Facebook wants to be known as a place to search for mentions of current news in hopes of drawing more public chatter that normally ends up on Twitter. While Facebook stumbled with its natural language Graph Search, it refocused on keywords, and is now seeing 2 billion searches per day of its 2.5 trillion posts. That’s compared to 1.5 billion searches per day in July 2015, and 1 billion in September 2012. That’s a 33% climb in just 9 months.
What Mark Zuckerberg said on today’s earnings call was that “The growing way that people use search is to find what people are saying about a topic across more that 2.5 trillion posts. Now people are doing more than 2 billion searches a day between looking up people, businesses, and other things they care about.”
What wasn’t said but is clearly implied is that it that Facebook thinks you should talk about things on Facebook because your words will find new audiences thanks to its powerful search engine and massive user base. Twitter has ruled this space, but Facebook has been trying to catch since launching public post search last year.
If Facebook can keep generating more search queries, it could open up new monetization opportunities through paid search ads that highlight a business or publisher, though Zuckerberg after today’s stellar earnings cautioned that wasn’t going to happen immediately. After all, Facebook crushed earnings today, raking in $6.44 billion in revenue and $2.05 billion profit this quarter
Search Stumbled, Now Speeding Up
For the first half of its history, Facebook’s search engine was primarily focused on helping you find people you’d met in real life and add them as friends. In 2013 it touted its new semantic Graph Search engine as the third pillar of its service alongside the feed and profile.
But users were confused by the complex search queries required, like “Friends of friends in San Francisco who work at TechCrunch”. A recent tell-all book from former Facebook employee Antonio Garcia Martinez called Chaos Monkeys who said the feature was mostly used by guys seeking single women in the network who lived nearby.
Eventually, Facebook retreated on Graph Search and in late 2014 launched true keyword search so you could find posts by you or your friends, and later expanded that to include all 2 trillion posts on Facebook.
That was a big turning point for Facebook because it finally pitted its search engine against Twitter’s. When big global news events happen, people flock to the Internet to talk and read what others are saying. While Facebook had trending topics, you couldn’t find individual keyword matches until last year.
Search -> Chatter -> Ads?
Full post search appears to have accelerated query volume for Facebook. Facebook is now adding 20X more users per quarter than Twitter [Correction: That’s at a 3.7X faster rate, not 20X faster]. Facebook recruited 60 million users this quarter compared to Twitter’s 3 million. With 1.71 billion total users, Facebook simply has more voices, even if they’re not as trained to rapidly post publicly about current events.
Facebook’s goal now will be to highlight why users should bring this talk to its social network. To that end, it built a special sports chatter feature called Stadium, has focused on Facebook Live for citizen journalism, and has iterated on its Trending Topics feature.
While Facebook has toyed with some search ads in the past, it currently concentrates on News Feed ads to drive revenue. When asked on the earnings call if Facebook would strive to better monetize commercial searches about products or businesses, Zuckerberg responded:
“So when we talk about our strategy, I often talk about how when we develop new products we think about it in three phases. First, building a consumer use case. Then, second, making it so that people can organically interact with businesses. And then third, on top of that, once there’s a large volume of people interacting with businesses, giving businesses tools to reach more people…and that’s ultimately the business opportunity.
So I’d say we’re around the second phase of that in search now. We have a pretty big navigational use case where people look up people and pages and groups that they want to get to, and look at, and search. One of the big growing use cases that we’re investing a lot in is looking up the content in the ecosystem and that is an area that we’re very excited about, which helps people find more content.
But certainly there’s a reasonable amount of behavior in there which is looking for things that over time could be monetizeable or commercial…and at some point we will probably want to work on that but we’re still in the phase of just making it easier for people to find all the content they want and connect with businesses organically.”
Facebook is keeping the search business model in a bottle for later.
So while this announcement was about search, it’s not Google, but Twitter that should be concerned for now.