Microsoft, Facebook Boost Web Search Pact to Challenge Google

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-02-05

Microsoft and Facebook are broadening their search pact to let Bing power Facebook's Web search return more than just links, including allowing Bing to power Web search on Facebook outside the United States.

Facebook will also regain total control over selling its display ads, signaling that the world's leading social network is ready to strike on its own in the competitive display ad market versus Google, Yahoo and, yes, even Microsoft.   

Microsoft has powered Facebook's Web search exclusively in the United States since October 2008, when the software giant's search engine was still called Live Search. Microsoft revamped and released its search engine as Bing last June, but it still only serves up the substandard 10-blue links search results pages on Facebook.  

Jon Tinter, general manager for Microsoft, said in a blog post Feb. 5 that Microsoft will in 2010 provide "full access to great Bing features beyond a set of links, including richer answers combined with tools that help customers make faster, smarter decisions."

This means Facebook users searching for business information will see maps and other helpful information in addition to just links taking users to businesses' Websites. For example, a search on Facebook Web search for "pizza" will return pictures of the food, recipes for the popular dish, as well as maps to the nearest restaurant locations instead of just links to Pizza Hut and Domino's pizza.

Tinter said users should see the "fruits of our expanded relationship" in Facebook over the weeks and months ahead.

A Microsoft spokesperson referred eWEEK back to Tinter's blog post when asked for more specific details about the kind of information Bing intends to deliver in its Web search results on Facebook. The increased Bing search coverage on Facebook comes months after Microsoft agreed to index certain profile information from Facebook in real-time on Bing.

Bing search results surfaced on Facebook will also extend outside the U.S. to the more than 400 million Facebook users around the world. This is important because of the 400 million-plus Facebook users, some 75 percent of them were based outside the United States through December, comScore said.

Finally, Tinter said:

"We made the mutual decision that Facebook would take over responsibility for selling display advertisements on its own site... Given the kinds of advertisements that make sense within a product as unique as Facebook, it just made more sense for them to take the lead on this part of their advertising strategy."

Tinter, who said Microsoft will continue to provide search advertisements to Facebook, said this move will help Microsoft focus on propelling its Windows Live Messenger, Hotmail, MSN and Xbox Live.

This news represents a major change as Microsoft's partnership with Facebook was solidified in an advertising agreement made in 2006, when Microsoft's adCenter began exclusively serving banner advertising and sponsored links on Facebook.

One year later, Microsoft bolstered this deal and took a 1.6 percent stake in Facebook for $240 million, which valued the social network at a staggering $15 billion at the time. With that increased deal, Microsoft became the exclusive third-party advertising platform partner for Facebook and sold advertising for Facebook internationally in addition to the United States.

This alliance was seen as a huge blow to Google, the dominant online advertising power.

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