Facebook: Killing with Ads, Sucking at Search

Facebook has suffered many bloody and frequently well-deserved beatings over recent months, ever since their less than well-managed IPO. So it’s a nice change to note that FB absolutely killed their last quarter posting over 50% Y/Y growth… and predictably, it’s pretty much all coming from mobile. We see similar things in our part of the world. Before their recent release of more closely targeted mobile campaigns and ads in the news feed, advertising on FB was something akin to shouting out of your window in the hey general direction of a crowd of passers by. Their new offerings clearly do work much better, and even highly targeted local folks like us can use them with a reasonable degree of success. The big brands typically slow to jump into any new media have finally figured out that FB is here for the long haul, and are lavishing display revenue on them… which also can’t hurt.

Where they continue to ignore staggering opportunity, with what feels like obdurate blindness is search. Don’t get me wrong, they do process a lot of searches (some sources say about a billion per day), but their search revenues are less than 8% of Google’s… even though they have an enormous fraction of the civilized world heavily engaged in their products. Their blind spot revolves around intent. Google works because search terms let them figure out what people want right now. FB collects massive amounts of target-able data, but just because I play tennis does not mean that I’m looking for a new racket right now. Wilson might well target tennis ads at me as I post about my kids and dogs… but that’s not the same as a search for “Wilson Hyper Hammer.” Their solution is to use the opinions, interests, posts, and pictures of the people I know to answer my questions about tennis rackets. Put simply, it sounds silly…what if I don’t have any tennis playing friends? What if they don’t know anything about that racket? It makes more sense for things like restaurants and hotels (even then we have Yelp and TripAdvisor), and by all means blend in relevant feedback wherever you can find it – like what Google tries to do with Google+. But, relying on their Social Graph to answer questing where the Graph has no content is (IMHO) just dumb.

Facebook has the users and it has a pretty huge amount of queries that is typically serves poorly.  Having proven that they can do mobile and display and get pretty good results, why don’t they put a team of their brightest and best and come up with a killer search which answers every question and is augmented by the Graph as it grows… but then… what do I know?

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