Facebook recently announced the launch of new search capabilities that will allow users to scour all public posts on the social network. The new feature, called Facebook Search FYI, is intended to promote public conversations and sharing. Critics say its introduction is an attempt for Facebook to become more Twitter-esque.
At this point, we can only speculate what the new Facebook Search FYI will mean for advertisers. Facebook hasn’t officially announced how they plan on monetizing the new feature, which gives users access to Facebook’s index of over 2 trillion posts.
Nevertheless, the new search foreshadows an exciting opportunity for advertisers.
Things to get excited about:
If Facebook Search FYI catches on as a mainstream search engine, it’ll be the first true competitor to Google. Google has dominated paid search for as long as we can remember. Having another viable choice for this form of digital marketing would only be a good thing.
And Facebook is definitely a viable alternative. It has the numbers to challenge Google, although Mark Zuckerberg’s claim to have more content in Facebook’s index than Google does is doubtful, and its quality control even more so. Still, the social network boasts over 1.5 billion searches daily, and that number is only expected to grow with the new search.
Furthermore, paid search on Facebook would probably be a cheap, cost-effective alternative to Google. Facebook has the infrastructure and capital to see its paid search functionalities through to fruition. When Facebook introduced its Graph Search last year, it partnered with Bing. Although that all but failed, it still signals that Facebook will likely be headed in the direction of monetization for its search. The company clearly wants businesses to take it seriously as a player in the world of eCommerce, and it has the potential to become one.
Sounds great, right?
The not-so-great stuff:
If the stats are to be believed, then people are just not as interested in Facebook as they used to be. Engagement numbers show that only around 34% of users bother to update their status now (and imagine how small a percentage of those are public). If people stop posting to Facebook, why would they bother to search it? Search engines, especially the aggregate, crowd-sourced kind that Facebook is going for, are only relevant if they’re kept up-to-date. Facebook’s organic search numbers have already plummeted as a result of decreased engagement.
Additionally, the value added from the previous posts aggregated throughout Facebook’s history is negligible if you consider that they weren’t written with SEO in mind. There might be relevant content, but if it isn’t searchable it won’t be discovered. Perhaps Facebook can encourage a few people to edit their posts to be more SEO-friendly, but the chances of people putting all that effort to slog through their previous posts are slim to none.
Now, we come to the elephant in the room: privacy. Facebook has been accused time and time again for infringing on the privacy of its users, and the introduction of Facebook Search FYI has sounded the alarm yet again. To go from there to persuading users to publicize their posts is a giant leap. The irony of it all is that Google probably has way more data on its users than Facebook—it has access to all of its users’ search history, which is what makes its ad targeting capabilities so strong. Facebook just has access to what people chose to share. But somehow, people trust Google more. Facebook will have to hustle to gain that same level of trust.
And the ugly:
One of the most glaring issues with the new search is the plethora of bad pages on Facebook. A simple search for the iPhone 6s yields several fake pages with questionable content before any authorized Apple provider pages. Since Facebook hasn’t implemented strict copyright rules like Google has, it contains a ton of misleading and illicit pages. Advertisers might hesitate to market via Facebook Search FYI if their content is going to show up next to illegitimate posts. Though Facebook is clearly encouraging businesses to promote their content via the social network by pushing Pages to the top of the search results, it might have to clean up its act before advertisers and businesses can take it seriously.
On an aesthetic level, Facebook’s search engine has a lot of catching up to do. Though it’s clear that the company is focusing on mobile search (as it should be given that mobile makes up the majority of searches in the US), the desktop user experience is lacking, with excessive dead space flanking the clunky search results. Plus, the way Facebook is formatted, it’s basically a necessity to add a visual element to your posts to make them alluring. Google, on the other hand, is successful by just focusing on text-based results. This is helpful to smaller businesses that don’t have a creative team to supply differentiating graphics. Facebook might have to replicate Google’s simplicity to rival its success.
If Facebook can overcome these hurdles and change the behavior of its users, it’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the paid search category.