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

    July 9, 2012

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.