Signaling a shift in the Internet marketing landscape, Facebook is reportedly working on developing its own search engine, challenging Google.
About two dozen Facebook engineers are working on an improved search engine, according to BusinessWeek's Douglas MacMillan and Brad Stone.
The project is headed up by ex-Googler Lars Rasmussen, a Danish computer scientist who collaborated with his brother Jens on the ill-fated Google Wave project. Previously, Lars Rasmussen co-founded mapping software company Where 2 Technologies, sold it to Google in 2004, and helped create Google Maps. He left Google for Facebook in 2010 after a personal pitch from company CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
I'm not seeing any indication that Facebook wants to go head-to-head with Google on searching the entire Web. Rather, Facebook wants to do a better job searching the content members create on Facebook itself, such as status updates, articles, videos, and other information across the Web that members Like, according to BusinessWeek.
Another reason Facebook won't be going head-to-head with Google: Facebook members only see and rate a small fraction of the content of the Web. And that content skews heavily toward the more recent -- today's news or e-commerce offerings. Google is likely to remain dominant in the rare and obscure searches that, aggregated together, make up the bulk of search business.
According to BusinessWeek:
The $15 billion search advertising market could be a huge opportunity for the company. It’s also a way to attack a chief rival, Google, which is moving in the opposite direction, from search to social, with its incipient Google+ network. With a more potent search engine, Facebook’s wine-loving users might be able to query the closest wineries that have been liked most often. That would give people one fewer reason to leave the site’s walled garden. Facebook could also follow the lead of companies such as Google and Microsoft and start selling relevant—and profitable—keyword ads alongside results. “Search is the best form of monetization on the Web by far, and they are leaving that on the table,” says Doug Leeds, chief executive officer of search engine Ask.com. “From a business perspective, you have to think about going into search.”
TheNextWeb's Drew Olanoff imagines what search on Facebook might be like, and his vision has powerful marketing implications:
For example, I wanted a taco, I wouldn’t necessarily type taco into an open search box like I would on Google. I’d choose a location or a group of friends and then search for “taco”. Based on where they’ve checked in on foursquare or Facebook, or things that they’ve liked, I could be given results to check out.
There's certainly a lot of room for improvement in Facebook search compared with Google. For example, when I search Google for "glasses," I get a list of places I can buy eyeglasses, both near me geographically and on the Web. Searching Facebook, the top listing is for something called "Alioscopy - 3D Displays, No Glasses Required." Second is something called STUN Glasses, an online sunglasses store. I also get pages for "glasses" and "sunglasses" containing no useful information at all, as well as listings for several people with no indication why they come up in a search for "glasses."
If Facebook beefs up its search engine, the implications for marketers are profound. For years, Internet marketing has been a pillar of marketing overall, search marketing has been a pillar of Internet marketing, and Google has dominated search. Marketers focus on getting good search results on Google and Google AdWords. Facebook search would likely emerge quickly as a rival to Google, meaning marketers would have to rapidly shift their focus to making sure their searches do well on both Google and Facebook, two very different arenas.
What do you think? Is traditional search marketing, as exemplified by Google, becoming less important?
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— Mitch Wagner , Editor in Chief, The CMO Site