Who Will Win the Social Search Engine War? Facebook, Google, Or Someone Else?

    July 9, 2012
    Abby Johnson
    Comments are off for this post.

The search industry has witnessed multiple changes over the past couple of years. Among the most notable changes are social, mobile, and local being integrated into search results. While each of these play a big role in the search evolution that has occurred, I think it’s fair to say that social tops the list.

How has social media influenced your search experience? Do you prefer its integration, or would you rather have the “old search” model back? Let us know.

The influx of Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and now players such as Pinterest has all dramatically impacted how users search. With Google as the dominant search engine, it has obviously pushed its social endeavors aggressively to become the leader in both sectors. After Larry Page became Google’s CEO, reports circulated that he was tying all employees’ bonuses to the success of Google’s social strategy.

What’s more, in a recent interview with Charlie Rose, when asked if he was concerned about Facebook’s competition in search, Page answered with: “It’s something that we take seriously just like we do social media.”

According to Grant Simmons, the Director of SEO and Social Product at The Search Agency, Google has been worried for some time about competition, especially in social. Although the latest statistics show that Google+ has over 100 million users, it’s clear that it is not gaining the same traction that Facebook did.

In addition, Google has made some drastic moves including Search Plus Your World and the recent launch of its Knowledge Graph, both of which are designed to improve users’ search experience by making it simpler, personal, and more social. Interestingly though, as Simmons pointed out to us, these recent announcements from Google are similar to products from other companies, AKA competitors.

Grant Simmons, Director of SEO and Social Product at The Search Agency He told us that Google has rolled out lots of “me too” announcements and that it is “trying to differentiate itself by copying.”

“The Knowledge Graph is certainly to address some of that,” he went on to say, “but I think also, it’s more like to them looking forward to how they can get Google to be more sticky and also more competitive.”

The push, however, of Google’s social products into search has not exactly set well with users or the search industry as a whole. Although the tone could change and users might begin to find Google’s products useful, it could also turn users away.

“With the alternative search engines whether it’s social search or whether it’s media search or whether it’s just mobile search, I think that Google is a little bit concerned,” explained Simmons,” and tying in their 400-500 million users into search results makes sense, it’s just whether users will get a little bit overcome by Google products always being pushed; or, whether it’s gonna be something they adopt because it’s useful to them.”

When talking about social and the possibilities of a search engine though, one can’t rule out Facebook. At this point, Bing powers the search function on Facebook, but given the social giant’s wide range of data, it’s likely got something up its own sleeve in the search department.

“I think Facebook has to get into some type of search leveraging the data they have,” said Simmons. “They’re already working on it, I’m sure.”

But, as Jessica Lee of The Search Agency pointed out on GigaOM, Facebook can’t exactly compete with Google’s more than 8.6 billion indexed pages. Simmons believes Facebook will use its “Like” system, Open Graph, user profiles, and other data it has acquired toward its search curation product.

“What they do have is they have a core or a connection between lots of pages that have likes on them,” he said. “They have, within Facebook, an understanding of what you do like from a page standpoint, what your connections are, what you talk about within Faceboook, and I think by leveraging that data, they can get a pretty good understanding of what you’re looking for, what you like, [and] what you might connect with on a more relevant basis.”

He sees Facebook’s partnership with Bing continuing at least in the short-term, since both parties benefit. In addition, it addresses Google’s integration with Google+ into its search results.

Incidentally, Danny Sullivan in a piece on Search Engine Land in April expressed his doubt for Facebook starting a search engine:

I’ve been asked a lot recently about whether I believe Facebook will create its own search engine, because the rumors that never die have started again. I don’t, not a web-wide one.

Among other reasons, I think Facebook won’t because it understands that doing social right, when you’re at the scale Facebook handles, is ensuring that people discover what’s interesting to them rather than having to search for it.

Social = discovery, a kissing cousin of search, but not the same. And social is what Facebook is focused on. That’s plenty to chew on. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said as much repeatedly, such as to Charlie Rose last year, about wanting to do “one thing incredibly well.” That means continuing to perfect social.

Twitter has also been mentioned in the talks of social search engines, but according to Simmons, it already has “robust search,” but it is challenged by a struggling business model.

Going forward, it’s essentially inevitable that social search will play an even greater role in the game of search. The winner, however, is yet to be determined.

Simmons did tell us that SEOs needed to begin thinking about social search and where their audiences are. Most importantly, he believes that brands need to understand that there are different venues and that their audiences will likely need to be approached in different ways.

“We talk about The Search Agency Search Anywhere Optimization or Search Everywhere Optimization as the new SEO, and it really is about where people are searching and where they’re searching and niche-type stuff,” he said.

“The single search venue as the solution to social search probably won’t happen,” he continued. “It’s gonna be more about these connections, affiliations, [and] associations that make sense to me as an individual as opposed to just a personalized search engine like Google.”

How do envision the future of social search? Do you see Google or Facebook playing a role, or could it be a completely different player? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

  • http://www.adovationz.co.nz Digby

    Great article, we are living in interesting times

    Big companies can fall very easily if they make a wrong step, eg Myspace.

    • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons

      Interesting times indeed!

    • http://placebee.com burak

      myspace was never a big company, was only getting good trendy traffic.

      • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons

        Relatively speaking is was a massive company that dominated a large share of web traffic for a long (in Internet years) time.

        Their contribution in proving the concept of a social media / media platform was invaluable to the development of many of the social venues we see today.

        They tried to hold on for way too long IMHO, but apart from that aspect of their history, have total respect for what is mostly considered to be a failure.

        Many bad decisions and short sighted strategy? Yes.

        Failure? No way!


  • http://www.jltcreative.com JLT Creative

    Google definitely has competition but I think they will still remain the search engine of choice – at least for now.

  • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons

    You’re right, but I think this assumes search engines are still going to be the discovery engine of choice, which I’m sure is not a guarante (in fact it’s trending the opposite way with alternative venues gaining more share of the search market.)

    Interesting point is as curated results appear in more niche venues and those venues become more visible, search engines like Google lose out. How many people currently search for an image in Google vs typing “Pinterest” directly in their browser bar? The gap is narrowing.


  • http://www.joywebservices.com soumitra

    Frankly, I am still confused in advertising. What do I do. Facebook or ad words. Trying both.

    Google seems to be more straight however Facebook is relationship building. So gradually both will secure their actual position I supposepoo

    • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons

      “Different strokes for different folks”

      Same as with organic search, you’ve good to understand your customers and / or prospects, what they’re looking for, where they ‘hang’, and how to connect.

      Adwords offers control; ad copy, page targeting, cost, day parting etc, And the ability to (mostly) understand user intent via the search query and match type targeting. This means a higher level of control and intent targeting than Facebook who (currently) offers more persona, look-a-like, association based targeting… Much the same as the Google Content Network.

      If you’re stuck with an either / or scenario I’d look at the audience segments within Facebook’s ad targeting and compare against search volume metrics and daily cost estimates in Google, but as a general rule Google would be the first option or preferably test both!

      All this ties into “Search Everywhere Optimization” as not just the new credo for SEO, but also for search marketers everywhere. Maybe *neither* Google or Facebook are the right option to optimize your ROI.

      “Search Everywhere Optimization” means addressing you customer / prospect (and your) needs by being in the right place at the right time (in the Consumer Decision Journey) and with the right message to connect.



  • http://www.myvotes.org Tominguez

    Every social network will remain #1 in their own concept, facebook will be always the social network for the general public, unless of course they decide to start charging for the service, like google tricks. Pinterest is quite amazing, I see it becoming the next eBay lite, G+ is boring and overstuffed with google services ( and tracking ). Twitter is a quick way to communicate, not sure how long will that last but I think will be for quite a while, unless again, they try to pull a google trick, charging for services that already give them profits with other people’s efforts, all social networks live because the content we feed to them, they in turn create services that make them profit and that is why they should remain “free”. Great article Abby

    • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons

      Great points Tominguez

      Challenge is business and revenue models, especially companies that are VC backed, pressures to monetize communities have always led to user disenfranchisement as generally it muddys the ‘pure’ aspect of why they belong.

      Certain this will be resolved as more internet-sophisticated users understand ‘free’ isn’t sustainable or scalable and there needs to be some revenue stream attached to services.


  • http://www.captaincyberzone.com Cap’n Cyberzone

    So long as FB doesn’t try to become like Goo-Goo (an ad $ chasing ho) and stays true to why it’s users are there in the first place it will win “the social search engine war” (who declared war?).

    • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons


      No ‘war’ but better journalism jargon and headlines :-)

      I agree. No one venue can dominate every media, niche or interest, and users are more savvy to social platform ad / revenue “schemes”

      Reason of pushback on google and, I believe, challenges for Facebook.


  • http://www.macgames.info www.macgames.info

    I can’t wait for google to have real competition, small businesses are at the mercy of google right now, if they just come up with a new “penguin” algorithm, that is, if you do seo and don’t buy adwords you get kicked out of the top 50 then you can say you’re out of business.

    so far i noticed that we have much better *real* results with http://www.duckduckgo.com or bing.com , not stupid sites that are 5 years old with obsolete information ( that happens a lot since the penguin update )

    • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons

      Google is still relevant, and still provides relevant results.

      Yes there’s other search engines out there that offer potentially ‘better’ results, but it’s relative, of course.

      There’s still far more searches conducted on Google, and there’s still a massive revenue stream (for both Google and businesses) because of it.

      As long as there’s still ROI on Google paid products businesses are going to continue to pay for traffic.

      Personally, I believe there’s many more opportunities out there either ‘live’ or in development that will be a lot smarter than the Google we have today. Though some of them *may* be under the Google umbrella in future, I think we’ll see a lot more niche based engines or app based plays that will detract from the traditional desktop search paradigm. At that point, who’s to say how many searches will be conducted via the traditional search bar, or if browsers will even be the app of choice.

      Things will change (are changing) and Google (as well as other current search contenders) realize they need to adapt or wither.


  • http://www.theokaynetwork.com Steve G

    Google’s #1 point of failure is trying to put everything into one basket for search queries. I thought Google was very smart in creating different vertical searches, but very dumb for trying to combine them all into one coherent search for a single query. There is just too much data out there, something that Google realized and created verticals to combat that problem and now they’re moving backwards into trying to answer the query with injecting verticals into the main search. At first I applauded Google for realizing that there are so many different types of searches and so they created segmented searches like images, blogs, books, social and even products. But this backwards step they’re taking and trying to get social into the mix has created such a mess of their indexes.

    • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons


      It always makes sense in the development discussion to talk about “bundling” as being better, but the old adage of “keep is simple stupid” always wins out.

      I don’t believe social inclusion is a bad thing, however, as a way of helping refine relevance or addressing user intent, I do believe throwing everything at a search result (kitchen sink SERP) does confuse and detract from the ‘better results’ goal of any search venue.


  • 700mac

    Facebook needless to say with just about every company using it. As for me I don’t give a Rat’s as I don’t use any of these networks. I call my friends. I don’t want to be friends with every Tom,Dick,Harry,Betty. As for family that’s what phones and gatherings are for and no texts either

    • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons

      That’s the great thing about opinion and choice… you don’t *have to* use Facebook or any social platform, BUT at some point you realize all your friends are on them and they don’t want to pick up the phone :-)

      Twitter: simmonet
      Google+: http://bit.ly/Mf76Jl
      LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/simmonet

  • http://xhow2.com/ chonyui

    Great information but i didn’t got any email from dmoz for my website submission

    • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons

      And you never will :-)

  • http://greatestcollectibles.com greatestcollectibles.com

    Google has a monopoly and is very smart. They take ver little risks and only do something when it works. For example, mapquest worked so they copied it and now have google maps. Facebbok worked and they did Google plus, PayPal worked so they did a Google online payment system.

    Google is just waiting for the right idea and once it works they follow right along but with a much larger crowd. Sooner or later some other search engine or program will probably outperform it becuase Googlie getting to greedy. In other countires zgoogle is not the primary search engine such as in China and China might even have more internet users than the U.S.


    • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons

      This is the challenge of having too much success without a clear vision.

      When Larry Page came back onboard a lot of the ‘ancillary’ products were killed off because they either didn’t work, didn’t get the expected adoption, or detracted from the core values of what Google is (and trying to do). This has allowed Google to focus on the key elements of search… HOWEVER there’s also new goals around revenue that are working contrary (I believe) to their original mandates.

      Google succeeded because it created and met user goals… curating the vast amounts of web content and serving up the most relevant to a user’s intent. With a focus on revenue through Google owned products and / or more pageview driven revenue opportunities, it appears user satisfaction is falling by the wayside somewhat, and that leaves opportunities for alternate search venues to grab niche share and eventually (if they serve users better) large shares of the pie.

      It’s already happening, Google should simplify, not diversify, and I believe they’re smart enough to make that happen (note the convergence of products over the past 6 months).


  • http://Mabuzi.com Kevin

    Hopefuly we the consumers are the winner!

    Competition is good, its stops monopolistic mentalities. If there was no other search competitors we would aleady been paying adword type advertising for the first two pages of search results.

    I just wonder when it became the norm simply to drop and change products without any consultation with the customer.

    • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons

      When you’re the king, you don’t have to ask the serfs for permission :-)

      Companies that don’t listen to their customers, or at least don’t consider customer satisfaction rarely win. Apple is an exception. Google hasn’t made it’s mind up yet (but is tending to ignore.)


  • http://www.shalusharma.com/ Shalu Sharma

    The giants are at war with each other great. For the user, it means more features and upgrades. Facebook will always be the one for the public while G+ is for marketers.

    • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons

      Let’s revisit in the next 18 months, I think you’ll see a convergence of features and goals so the difference will be less, though I think it will anger Facebook’s user base a lot more than the G+ folks.

      Facebook is the “big boy” of social but still has a “I’m taking my ball home” type attitude when it comes to user satisfaction. Can you say “timeline”?

      Will be an interesting future of social.. certain they’ll be new players, new niches and new opportunities for “Search Everywhere Optimization” – the new SEO for companies looking to connect with their customers and prospects.

      Believe the user will win when companies target better, with better messaging and better (more personalized based on social signals) products or offers.


  • http://hd100.in Darshan

    I believe Google is well experienced and more large company so it is difficult for FB or else to compete on later time.

    • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons

      Q: “How do you eat an elephant?”

      A: “One bite at a time”

      No giant is invincible, smaller players may be the ultimate downfall of some of today’s Internet giants.


  • http://www.boholwebdesign.com Steve

    So far im very unimpressed with google+ 1 they suspended my account today for not using my real name. Although i have no other name to use but my own…and that’s the one on the account i have not had any similar problem with Facebook. My question is : how can Google suspend an account for an improper name if that is actually the correct name of the individual using the account and all the other accounts connected has the same name including my paypal and bank account. In my opinion Google+ has taken a turn for the worst! Facebook is now looking better and better…

    • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons

      No excuses for Google.

      They’re trying to be the gatekeepers and police of the Internet.

      NOT my idea of a good and sustainable (or needed) long term plan.


  • http://www.themedia3.com Media3

    I will say that Google will win in this because let me tell a small logic Internet story:

    In internet the first character is Google and in the middle several characters like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc came in to the story. Whatever middle charcters came they will not stay till end, but Google only will stay till END.

    Conclusion of the story is: Google will win and Google Products will rock.

    • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons

      Im certain there’s some logic in your explanation, but it’s a little too much for this chap on a Monday morning.

      Let’s revisit and redefine “winning” in 6 months :-)


  • http://online-backup.stocklii.com stocklii

    At the beginning we become more and more leaning towards Google that reveals itself more and more interesting because with more security and privacy policy Whereas Facebook is little bit for fun. As one said above Google gets inspired of the creation of one and perfect it make it better that’s the reason why people are more attracted. But also note that it’ll be nice not to give him the monopoly as this could give him the power to crash whoever he wants.

    • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons

      It’s important to realize (as Uncle Ben in Spiderman said) “With great power comes great responsibility.”

      We’ll see how that transpires online.


  • IMBack?

    Nobody will win. These companies are ass-backwards. People who use FB will keep using FB, and people who prefer Google online will use Google, etc. Laughable how much time and energy is dedicated to discussing this supposedly drastically changing internet world. BS. In essence the internet is the same as it has been since the day Google was born. People search for info online, some others have no other concern than seeing puppy videos on youtube or stroking their ego on FB. The internet in general always stays the same, some sites get popular and some stay popular. The average person cares a LOT less about “social media” than us marketers do. People just want to have fun and connect with others. There can’t be a winner when it is a matter of people just using the services they prefer. Give it up, nobody will ever “own” the internet.

    • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons

      *Somebody(s)* will “win” from a revenue standpoint.

      The key result of the question however is, “who will lose?”

      MySpace was considered a ‘forever’ web property, much the same as Google and Facebook are today.

      Searches are primarily on Google today but there’s an increasing number of searches (passive or otherwise) that aren’t happening on Google, think:

      1) Flight searches on Kayak or Airline sites
      2) Restaurant searches on Urban spoon
      3) Voice searches on Siri
      4) Image searches on Pinterest
      5) Apple pie recipe on allrecipes.com

      These are just examples and many didn’t exist 5 years ago. *That’s the changing face of search.

      Social search isn’t a battle to “win”, its an opportunity to be first to integrate opinions of friends into a search experience… it’s being done to a small degree, but the (major) point in this articles is second guess who will win the mindshare and marketshare for social search, whether it’s an alternative to ‘traditional’ search curation, and whether consumers / users will care.

      I love puppy videos as much as anyone, but that doesn’t help when I’m looking for the local Harley dealership :-)


  • john

    google will lost. because them hate webmasters, and we hate him back.

    • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons

      “Hate” is such a strong word.

      Agree to disagree perhaps? :-)

      Google may not win… but they will not lose because webmaster don’t like them.

      *User* satisfaction is the key to their success.


      • john

        if you put magic disallow string in robots.txt – them will loss. If 1% of websites will do it – them can go out from game completely just because it will not a ‘complete’ search engine anymore.

        And because g living and earning using of our unique text/photo/video/etc content.

        and I mean HATE now in relation to google. Just check forums and you will see feels of many webmasters.

        User Satisfaction is pure idealism. Also you cannot automatically (using any algorithm) to value any human satisfaction in any automated way.

        You see indian g hangout video? Check – it show clearly what them politicians now, not programmers anymore. Just see how them love them selfs and how them answer questions (ads above fold in google search results for example).

        • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons

          Hey join.

          The great thing about opinion is we can all have our own :-)

          Google was built on user satisfaction, satisfying a need for curated result relevant to the user.

          Works quite well (I say quite because for a long time is was easy to game, now it’s more about surfacing great brands and content) and allowed Google to grow it’s user base to 100’s of millions.

          I agree that their position may not be sustainable, hence the point of this article that alternatives abound, and Google needs to be careful (they’re already aware and reacting)


        • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons

          Sorry mistyped… “John”

  • Roger M

    If we study successful internet companies in last 10 years and their connection with the bankster cabal. We can easily guess which internet companies will fail when the bankster cabal is busted, which is certain.

    • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons

      Interesting viewpoint. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.sjfpc.com Steven J Fromm

    This is getting more confusing than ever. I have both Facebook and Google +, but as an attorney I am completely unsure whether to beef up my efforts on either one of these social media options. What course of action should we be taking here. Do both, do neither, wait?

    • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons


      Google+ is a no brainer as it ties into your Google Places page (now Google+ Local) – there may not be a direct correlation between leads and effort, but you definitely need to have a Google+ Local Page / Profile for a ‘low hanging fruit’ option of appearing in local and related results.

      Facebook should only be relevant if your intended audience (either current customers or potential prospects) are there and engaging. Sometimes you create your own page but interact on others. One option.

      Best use of your time / energy is (once you have your G+ page / profile up) to promote your expertise via a blog (your own or someone else’s) and publish legal viewpoints, opinions or interesting information to improve your brand visibility and topic(s) authority. You can seed these articles / links via both Google+ and Facebook with the caveats noted above.



      • http://www.frommtaxes.wordpress.com STEVEN J. FROMM, ATTORNEY, LL.M. (TAXATION)

        Hey Grant: Thanks for the follow up. I took your advice and set up the Google + local. How long does it take for it to show up on Google search results. Doing some searches (Philadelphia tax attorney) shows other attorneys with the Google + page but mine does not show it. Does it take a while or have I missed a step?

        • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons

          You may need to do more than just setup.

          There is no hard and fast rule, but I’d do the following:

          Make certain you’re linking to your Google+ account from other sites (such as your primary website and other social profiles)

          Update with additional content, photos, etc.

          Ask your clients to add you to their Circles.

          Publish content, ideas, information – blog / Google+ / 3rd party venues

          Wait :-)

          Google wants to display relevant, fresh and authoritative search results – try to give them some relevance and topic expertise to help them figure out that’s you…


  • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons

    Appreciate your feedback.


  • IMBack?

    Somebody shoot this guy with a tranquilizer dart 😉

  • http://www.thesearchagents.com Grant Simmons



    Prefer a cold beer and traditional game of darts as tranquilizer!