How Facebook is Stealing Queries from Google

Posted on: November 17, 2012

Having just returned from SES Chicago 2012, I’m recharged and full of new ideas. Although “SES” stands for Search Engine Strategies, social media was a hot topic of discussion throughout the event. Everyone wanted to know whether social media is important for SEO; are social media signals included in the search engines’ algorithms; how are social media signals weighted today and will this change in the future, etc., etc. To me, it seemed like 2/3 of the leaders of the conference believe social media to be highly important (now and in the near future) and 1/3 of the conference leaders believe that social media is not only over-hyped, but it is also not beneficial for SEO.

I have a different perspective that I’d like you to consider.

Facebook is stealing queries from Google. I know what you’re thinking, “How is this possible when Facebook isn’t even in the search business (yet)?” Whether they know it (or are willing to admit it) or not, Facebook IS in the search business and they’re rapidly stealing searches that used to go through Google. What do you do when you need something that is relatively unfamiliar to you? If you’re like most people, you Google it.

My question is: “Why do you Google it?”

When you need something—whether it is information, the answer to a question, Why not just ask your wife, parents, children, father in-law, or knowledgeable friend? Answer: Before social networks there was no fast, efficient, and easy way to survey your social network. Google was the obvious solution (and depending on the size and quality of your network, Google probably produced better results).

I’m willing to bet everything I have that, in the near future, social media sites like Facebook will begin to significantly reduce the number of questions/queries currently being entered into Google (and the other search engines).

Think about it.

Let’s say it’s Thanksgiving Day and you and your extended family just finished dinner. You’re lounging around the fireplace exchanging stories when cousin Cindy sheepishly whispers that she has clogged the toilet in the downstairs bathroom and now, not only is that toilet overflowing, but none of the other toilets in the house will flush. If no one in your family lives in the area or has had a recent plumbing problem, you might be forced to fire up the ole’ laptop or iPad and search, “emergency plumber your city, state.”

But …

What if one of your other relatives in the room—someone you respect and trust—had recently had an emergency plumbing issue. Let’s call that person Uncle Bob. Turns out, Uncle Bob, who happens to live just around the corner, had a recent plumbing emergency. He vetted a few companies and had a great experience with one of them. Just as cousin Cindy is breaking the news, Uncle Bob volunteers the name of the company he used and how great the experience was. Are you still going to do a generic Google search for a plumber or would you simply use your smartphone to ask Siri to contact directly the company Uncle Bob recommended?

I think most normal people would trust Uncle Bob’s recommendation, and this is going to greatly diminish the usage and value of search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. It is also one of the most compelling reasons business owners should start building a large, happy, and engaged community on social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. At present, social media sites are NOT cost-effective as lead generation channels; however, they are highly-effective methods for staying top of mind within a target audience (aka. “top of mind advertising” or TOMA).

If you think this scenario is not already happening, you’ve got your head in the sand.

Closing comments …

While I’m not sure whether the search engines will ever integrate social signals into their algorithms or whether they’ll weight social signals strongly enough things like “likes” and “shares” to boost a company’s rankings on Google, I know that you’d better be investing in social media and you’d better start doing it NOW. Social media sites like Facebook are stealing traffic and search queries away from sites like Google and Bing, and it is a trend that is only going to increase as more people realize that they get better results from their social network than from Google.

Of course, the only exception is the losers out there with teeny, tiny social networks or networks for friends with more bong resin in the brain than valuable information. For these folks, Google will work best, but are these really the types of customers you want for your business?

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