Facebook Could Soon Rival Google in Social Search: Survey

A move by Facebook into Google's social search space could prove beneficial to the social networking giant, a survey finds.

With Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg under pressure to reassure disappointed investors in the wake of a disastrous initial public offering earlier this year, there may be silver lining for the social networking behemoth. Facebook might find future revenue driven by a social search engine, according to a survey from digital marketing agency Greenlight.

The survey of 500 people across a range of professions indicated that Facebook could potentially capture close to a quarter of the search market were it to launch its own search engine tomorrow. The study also suggested Facebook could increase its share to 50 percent within just a few years, and could become the second most used search engine in every major market except for China, Japan and Russia, where it would occupy an "uncontested" third place.

However, the report also noted that although search engine leader Google's social network, Google+, lags far behind Facebook in overall users, Google+ has been more successful than most may have initially speculated when it comes to social searching.

For instance, 23 percent of Google users have been "+1'ing" listings in Google's search results, giving Google lots of data about what people like. "When compared to the 35 percent of users that Greenlight's survey found routinely 'like' a brand or company on Facebook, then it is not that significantly more than Google's social signal collection, particularly as 28 percent of respondents said they had no idea what '+1' actually meant, which will invariably decrease rapidly over time," Andreas Pouros, chief operating officer at Greenlight, said in a prepared statement. "Essentially, Greenlight's research shows that Google and Facebook will both be front and center in 'Social Search.'"

The survey also asked Facebook users how often they click on ads present on the site, revealing an alarming 44 percent that said "never." However, 5 percent of respondents said they would "definitely" use a future Facebook search engine if the firm were to launch one to rival Google's. Those responding "no" and "probably not," totaled 48 percent, while 26 percent said they simply would not use a future Facebook search engine.

"These stats therefore suggest Facebook could capture around 22 percent of the global search market by simply launching its own search engine tomorrow morning (the 'definitely', 'probably' and half the 'don't know' respondents combined)," Pouros said. "It wouldn't need to be a spectacular engine either, just well integrated into the Facebook experience and generally competent."

Pouros also noted the survey results suggest Facebook could increase that projected market share to a maximum of 50 percent within a few years by converting the least overtly loyal Google users over to them. "However, that increase would need to come from the 27 percent of respondents who replied 'maybe, but only if it was better than Google and Bing,'" he said.