The latest ComScore numbers for the search market reveal an interesting fact: Facebook’s search query volume is rapidly approaching that of the smallest major search engine, Ask. Citi Group, in its own take on ComScore’s numbers, noted Facebook’s 647 million queries in March, which was in turn picked up by Liz Gannes at GigaOm.
That number is equal to about 2.7 percent of all searches performed in the U.S. market — a big number, especially for a company whose business isn’t really search at all. But with almost half a billion users trying to find their way around an ever more sprawling social network, there’s a real need for all those queries.
Measuring Facebook against, say, Microsoft’s Bing does sound like an apples-and-oranges comparison at first. Then again, ignoring the site would create an excessively narrow definition of what search is. It’s not unheard of for large destination sites to become search portals of a sort; YouTube, for example, serves as a portal for a lot of kids, some of whom will go straight to the video site when they need to look up something. Over the years, YouTube has grown big enough that it can actually serve a general search audience, especially with the help of content creators like Demand Media.
The purpose of search on Facebook is a bit more narrow. People tend to be searching for something in particular: a person, a group, an event or an application. Yet over time, if Facebook becomes a central location for those categories of information, it could end up drawing traffic away from the dedicated search engines.
Of course, we all know there’s a lot of money to be made in search, and it’s not hard to imagine how Facebook could successfully seed some results with sponsored results, and create another revenue stream.
In fact, the company is already starting to take advantage of this, via its strategic partnership with Microsoft. Right now, it is running links to Bing web results for searches made on the site, recently tweaking this interface to make Bing more prominent by adding the the official logo. But that’s just the start. The companies also plan to use Facebook data to improve the relevancy of Bing’s own search results, and Microsoft is handling search ads on Facebook. While these initiatives are not too far along yet, they could make Facebook search even more significant.