Too Big to Ignore: The Market Potential for Social Search

One of the effects of a giant infusion of capital, which Facebook is anticipating with its IPO this week, is the ability to expand a business into new ventures. Search looms as too tantalizing a market to ignore.

Despite Google’s dominance in the search engine market, there does seem to be room for a major new competitor. comScore’s March 2012 report of search engine rankings reinforces the fact that, for some time, a usage gap has existed between Google (66.4 percent) and its closest rivals, Microsoft sites, including Bing (15.3 percent) and Yahoo! (13.7 percent).

Facebook could quickly rise to second place if it were to launch a search engine, according to at least one new study, which projects a Facebook search engine could grab as much as 22 percent market share.

Facebook is Working On Search

In late March, Bloomberg Businessweek speculated that Facebook was indeed up to something in search: “About two dozen Facebook engineers, led by a former Google engineer named Lars Rasmussen, are working on an improved search engine, say two people familiar with the project who did not want to be named because the company is in a quiet period ahead of its IPO.” Of course, it could just as easily be a project to improve Facebook’s own search capability which, as Chris Crum writes in WebProNews, “isn’t the greatest or most efficient tool for finding information. …the results are often unhelpful – even the filtered results.”

As Facebook’s growth continues to skyrocket, a poor search capability hampers its business model. Improved search is not only a nice-to-have after an IPO, it’s a potential game-changer. “Just think how much more useful Facebook would be if you could easily use it to find things,” writes Crum. “As a business, think about how much better Facebook could work for you if you could better optimize for its search feature, and it delivered your product or service’s page to people searching with relevant needs – or perhaps better yet, when their friends are talking about or checking in at your business.”

Search in the Context of Social

Still, if Facebook is improving its own search, does that automatically mean it is readying itself for a battle with Google? Interestingly, it may not have a choice. Google has already implemented “Search Plus Your World” this year, which takes Google Plus into consideration in delivering search results. Microsoft, meanwhile, obviously took notice – the company just announced its own makeover, positioning it this way in a blog post by the Bing team: “Over the coming weeks, we will be introducing a brand new way to search designed to help you take action and interact with friends and experts without compromising the core search experience.” Sounds like a pretty good description of social search to me.

Bing already has a relationship with Facebook; in fact, Facebook uses Bing for its more general search results. That makes Bing’s move all the more intriguing. Aligning Bing’s social search capabilities with Facebook could pit the two against Google in a way that either may be unable to do alone. On the other hand, if Facebook truly wants to have a go at Google by itself, it could zing Bing.

A Market Too Big to Ignore

Lest we forget, Bloomberg Businessweek reminds us that the search advertising market is worth $15 billion, which “could be a huge opportunity for [Facebook]. 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. … Facebook could also follow the lead of companies such as Google and Microsoft and start selling relevant—and profitable—keyword ads alongside results.”

One thing you can be sure of: Facebook won’t be shy about pursuing any business opportunity. As a public company, Facebook will put a whole new face on revenue, revenue, and more revenue. That could be reason enough for a Facebook search engine.

About Barry Silverstein

Barry Silverstein is a freelance writer/marketing consultant. In addition to writing for ReveNews, he is a contributing writer to Brandchannel.com, the world’s leading online branding forum. He is the author of three marketing books, The Breakaway Brand (co-author, McGraw-Hill, 2005), Business-to-Business Internet Marketing (Maximum Press, 2003) and Internet Marketing for Technology Companies (Maximum Press, 2003). Barry ran his own Internet and direct marketing agency for twenty years. You can find Barry on Twitter @bdsilv.