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Who wins in Google vs. Facebook? You do.

April 24, 2011

Steve Fawthrop

I was in a LinkedIn Google-related group discussion last week. Among the topics someone posed a question about the existence of search on Facebook (through Bing technology) and how much it is a threat to Google.

 The question may not be of obvious interest to you, but there is value in understanding potential market shifts in search, and other web use, so you know how it may affect your clients and you. Ideally, any effect would give you more options and efficiency in reaching your potential customers.

 While Google is far and away dominant in search volume and share of mind (most people “Google it” rather than “search it”), there is a definite threat to Google from Facebook search.

 A greater amount of online time is dedicated to social media use. By default that means more time with Facebook, the market leader. The search function on Facebook may or may not be superior to Google but can easily become a default first search due to convenience. Threats to Google come in different forms, not just from Facebook, but all lead to less potential use of traditional search. Some of the causes:

  • Peer-to-peer recommendation that eliminates need for a search. Personal recommendations have always existed but the ease of posing a question or soliciting recommended solutions for a problem among peers is frictionless these days. 
  • Links to other places on recommendation, as mentioned by others, that eliminate a general search.
  • Specialized sources, like Yelp, that are considered superior for delivering results or depth of information vs. a general search. This also includes applications depending on the purpose of the app.
  • Situational search.  As information consumption gets more place-based via mobile and social media through, again, services like Yelp or Facebook Places, the need for a general search gets eliminated or is seen as less efficient. Also a service that provides comparative information, like the Shopkick app available at Best Buy and other stores, may also eliminate a search via Google (or other search engine).
  • The growth of mobile commerce, social commerce, QR codes and digital signage can also effect search by providing answers, information or because it shortens the information-purchase-cycle.

Google is not sitting on traditional search as their only service offering of course. They have owned YouTube for awhile and video consumption is growing rapidly. They made a bid for Groupon in December and, after being turned down, just launched their own daily deals program in three markets. Google recently added  the “+1” endorsement feature to compete with Facebook “likes” and increase the value of social endorsement to search results.

Google is also very aggressive in mobile services as a link to mobile search. During their recent earnings call they claimed over half of million businesses are now using the click-to-call service. This is another version of the pay-per-click model. The advertiser pays when a consumer clicks on a link to a phone number in a mobile search result on their smart phone.

Google has a huge lead in the traditional search market and a lot of cash on hand for investment-nearly $37 billion at the end of the last quarter. Still, there are a lot of potential disruptive elements on the horizon. Facebook is just the most obvious given the reach and share of time it has achieved.

This competitive environment means you and I will have more and better choices as ways to reach potential customers and as individual consumers and B2B purchasers. For that, we should welcome the creative competition between Google, Facebook, other major players like Microsoft and firms we have not even heard of yet.


Additional information:


Added November 3: Fortune magazine article on competition between Google and Facebook. Even includes robots like in my post!:

Added May 31: Commentary on the increased Facebook/Bing social search relationship and impact:

Added April 27: SEMPCO report shows social PPC giving Google AdWords a “run for the money”:

Some of the top shopping comparison apps:

MerchantCircle quarterly survey of 8500 small businesses shows trends in digital media use:

Eric Schmidt of Google at the Internet Advertising Bureau conference earlier this year speaking about web trends, specifically for mobile that are coming. Video is eight minutes so succinct:

Facebook added  new features this week to their Groups-photo albums and “send” button to forward information from sources on the web:


Steve Fawthrop

714-876-7062, cell


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One Comment
  1. Christian permalink

    “For that, we should welcome the creative competition between Google, Facebook, other major players like Microsoft and firms we have not even heard of yet.”

    Part of that means techie types, and non-techie types for that matter, shouldn’t act like Google is the only search engine people should ever use. In the good old days people knew there were a number of search engines to use (there still are but people have forgotten that). Nowadays people have this odd idea that you could never ever find relevant search results if you use something other than Google. Now, Google did make a good search engine but a lot of that attitude is based in clique-ishness. It also used to be that a search engine would lead somebody to a website then the visitor would explore that website. But now, deplorably, people have this idea that if the page Google points them to doesn’t have the info they are looking for then that info couldn’t possibly be anywhere else on that same site, so without exploring they click the Back button to return to the search results page. The dumbing down of society is gaining momentum…

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