eBrandz Blog

Developing search capability is crucial for Facebook

Recently Lars Rasmussen, director (Facebook Engineering), stated that it made little sense to enter web search. “I cannot predict as what will happen but I do not think it is sensible for us to even start thinking at this stage about doing web search,” he added. Leveraging Facebook’s enormous repository of data fueled by its millions of users is a challenging task.

According to him, search features currently on Facebook sure can be a lot better. Search is more about when one has a certain degree of intent. You know exactly what you are looking for, then you come and convey what you are looking for; a capable engine will find it for you. On the other hand, Social is much more about serendipity. He explains that both social and search have these distinct distribution angles to them. Prior to emergence of social, if one desired any sort of traffic or visibility online, it had to arise from search. Now, social is serving that need as well.

Search to social and vice versa

Indeed, search on and within the popular networking platform can be improved to turn it into a valuable utility so that search revenues begin to accrue in. Facebook is already on the verge of testing sponsored results in the site search. Once search within it is made a true honest-to-goodness tool people actually use for finding things, local businesses/ brands will start responding with more and more content plus search-like advertising campaigns. More products and catalogs being shown up will also help. The powerful mix of social signals (Likes) alongside other useful content can well transform Facebook search into a highly compelling tool for all kinds of user queries.

During the latest Facebook earnings call, its COO Sheryl Sandberg reportedly argued that they could and would look to compete for precious marketing dollars right through the whole marketing funnel – from branding as well as awareness to ‘demand fulfillment’ just at its bottom. For now, the social site doesn’t really fight for ad dollars when it comes to the ‘demand fulfillment’ category. And this is an area where Google truly reigns. However, the former doesn’t need to compete with Google directly in web search for participating in search revenue or bring it fully into the realm of demand fulfillment.

According to Sandberg, most part of the advertising spend migrated online has been largely for demand fulfillment to date. It occurs once any customer already shows intent to buy. The main driver of this migration has been search advertising. The COO added:

“Facebook is also effective at the bottom of the funnel, with gaming being a primary example. But we believe that Facebook also helps marketers build brands and generate demand. This is important because the majority of the $600 billion global advertising market is spent on demand generation.”

Better site search is not merely about revenue. The enhanced functionality coupled with its enormous social reach would make the whole Facebook experience so much better. This would give a touch of ‘coherence’ to the platform.

Implications of enhanced search for Facebook

In the last few months, Facebook was known to have tweaked the text in its search box, indicating it wants the site users to be better aware of what search functionality offers and exactly how to locate things in the scattered mass of content users are continuously posting on the site. (It recently started to test ads in its search results.)

If Facebook improves search within, it will prompt people to use the social site even when they have ‘intent to purchase’. This will ensure that Facebook well and truly makes foray in the ‘demand fulfillment’ business. And there are financial implications in all of this, of course.