How Serious Is Facebook About Search?

An article in BusinessWeek suggests that Facebook is planning a deeper push into search. Will that be limited to improving search for the site — or will it be something more comprehensive?

It’s clear that Facebook needs better internal search. Right now the search function at the top of the page is not very useful. Improving Facebook site search seems to be the first objective of an internal team, led by former Googler Lars Rasmussen, according to BusinessWeek;

Searching the social network could get a lot better in the near future. 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. The goal, they say, is to help users better sift through the volume of content that members create on the site, such as status updates, and the articles, videos, and other information across the Web that people “like” using Facebook’s omnipresent thumbs-up button.

Better Site Search Would Increase Query Volumes

There’s no question that an improved search capability would benefit Facebook in several ways. It would encourage more search activity among users, who would be rewarded with a better experience, creating a self-reinforcing cycle. It would also create a PPC ad opportunity that is probably too lucrative for Facebook to ignore.

Facebook could sell contextual or keyword-based PPC ads in search results. There’s probably pent-up demand for such a program. It’s a natural for the site and a monetization opportunity that Facebook will be compelled to adopt.

Facebook Not Likely to Directly Challenge Google

It’s unlikely in the near term that Facebook would seek to challenge Google directly in web search. The first reason is the company’s relationship with Bing, which prevents the move in the near term at least. The second reason is that it would take a huge resource commitment from Facebook. There’s enormous exposure there; consider how much Microsoft has been losing over a period of years in trying to catch Google.

Yet Facebook doesn’t need to challenge Google directly in web search. Improving search on the Facebook site — including a better layout and presentation of results — wouldn’t be anywhere as difficult as general web search. It would also be welcomed by users — and certainly by advertisers, provided there were PPC opportunities. And I would almost guarantee some version of paid-search advertising on Facebook is “on the roadmap.”

Hundreds of Millions in Revenue “on the Table”

According to the BusinessWeek article (using comScore data) Facebook users performed 336 million search queries in February.  If Facebook fixed search that number would immediately go up and could translate into hundreds of millions of dollars in new annual revenue for the company. Institutional investors will all but demand such a move after the IPO.

In the recently released Local Search Usage Study from comScore, Localeze and agency 15 Miles, the data reflect that “use of social networking sites for local business searches has increased 67 percent since 2010.” With better Facebook site search those numbers would likely only get bigger.

Related Topics: Channel: Social | Facebook | Features: Analysis | Top News


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • pdobson

    Seems like Duck Duck Go is likely to become a far more valuable commodity soon. If Facebook is serious about getting in to search, the best alternative to Google looks like a very strategic aquisition.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    I think Facebook realizes they probably can’t tackle Google with web search, but they can make searching on Facebook easier and more valuable for users. The longer Facebook can keep users on their site the better for them, so making it easier to find people/companies means users don’t have to turn to Google to do it. 

  • Greg Sterling

    Having a good search capability on Facebook would make it more useful and more people would use it, leading to ad opportunities

  • Seb Young

    Might ignite yet another ‘search battle’. Looks interesting!

  • Heinz-Guenter Weber

    I think Facebook is getting more serious on search as it is getting more serious on  revenues both from ads and from increased traffic. As you put it: ‘It would also create a PPC ad opportunity that is probably too lucrative for Facebook to ignore’. Could be a cash cow I think.

  • Mosaic Technology

    This would be a really interesting power play by
    Facebook if the company does create a more in-depth search engine to rival
    Google. Short from the smartphone/tablet market, Facebook and Google are going
    to look remarkably similar. Nothing more would solidify Facebook and Google as
    rivals than for Facebook to amp up its search feature.



    Mosaic Technology

  • James Bentham

    Good news for UX on Facebook, which seems to have been getting steadily worse with every update. Hopefully improved search will be a step in the right direction for both users and advertisers. 

  • Zhu Cherishsos
  • Gratis Incassobureau

    Hello , I’m New member for Search Engine Land. So when i open Search Engine Land the Headline i saw first and I’m intersting to read the post. I’m never say i Seo Guro. I’m normal person. So I’m just say one think Google is Google and Facebook is Facebook no fight no war we are friend. 

  • Ricky Shah

    Facebook better improve its privacy policy first. Competing with Google is not an easy/ viable option for them

  • Vishu

    yes this is much needed feature required from the facebook, having, this much of huge database it is hard to believe that  search is working prefectly on Facebook

  • Arvin Alba

    Frankly, if this is just for internal search, I don’t see the point. People rarely search for stuff on Facebook – all they need is basic search functionality. Facebook is more on discovery as opposed to search. I won’t search for pages I want to like – I click like when I see the like button, when, say, I visit the web page. I only use search to search friends, and Facebook is good enough with that. For those I haven’t friended yet – well, that happens only a few times in three months.

    Thus, I see this more of a stepping stone for eventual web search. Test run, probably, and getting the basics right. Also, having more people comfortable with using a Facebook search.

  • smobot

    Facebook is more like a book for your face, whereas Google is more like the sound the internet makes when I try to think of stuff.

  • smobot

    Facebook is going to launch a search engine using their subscriber base. It will be start as a social media biased alternative to portals like MSN, Yahoo and iGoogle, relying heavily on FB Pages. The geniuses at Facebook will have no problem launching a search engine with advancements in computation, and their knowledge of linguistics and user behavior. Google has already attempted to block this effort with the introduction of Google Plus, however, with persistence, and possibly in partnership w/ Microsoft (initially, as it were), Facebook will become a real player, eventually opting for an auxiliary domain name exclusively for search, perhaps capitalizing on mobile search first….. google…

  • Aubrey Smith

    Totally true.  Google and LinkedIn Corporate Dev departments have been talking to for this.

  • Aiden Moor

    Facebook and Google is trying a lot for taking over each other and everyone is in a wait for the winner of this competition. So lets wait and watch who will take the trophy or hat of  winner.. By the way Facebook is trying a lot………….

  • Cruise_Co

    With how popular Google is I really do think Facebook will struggle to match it let a lone beat it. While both Google and Facebook are very popular they are popular for different reasons. Royal Caribbean cruises

  • Stephen Foreman

    I think you are right. Just look at how Google + is dealing with Social Media – Badly. The two things are entirely different animals. They might be able to make Facebook better by making it more effecient, but do Facebook have the know how to compete with a long established search engine?

    Only time will tell…

  • Fabian Toth

    There is a lot of sense in Facebook creating a search engine that will compete with Google, as Google already stepped into its territory with Google+.

    I foresee some sort of integration with Bing as Facebook has been working with Microsoft a lot and Facebook has tremendous amounts of data from their users already they can use.

    A great indicator into Facebook working on a search engine is that they are starting to offer their own email, “” which is directly associated with the preferable search engine users use.

  • Jim

    Of course Facebook should do a search, Google has been unsuccessfully attacking Facebook since it realised it has missed the boat on the social front. It is time Facebook hit back. With the yet another google social network beginning to lose steam it will be only a matter of time before Google makes a move on Pinterest. Yes you heard it here first.

  • Tomasz Leszczynski


  • Dmitry Nut

    I am sure that Facebook won’t try to clone Google, and will focus on users’ likes trends, sharing etc, however it’s a big challenge to filter out billions of spam accounts, which will flood the search results with fake likes… hope that the social network will care about it.
    Back in 2010 I mashuped by myself pros of Facebook and Google. Facebook’s big content and Google’s great search engine API - Looking forward to see how Facebook will contribute into the Search area.

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