Facebook Traffic Rise Makes Google Social Tools Essential

Facebook was the most popular Website and most searched term in 2010, according to HitWise. Facebook's connections and the increase in time spent with them are of bigger concern for Google.

HitWise delivered another red flag to Internet giant Google when it reported Dec. 29 that Facebook was easily the most visited Website and most searched term overall in 2010.

The social network accounted for 8.93 percent of all U.S. visits between January and November 2010, with Google.com notching 7.19 percent of visits. The search term "facebook" also accounted for 2.11 percent of all search queries made worldwide, while Google only accounted for 0.63 percent of search terms.

It's not Facebook's rank as most popular Website and most searched term that should alarm Internet rival Google. It's the amount of time Facebook's 550 million-plus users are spending on the social network, which will increase thanks to the company's social plug-ins and connections.

comScore said in September that U.S. Web users in August spent 41.1 million minutes on Facebook compared with 39.8 million minutes on all of Google's Websites.

That disparity is bound to grow larger as Facebook continues to strengthen its search ties and social plug-ins outside its walled garden. For example, Microsoft Bing, which powers Facebook's Web searches, is now serving Liked results to its users.

Moreover, popular Web services are using Facebook's instant personalization feature to create greater stickiness and cohesion between their products and Facebook's social connections. The most recent company to leverage this feature is TripAdvisor.

When TripAdvisor users go to that travel planning Website while logged into Facebook, the site will reveal friends' reviews, a map showing places friends have visited, and a list of their most popular destinations.

Those looking to travel can spend minutes or even hours perusing the Facebook-federated content generated by their friends. This wealth of information may pre-empt consumers from flitting around Google to read ratings and reviews about a destination.

TripAdvisor provides one example. When one considers the dozens of popular Web services that could tap Facebook's networking power to provide personalized services, it's clear that Facebook's social connections can curtail searching Google for content.

Indeed, by socializing more content, Facebook will directly and indirectly continue to suck traffic from Google, which cannot access much of the information the social network aggregates from its users.

That's why Google's 2011 introduction of its +1 (current working title) social network layers will be so crucial and so closely watched: It will show the world whether or not Google will have a viable product to stop the traffic hemorrhage to Facebook.

When it comes to monthly traffic and minutes spent online Google has had no answer to reverse the trend of users not only flocking to Facebook, but nesting there.

"Facebook commands more attention and consumer time, and that puts them in a powerful position with marketers who want to reach those consumers," Forrester Research analyst Augie Ray told eWEEK.