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Was 2011 The Year Facebook Killed Google?

Posted on Jan 2nd, 2012
Written by Lee Odden
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    Google vs. FacebookA recent post on PC World, “2011: The Year Facebook Killed Google” reflects a common mis-perception about the emerging role of search and social media for consumer information discovery. In the post, the author Dan Tynan shares that he’s finding and consuming more information on social networks vs. Google during “moments of leisure”. Citing unique visitor traffic and time on site statistics from Nielsen, Dan then makes the argument that Google is falling behind.

    Was 2011 the year Facebook killed Google? 

    People don’t surf the web anymore, they socialize & share.  Consumer behaviors and expectations towards content discovery, consumption and engagement are always changing online and more-so in the past few years with the emergence of today’s social networks and media sharing sites. People use search engines and social networks to find answers, yes – but I’d argue that they use them differently.

    As with Earned and Paid Media, Social Media inspires search. Whether initial awareness is created with a story in the media, an advertisement or a mention on a social media site, search is a logical next step. Consumers might get suggestions from friends on social networks but will also take those recommendations and search for them on Google to get more information like hours, reviews, directions and to view the business website.

    Search Drives Social. The opposite is true as well. Consumers find things on Google and go to their social networks seeking validation. “Has anyone ever heard of XYZ product, does it work?” or “I’m thinking of going to ABC or 123 restaurants, which would you pick?”. People expect to find what they’re looking for in search as well as to interact with that content. In fact, if social content is well optimized for keywords and topics, companies can grow their networks by being easy to find on search engines as well as through the organic growth that occurs with friends and invites.

    It’s a key lesson for marketers to look beyond search rankings and also into the usefulness and share-ability of their content. That’s why we’re such big proponents of  “Optimize and Socialize“.  Make it easy for search engines and consumers to find and experience your content wherever they might be looking.

    The reality of search engines and social networks is that consumers are definitely using social media at an increasing rate to find answers, ie products and services. At the same time, they are still using search independently or in concert with social networks.

    Google Apples, Facebook Oranges. Comparing time on site statistics between Google and Facebook is ridiculous. “People spend about 16 percent of their time online just on Facebook – or more than they do on Yahoo, Google, AOL, and YouTube combined”, according to the article.  What about this statistic:  Every 60 seconds there are nearly as many Facebook status updates (695,000) as searches on Google (694,445). Is that really a relevant comparison?

    Google wants you in and out – fast. Here’s the fundamental problem with comparing time on site between a search engine and a social network: The very nature of Google is to get users in and out as fast as possible. Leaving Google means a possible click on an ad. Clicks on ads means Google gets paid, period.

    Facebook on the other hand, is designed to keep people on Facebook as long as possible.  Ads on Facebook typically send users to Fan Pages within Facebook. Facebook is creating it’s own internet of sorts, so a higher “time on site” is a success metric.  It’s simply not a useful comparison between Google the search engine and Facebook the social network.

    2011 isn’t the year Facebook killed Google, it’s the year that Google finally opened the door to it’s social search potential with Google+.  In fact, Google+ doesn’t need to become a viable competitor to Facebook in order for it to be incredibly useful for Google. The social and search data Google can collect within it’s own platform is priceless along with social content creation against which ads can be run. I’d also make this important observation: Google’s efforts towards building a social network are far beyond Facebook’s offering as a search engine.

    Google and Facebook compete for people’s time online, sure. But as marketers, it’s important to understand that consumers don’t necessarily see search and social networks as mutually exclusive. Search and social are different tools to find answers, but  in very complementary ways. Understanding those consumer preferences is a big advantage over those who focus entirely on SEO and rankings or exclusively on fans/friends/followers and engagement metrics.

    My last thought on this is, while many marketers duke it out over Facebook vs. Google, smart marketers will be focused on understanding their customer’s preferences and behaviors. For one segment it might mean a primary focus on search and for another segment it might be social.

    Paying attention to overall trends and platforms, especially with the new year, is important. But it’s also important to focus marketing investments in the places that matter to customers who buy and who share. If that means Facebook or social networking, great! If it means Google and SEO, great!  If you master the ability to use data to attract, engage and inspire your community of customers to buy and make referrals, platform arguments become a lot less important.

    What do you think? Is Facebook killing Google? Do you see the search experience and social networking as mutually exclusive or complementary activities?

    Here’s the full post on PC World.