Earlier this week, it was reported by Hitwise and commented upon by Frisky Mongoose that Facebook had surpassed Google as the most visited site in the United States, capturing 7.07% of traffic in comparison to Googles, relatively static 7.03%.
This is significant for a number of reasons, not least of all, in that Google itself surplanted that rapidly declining social network in MySpace back in 2007 as the most visited site. Social networking has come around full circle again. The most significant step though is that this traffic data is supplying Microsoft, who invested $240 million USD into Facebook in October of 2007 to overlay its Bing search tech over the Facebook web technologies. Microsoft’s Bing search is shaping up to be fundamentally different to Google in that it’s search is being driven by trending data as opposed to Google’s advertising driven Pay Per Click model which awards ranking (in the main) to business which pay for the priviledge of being top of the pops. Bing’s search is different as it is driven by the influences of other media. To state simply, it references crowd dynamics and the rhythm and flow of what the community is focused upon. If people see a TV Commercial that is of interest, they will search for an answer of relevance. If people see a print commercial in a glossy magazine, they will search for an answer of relevance. People are spending time on Facebook and with 350+ million users, it is inevitable that some of these search queries will drive Facebook traffic and dialogue.
A great example that illustrates this: Consider if you ask the question “What is the best LCD TV?” to both Google and Facebook (and in turn Bing).
Google will report back blog postings, forums and advertised sponsor sites which have purchased the keywords “best LCD TV” and websites which Google’s myriad of algorithms (which change hourly) have identified as being “relevent”. This will include specific manufacturers who have paid for the privilege of being ranked.
However, if you ask this same question “What is the best LCD TV?” in your status feed on Facebook and you will get a wave of commentary from your friends – your trusted network, your go too people whose opinion and insight you value. Go one step further – What if one of your friends adds a link that is relevant to their opinion/comment? You are far more likely to click this endorsed link and look at this site, because it came from your trusted network. Recent evidence also suggests this little cherub in terms of the traffic data: Facebook’s outbound links, those that people click on via status feeds is predicted to within the next 3 years to rival the search query link summary that Google serves every day in terms of click through rates.
And Facebook being a closed garden environment – Google can’t see a damn thing on what’s happening inside, nor where the outbound traffic is flowing from unless it’s own analytics is overlaid on the end user site. Microsoft can.
Hmmm. That’s a tasty spread of trending data for Microsoft to feed into its search tech and influence the Bing search results to its users. To paraphrase Zoolander “It’s that damn Facebook! It’s so hot right now!”