Facebook search has gone through a number of different phases, and today exists in a few different forms. For years, their core search feature was limited to finding people and brands—a way of connecting with something or someone new, rather than finding any specific information. Last year, they introduced a new feature that allowed users to search for individual posts their friends had made. Now, Facebook is allowing all public-facing posts to be searchable.
This opens the door to tons of now-available information (and raises a few privacy concerns), as there are an estimated two trillion posts currently indexed by Facebook. If you’re concerned about your personal posts being searched for and found by random strangers, you can simply toggle your privacy settings to allow them to remain hidden. But this update has more important ramifications than the possibility of an embarrassing post popping up somewhere—it’s another indication of Facebook’s plans for the future, and what that might mean for search.
For a long time, Facebook relied on Bing as its primary search provider. Rather than waste time developing an imperfect search feature, Facebook decided to keep its focus on social interactions, and leveraged Bing’s existing power to fuel its users. But at the end of last year, Facebook nixed the deal entirely and released its own version of search.
Similarly, you might be aware that Facebook does index some forms of content submitted by its users. However, it has resisted forming any major partnerships with Google or other platforms akin to its major competitor Twitter, which recently allowed its entire platform to be scanned, indexed, and embedded in Google search results. Part of this may be due to Facebook’s prioritization of user privacy (or some semblance of it), but it seems that there’s a stronger motivation for these moves.
Right now, Facebook actually has two separate in-app search engines. One is the primary search users rely on, and the one I mentioned at the beginning of this article. Once limited to searching for users or brands, this search can now find individual posts. It’s useful within the application to find contacts and information you need, but it doesn’t extend beyond the conventional functionality of a social media app.
Facebook is really treading some new ground with its other search engine, which is available in the mobile version of its app. When posting a status, users can opt to “find a link” to supplement their post. It’s a simple, helpful tool that gives users the ability to find a link to a story, article, or site they’re referencing, without ever having to leave the app. This is useful for users making posts, but it also performs a critical function for the app—it prevents users from leaving.
Social media apps need to make money to survive. Having lots of users is a great start, but if they want to be profitable, they need to make sure those users remain on their platform for the longest time possible. Facebook’s in-app web-wide search engine prevents unnecessary departures by offering a service previously unavailable within the app. Essentially, they’re preventing users from needing Google and maximizing the range of features that Facebook can offer.
This isn’t the only way Facebook’s been trying to limit the need for outside technologies. Their new Messenger app allows new forms of instant communication. Their upcoming digital assistant “M” promises to help users in all the ways traditional programs like Siri and Cortana can, plus even more practical tasks like booking flights or making restaurant reservations. Their advertising platform is allowing businesses to build virtual storefronts within the app, and soon, Facebook will be rolling out an innovative new customer service platform for major brands, to be used entirely within their app.
Facebook is becoming much more than just a social media platform. It’s a search engine, digital assistant, e-commerce platform, and messaging service all in one—and it’s continuing to add new features and services on a constant rotation. As a major technology player, it could be that Facebook is competing with Google to see who can offer the most people the widest range of services. It could also be a play toward profitability, simply hoping to keep more users in-app for the longest possible time.
No matter what Facebook’s motivation with its new search features and other bells and whistles are, business owners should be watching these integrations closely. Already, these offer new ways of remaining visible and engaging with your potential customers:
This is merely a short list, but it’s designed to show you all the ways Facebook is trying to offer more. As the world of technology continues to grow more impressive and more diverse, you’ll have to be intelligent, proactive, and discerning in your marketing choices. It’s no longer enough to create strict categories like “Google for SEO” and “Facebook for social media.” The lines are blurring, and while that means you’ll have a wider range of options available to you, it also means your choices will be more complex and harder to make effectively.