More than 800 million users return to Facebook at least once a month. As of September 2011, U.S. citizens spend somewhere between a sixth and a third of their total online time on Facebook. Facebook is far and away the leader in social media. Its biggest rival for online dominance is Google (see Figure 1), and Google’s main product is search. It seems as if the two biggest 800-pound gorillas on the web are Google and Facebook, and their empires, respectively, are based on search and social. But could Facebook be planning to compete with Google in the search arena as well?
Figure 1 Compete.com’s comparison of Facebook and Google popularity
On June 10, 2010, Facebook engineer Keith Adams reported that Facebook was serving more than more than 500 million queries per day. Facebook has not updated this number, but its user base has since doubled, so it may now serve more than 1 billion queries per day. Facebook has secured several patents in the social search niche, an indication that it takes search seriously.
An even more clear declaration of how important Facebook thinks search is came from Brian Piepgrass, Facebook’s Internet marketing manager, when he spoke in November 2011 in Las Vegas at the longest running Internet marketing conference in the world, PubCon.
How Facebook Search Works and Its User Interface Problems
There’s a really cool way to get extensive Facebook search results: by clicking on the magnifying glass. You get results that you can filter specifically for pages, people, groups, apps, events, music, the web, and more (see Figure 2).
Figure 2 The complete Facebook search results, missed by many users
But a lot of people either just click on one of the choices that comes up (in Facebook’s neat automatic drop-down list) while they’re typing, or they press Return after their search, which just takes you to whichever automatic drop-down selection you have selected, which is probably the top one because you just clicked in the search box to get there (see Figure 3).
Figure 3 The automatic drop-down from the Facebook search box
Other search engines give you full results when you press Return. Not Facebook. So it takes a little bit of extra effort, going back to the mouse, to get the full results, and a lot of people miss them. That means that as a business, you have a lot smaller space to fit into. Instead of, as on Google, a page of search results to choose froma situation where it’s ok to show up in the top 5 or top 10if you don’t show up as the top page or group on Facebook, you won’t be in the search auto drop-down, and you won’t be seen.