Facebook announced yesterday in its earnings call that it’s now seeing 1.5 billion searches per day. That’s 50% the level that Google sees. Do you think that Facebook search is potentially a real competitor to Google search in the future?

That was the second topic on the most recent TWIO episode, and here’s what our guests had to say about it…

ALEX TUCKER: I don’t know if it’s a direct competitor. I think what Facebook has the kind of unique ability to do with search is to give us some really highly relevant search results about things that our friends and network like and are interested in, which could be interesting for local businesses and so on, and kind of could point out the importance of building communities for businesses. I think there’s a fine balance for users between the convenience of that kind of highly relevant search experience and how much people are prepared to sacrifice in terms of privacy.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah, I mean there are quite a few interesting developments happening in the search landscape at the moment. A few weeks ago you had Apple announce that its next iOS level will actually integrate in-app search as well, so that’s I guess a similar kind of thinking there as well, and to deliver a search experience within those set of walls, as it were. Emily – not first this time; second – are you an avid Google search user? Do you use Facebook search quite a bit? Would you consider using other search engines?

EMILY HILL: I’d certainly consider using other search engines. I do use Google primarily but it’s by no means perfect or ubiquitous. I think the thing with Facebook is, though, I’d be interested to know how many of those 1.5 billion searches are just for people’s names because I use the Facebook search tool as a proxy for going to my friend list and picking somebody out because I don’t like the way that the algorithm sends me out content. You know, I have to go to the search thing and find a person that I want to contact or see what they’re up to. So I wonder what would happen if you excluded just people’s names from the search data. I think it would probably be quite a bit smaller because I find the Facebook search function for anything else is quite elementary at the moment.

ALEX TUCKER: I kind of wondered myself what kind of percentage of that search is for friends’ names but also brands as well. There’s quite a lot of people searching for brand names’ pages and so on, rather than, ‘Show me a restaurant near me,’ or something like that.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah, I mean on the face of it 1.5 billion sounds a lot and 50% of Google sounds an incredible amount, but that’s an incredibly important point. What’s the quality of the searches because Facebook have made announcements like this before in that they’re saying that they’re competing with YouTube with regards to video, but YouTube are saying that the quality of those views on Facebook aren’t that high because there’s autoplay going on there as well and people might not be even listening to those videos while they’re playing there as well. Kevin, can you see Facebook search being a serious player in the future?

KEVIN GIBBONS: I think it depends on the intent behind it. I think if you want to buy a product and you want the best information about a given topic, the first port of call is pretty much always Google, just because you trust the results, you know what you’re going to get and I agree that the majority of searches on Facebook are probably more navigational in the sense that you want to find a brand page, person, those types of things.

And I think the interesting part is the personalisation. So similar to what Alex was saying, if you want to find something where you’re not quite sure if you want to buy a product – maybe you’re at the consideration phase of the buying cycle – that’s where you seek information from friends. And I remember, this is going back to one of the first presentations I did which was probably about six years ago now, there was a study which was around the psychology of how people buy online and it looked at basically…it’s something like 40% of people trusted search results, 90% of people trusted their friends and 80% or 75% trusted third party recommendations, which basically meant that 75% of people will trust people that they don’t even know. And I think that’s where Facebook can be really powerful, ‘cause as soon as you can see that someone’s had that experience, they’ve left a review, then that helps to make purchasing decisions, and I think that if Facebook can get to that point where actually the searches that are coming out of their system start to drive revenue, then it becomes really important to marketers. If it’s they’re searching for people, it’s not so much. But if it’s for brands then that’s a good thing as well, ‘cause obviously it’s really powerful for that brand. But I don’t really see a Facebook strategy in the sense of, ‘This is your main target keyword,’ like with Google because that’s not going to drive your revenue if no one’s ever heard of you – it’s more your additional presence around what you have within your own website, so your own Facebook community, and the more you can build it up the better, obviously.

So I think to answer your question, no I’m not sure I see it as a direct competitor to Google, but in terms of market share and usage, it’s clearly a massive competitor to Google.

DAVID BAIN: Mm. Pete, do you think that Google should be concerned that Facebook are seeing so many searches within their apps, within their website or is it by and large a different type of product service experience that Google are offering?

PETE CAMPBELL: I think Google may have been slightly concerned when Facebook announced Graph Search a few years ago. There was a big hoo-ha about Facebook bringing out this very personal search where it would show you, ‘Oh, show me people in London who know these two friends of mine.’ I mean, that to me seemed like an interesting, useful search engine, but they’ve quietly killed that off. You can’t access Facebook Graph Search now and it was only ever really properly brought out to the US anyway. So no, I don’t see why they would be concerned. Facebook for me, it serves a lot of useful recommendations and content and things that are going on and I think Facebook could be a competitor to something like Google Now because they have the bank of data to serve before you even know what you want. They know who you are, they know what you like, they know where you’ve been, they know what you’ve watched. So that to me is much more powerful and they’re already achieving that pretty well through Facebook Ads. So I thought it was quite odd that they made that statement and the amount of searches that people make. I only ever use the search query to add people who I haven’t already added. It’s not something I think people would ever think, ‘Oh, I want a pizza. I’m going to search ‘pizza’ in Facebook.’ I don’t get it personally.

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