actually is the same concept implemented with google’s search plus your world.

    So it’s really not new that they wanted search. What’s is important is with their algorithms – can they really come up with good search results?

    I have experienced this with other search engines – they may be decent but Google still comes up with the best results that you are looking for. Now if they can top that then it would be a battle but if not – it will be a massacre for Facebook.

  • There are several things that I think this post misses.

    1) It is not clear to me that the search that Facebook is working on is a web search, and not an improved internal Facebook search. Do you have some definitive information on that? I’d be surprised if it is a web search because results would take people out of Facebook, which breaks Facebook’s whole power. They rule because they keep you on Facebook.

    2) You fail to understand what Google is really up to with Google+. While I’m sure that they’d love to have as many people as possible engaging on the network, they don’t need them to be to accomplish their real goal: an even more powerful Google search because of personal and social signals. The reason they don’t need everyone to “use” Google+ is that the real purpose of Google+ is identity. If you have a Google account of any kind, you have a G+ profile, whether you use it or not. And when you’re logged in to Google (which a huge number of people are, whether or not they “use” Google+), Google can track your web activities and profile you in ways that Facebook (at this point) can’t. 

    3) Google’s moves toward AuthorRank and PublisherRank will mean vastly improved search results as more and more content creators tie their content to their Google identities, allowing Google to use its algorithms and the “votes” of others (through engagement and resharing) to build a trust graph for those creators around topic areas. Bottom line: I can have far more influence via Google and my Google+ ID than I ever will have via Facebook.

    4) People aren’t on Facebook to find what shampoo they should buy or who has the lowest price on 64″ TVs. They are there to be entertained and hang out with friends and family. This is why so many major attempts to sell goods on Facebook have failed. When people are ready to buy, they go to Google. This will be a tough habit for Facebook to break, and they break it at the risk of watering down what until now has been their strength.

    The tie-in to the most powerful search engine in the world is the one thing that most marketing and social media “experts” are missing about Google+

  • If anyone wants to know more about why I’m betting on Google and Google+ over Facebook, sign up for my SocialFresh webinar on “What Marketers Need to Know About Google+’ I’ll be the guest of SocialFresh Director of Training Corey Creed. The live webinar is at 2 pm ET on Thursday, April 5. Free registration at http://socialfresh.com/webinars/google-plus-marketing/ 

  • You bring up several great points Mark, I appreciate your intelligent input. 

    1) It’s currently only speculation, however it lines up with the forecasts with many in the industry. With the creation and adoption of OpenGraph, Facebook’s goals are changing. The need to be fully structured within Facebook walls at all times are lessening. Profit margins on collecting web-wide data is much more appealing. 

    2) False. Google Accounts accomplishes the task you have outlined, I’ve been logged into a single Google identity for years now. These data points are accessible with or without G+. If you think G+ isn’t about social domination, then you are mistaken. Stories are pouring out of Google of Page’s obsession with social dominance. Larry Page is “driven by his paranoia about Facebook”. Google knows that Facebook is the first threat to their throne, they’re doing everything in the power to stop it. 

    3) These steps are in the right direction, and in my opinion, their only hope. 

    4) Shampoo and TV results are simply PageRank induced search results. Companies that succeed in leveraging PageRank to their advantage dominate the results. These are simply input signals turned into results, something that Facebook will have an advantage of in the future. 

    Let me guess, you use an Android :P