Facebook Soaring in Search, Popularity, Researchers Say

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-03-16

Facebook saw search queries grow 10 percent in February 2010 and surpassed Google in the United States to become the most visited Website for the week ending March 13, according to studies from leading market researchers.

Facebook.com recently reached the No. 1 ranking on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Day, as well as the weekend of March 6th and 7th, according to Hitwise analyst Heather Dougherty.

Visits to Facebook.com increased 185 percent last week as compared with the same week in 2009. See the chart, which shows Facebook at 7.07 percent of traffic to Google's 7.03 percent, here.

Meanwhile, comScore said search queries on Facebook grew from 395 million in January 2010 to 436 million in February 2010, a growth of 10 percent. This pales in comparison to Google's 13.4 billion queries for the same period, but search on the leading social network site is spiking.

eWEEK asked Facebook if the company attributed this growth to the improved Facebook search, along with the growth in Facebook to 400-million plus users and their time spent on the site. A Facebook spokesperson told eWEEK:

"Facebook Search provides people with socially relevant search results from the people they are connected to and the things they care about. As more people join and connect on Facebook, we find that they turn to Facebook Search as a way to surface content and information on things of interest to them, whether it's the latest news, what people thought about a new movie release, a specific hotel or even job openings."

People also look for this information on Google, Yahoo and Microsoft Bing, which means Facebook has become a genuine referral clearinghouse.

Indeed, take Hitwise analyst Dougherty's recent measure of location-based social network Foursquare, which celebrated its one-year anniversary days ago.

Dougherty found that Facebook, not Google, accounted for the most traffic to Foursquare.com. Facebook accounted for 33 percent of the upstream visits last week. Google and Twitter accounted for 22 percent and 8 percent, respectively. 

Forrester Research analyst Augie Ray noted that Facebook's search volume is still awfully meager despite the fact consumers already "live" a great deal of their online lives within the Facebook property.

"Instead, the challenge Facebook presents to Google is less related to consumers' search activities and more related to discovery and traffic generation," Ray said. Case in point: the aforementioned growth in traffic to Foursquare from Facebook.

"Based on this trend, it's certainly possible that brand sites (which drive a great deal of Google revenue through PPC ads) may shift budgets and decrease emphasis on paying for traffic via search engines rather than earning traffic through social media marketing means," Ray said.  

Facebook is definitely becoming a fine referrer to other Web services, which could actually end up helping Bing. Microsoft's search site is fortifying its integration with its social network partner. Sterling Market Intelligence analyst Greg Sterling told eWEEK:  

"If the new and improved integration of Bing into Facebook [forthcoming] is really effective, then it could potentially peel away some query volume, but that remains to be seen on several counts."

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