Facebook Is Hardly Declaring a Search War Against Google

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Is social networking giant Facebook preparing to take on Web search behemoth Google (GOOG)? That was the buzz after Facebook confirmed that it has begun incorporating external Web pages into its search results. The blog All Facebook portrayed the move as a declaration of "war" against Google and predicted a new gold rush of search engine optimization aimed at tweaking websites so they appear high in search result returns.

It appears Facebook's strategy is to index sites that participate in its Open Graph network, and then rank those sites based on how often the "Like" buttons on those pages are clicked.

So, should Google be worried? Not anytime soon. Fact is, Facebook's move represents very shaky first steps toward integrating Web search features into its service, and it's clear the company is conflicted. Remember, Facebook wants you to stay on its site and click on display ads. Google loves sending you to other sites because that means its search service is working, which means its search ads are making money.

"Sending a Boat Against a Battle Fleet"

Contrasting business mode aside, it's tough to see how Facebook can create a better Web search product than Google, given that other major tech companies have spent years and many millions trying, without success. Facebook is great for finding people -- on Facebook. Google is great for finding everything else -- on the Web.

"Has Facebook become an important -- even critical -- marketing vehicle and promotional tool?" asks Greg Sterling at Search Engine Land. "Absolutely. Is its search engine going to challenge Google in the near term? Not a chance -- at least not without radical change and improvement."

Or as his colleague Danny Sullivan, arguably the most respected Web search analyst around, puts it: "If this is declaring war on Google, Facebook's starting out by sending a boat against a battle fleet."

"Search Is Not the Focus"

Facebook itself seems to understand how far-fetched the "declaration of war against Google" story line really is. Consider this statement to PC World: "This is nothing new and not indicative of a change in strategy, but rather part of the Open Graph protocol we announced at f8 [a Facebook developer's conference]," a spokesperson said. "Since that time, the Open Graph-enabled Web pages you and your friends like have shown up in search results. This is because these Web pages function as Facebook pages.

"While we plan on continuing to test features, right now, search is not the focus of the team working on the product," the spokesperson added. "We are focused on discovery and enabling users to build out their profile by liking things around the Web."

Not exactly a stirring declaration of war.