No Easy Fight for Facebook When It Comes to Search

Posted by chad on Mon, 04/30/2012 - 21:00
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Overheard on Twitter: “I use Google and look things up that I hear about on Facebook.”

It’s a simple enough statement and one most people who use both services can relate to. But for Facebook, it could mean the difference between becoming another MySpace and justifying the anticipated $100 billion valuation it is expected to have following next month’s initial public offering of its share. The problem is, Facebook, like Microsoft’s Bing, is going to find itself in a seemingly never-ending game of catch-up with Google.

“Search is the answer [for Facebook], but it's not a loud enough question,” said Simon Schnieders, co-founder of the local search engine company Explore To.

As noted on the advertising trade journal Adotas, paid search has continued its decade-long rise. Google still controls 66% of that market in the U.S. Its next closest competitor, Bing, has 15%.

“If Facebook wants revenue, then they need search and it needs to be as good as Google's experience, which means immense engineering investment, high-scale crawling ability and lessons learned from historical web spam, search semantics and manual monitoring, to name but a few,” Schnieders said. “The speed of the ‘like’ button on third-party sites suggests Facebook may have problems with scale like this.”

Schnieders thinks Facebook could take the search fight to Google by focusing on local search, like his firm. But it won’t be easy: Just ask Google. Google’s local search is skewed to favor companies that have completed their Places profile, he said, but at the same time, it boxes out other local search players like Yelp, and Schnieders’s Explore To. Local advertisers, as a result, have been reluctant to invest heavily in Google search ads.

“Google have done a really poor job at relevancy for users,” Schnieders said. “Despite the resources available to Google, not a single piece of innovation has emerged from the product known as Places.”