Lee Odden

Was 2011 The Year Facebook Killed Google?

Google vs. FacebookA recent post on PC World, “2011: The Year Facebook Killed Google” reflects a common mis-perception about the emerging role of search and social media for consumer information discovery. In the post, the author Dan Tynan shares that he’s finding and consuming more information on social networks vs. Google during “moments of leisure”. Citing unique visitor traffic and time on site statistics from Nielsen, Dan then makes the argument that Google is falling behind.

Was 2011 the year Facebook killed Google? 

People don’t surf the web anymore, they socialize & share.  Consumer behaviors and expectations towards content discovery, consumption and engagement are always changing online and more-so in the past few years with the emergence of today’s social networks and media sharing sites. People use search engines and social networks to find answers, yes – but I’d argue that they use them differently.

As with Earned and Paid Media, Social Media inspires search. Whether initial awareness is created with a story in the media, an advertisement or a mention on a social media site, search is a logical next step. Consumers might get suggestions from friends on social networks but will also take those recommendations and search for them on Google to get more information like hours, reviews, directions and to view the business website.

Search Drives Social. The opposite is true as well. Consumers find things on Google and go to their social networks seeking validation. “Has anyone ever heard of XYZ product, does it work?” or “I’m thinking of going to ABC or 123 restaurants, which would you pick?”. People expect to find what they’re looking for in search as well as to interact with that content. In fact, if social content is well optimized for keywords and topics, companies can grow their networks by being easy to find on search engines as well as through the organic growth that occurs with friends and invites.

It’s a key lesson for marketers to look beyond search rankings and also into the usefulness and share-ability of their content. That’s why we’re such big proponents of  “Optimize and Socialize“.  Make it easy for search engines and consumers to find and experience your content wherever they might be looking.

The reality of search engines and social networks is that consumers are definitely using social media at an increasing rate to find answers, ie products and services. At the same time, they are still using search independently or in concert with social networks.

Google Apples, Facebook Oranges. Comparing time on site statistics between Google and Facebook is ridiculous. “People spend about 16 percent of their time online just on Facebook – or more than they do on Yahoo, Google, AOL, and YouTube combined”, according to the article.  What about this statistic:  Every 60 seconds there are nearly as many Facebook status updates (695,000) as searches on Google (694,445). Is that really a relevant comparison?

Google wants you in and out – fast. Here’s the fundamental problem with comparing time on site between a search engine and a social network: The very nature of Google is to get users in and out as fast as possible. Leaving Google means a possible click on an ad. Clicks on ads means Google gets paid, period.

Facebook on the other hand, is designed to keep people on Facebook as long as possible.  Ads on Facebook typically send users to Fan Pages within Facebook. Facebook is creating it’s own internet of sorts, so a higher “time on site” is a success metric.  It’s simply not a useful comparison between Google the search engine and Facebook the social network.

2011 isn’t the year Facebook killed Google, it’s the year that Google finally opened the door to it’s social search potential with Google+.  In fact, Google+ doesn’t need to become a viable competitor to Facebook in order for it to be incredibly useful for Google. The social and search data Google can collect within it’s own platform is priceless along with social content creation against which ads can be run. I’d also make this important observation: Google’s efforts towards building a social network are far beyond Facebook’s offering as a search engine.

Google and Facebook compete for people’s time online, sure. But as marketers, it’s important to understand that consumers don’t necessarily see search and social networks as mutually exclusive. Search and social are different tools to find answers, but  in very complementary ways. Understanding those consumer preferences is a big advantage over those who focus entirely on SEO and rankings or exclusively on fans/friends/followers and engagement metrics.

My last thought on this is, while many marketers duke it out over Facebook vs. Google, smart marketers will be focused on understanding their customer’s preferences and behaviors. For one segment it might mean a primary focus on search and for another segment it might be social.

Paying attention to overall trends and platforms, especially with the new year, is important. But it’s also important to focus marketing investments in the places that matter to customers who buy and who share. If that means Facebook or social networking, great! If it means Google and SEO, great!  If you master the ability to use data to attract, engage and inspire your community of customers to buy and make referrals, platform arguments become a lot less important.

What do you think? Is Facebook killing Google? Do you see the search experience and social networking as mutually exclusive or complementary activities?

Here’s the full post on PC World.


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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. I do think Facebook and Google compete for user attention. Many people are experiencing social or online fatigue and can only handle regularly participating with 2 or maybe 3 social media sites. Early adopters and techie nerds like myself are probably able to handle 5-10, but that’s not normal 🙂

  2. As Business Insider said: “Like hell Facebook is killing Google”. Will just leave this link here: 
    http://articles.businessinsider.com/2011-12-31/tech/30575734_1_google-and-facebook-social-networking-pageviews 🙂

  3. There’s a lot of insight wrapped up in this one post. I have always appreciated you (Lee) have never been a crowd follower. You promote what works while testing and measuring for what may work better tomorrow.

    Side note: I’ve discovered some interesting and useful search results when I use FB’s search box. While I’m not saying that’s going to give Google reason to twitch, it does represent an unused part of FB’s existing infrastructure with potential give businesses another reason to maintain a presence. It would be useful for FB to include “FB search” stats in the Insights console.

    • I agree completely Joe – Facebook could give a LOT more info in the Insights console. Cheers to you and thanks for the kind words.

  4. I don’t really think it’s true. I’m one of those people who does a Google search when I read a breaking news tweet or flash info on one of the social streams. I like to have basis for those kind of news, instead of relying on just a mere flash stream.

  5. ‘Google wants you in and out – fast.’

    This sounds logical, were it not for the recent developments since Larry Page took over. Just to name a few:

    -the “Subscribe to email marketing campaign” from within AdWords ads tests

    -the recently announced plan to provide Google-users with metadata generated answers-to-their-question directly on Google’s homepage (instead of providing them with redirects to other websites through search results)

    -the heavy focus on expanding their reach as a reseller and developer in all of the mayor markets: travel services [google flight], product and logistics [competing with amazon], tech development [google x lab; best known for the google car that will go in production] and counseling [now providing businesses with free of charge as well as paid services]

    This hints towards the exact opposite: Google seems to want users / consumers to stay on Google services for as long as possible. Putting Google+ at the center.Google says they´re taking this road because they´re ‘user-focused’. But to me, it seems Google is looking for more control. Knowing how everyone is still heavily depending on Google Search and YouTube, Larry Page wants Google to work fast and aggressive, as they can´t afford to give way to upcoming competitors.

    • Remco, I don’t think providing metadata generated answers keeps users on Google any longer than normal. Google has provided calculated (basic math problems) and other informational answers (flight status or weather) for quite a while.

      I do agree Google is a publisher and that they want more control. But I think it’s control over content inventory against which they can run ads, not to keep customers on site.

      If you follow the money, it’s from PPC ads. Whatever Google does with content, they don’t make money without a click away from the site.

      • Google announced that the plan is to generate every result they give you from metadata. They want to be able to provide the answer to ANY question a user might have, and in order to do this, Google intends to overhaul the Google Search completely over time. I wasn’t referring to the age old math, product and logistical questions.

        There’s a reason Larry Page wants to expand, after having cut back on many money draining projects. They have a huge advantage over companies like Facebook, called reach; also known as brand width. The strength of a brand isn’t its INDEX figure alone [a common mistake made by lots of tech bloggers is to state Facebook {or apple for that matter} is the larger or stronger tech brand, because its estimated cold stock value is higher]. Stock value alone says very little about your brand’s endurance, size and strength.

        Google once gave an example of where they see business potential: letting your car drive you home, turns the heat on in your living room, starts your home computer, notifies your wife, turns the light on at home, orders you dinner and readies your favorite movie or TV show, all according to your estimated time of arrival. And all this while you’re booking your next vacation from within a moving car whilst your car selects your favorite music and lets you talk to your friends. Because Google connected your car to the rest of your world through their internet services. With Google+ at its core.

        No company can afford to not go along with whatever format Google is aiming for. You need to be where the people are. Heck, despite the dramashow they feed you so we keep talking about them, Twitter and Facebook are using Google’s services too. Larry intends to keep it that way.

        • Hey Remco, If answers within the SERP could satisfy users (and I don’t think they ever could) then Wolfram Alpha would be doing a lot better than it is – or would have been acquired by Google by now. 

          The idealistic picture you’ve shared about what Google sees as the future, is unlikely to manifest as reality any time soon.  Maybe for elite, rich people – but not every day working Joe and Jane. As for, “PPC ads are nice, but they’re not where the money is.”  Google generated over 96% of it’s revenue Q3 2011 from ads on Google owned properties and its network partners. That’s $9.3 billion from ads. http://investor.google.com/earnings/2011/Q3_google_earnings.html

          I think that’s 9.3 billion reasons I’m not wrong.

          • Results in the past are best not used as a prediction for the future. I’m telling you databases will become far more valuable as we move towards personalised campaigns and better targetting. In case I need to provide an example of what I mean: Coca Cola has been making quite a buck from listening to what the public is telling them. They have done so for decades if you are to believe them when they tell you tests are a waste of money… How much do you think, would a company like Coca Cola be willing to pay Google for personalised data and communication services?
            Don’t forget: emailmarketing is still [by far] number one in marketing revenue and that relies on heavy targetting as well. As Google is branching out into new partnerships, (in fact: they HAVE already taken over alot of small {and yes: ambitious} companies over the last few months of 2011), they will only see their potential as an information broker grow larger.
            I don’t think privacy issues, [other than the potential internet ‘killers’ SOPA and PIPA], will change the fact that Google is still the most practical and the largest [potential] provider of consumer information in the world. The world of paid advertising might soon be forced to evolve with the change of times, they will look to Google for help, and Google will be in a position to make it do whatever it wants.
            [unless they slack off and drop the ball. this is where Larry Page comes in]

            And it’s not at all that expensive to make household products go online. Heck, it’s been happening to cheap household products already. Things like cheap household security camera’s have been going online for years. Cars are already hooking up to social media. Free city WiFi and other technological advancements are only going to add to this trend.

            Unless we run out of rare resources, like say copper used in wiring, lithium used in flatscreens and oilbased plastics used in… well just about everything. Then we’re all screwed…

  6. Great post and great observation!!

  7. Facebook Vs Google debate has been going on for sometime now.  Facebook can’t kill Google and vice-versa.  They both have their strong territory in the online world.  I suppose combining the two routes of gaining traffic is the best way forward. 

    Personally if I had to choose one of the two, it would be Google, as they are more tried and tested for traffic generation. I simply prefer Google that’s proven to work for years, rather than Facebook that also works but still in it’s infancy.   

  8. we can’t say this in general search terms but Yes in terms of Paid Advertising comparision of Google adwords facbook business is increasing.

  9. Search drives social and vis-a-vis, indeed. Like the symbiosis between a shark and a remora, Facebook is more the latter. Google provides the proverbial keys to knowledge where social networking can’t.

  10. Cold hard statistics show email usage is seeing a huge inscrease ever since the introduction of social media. Even though techbloggers keep saying social media is killing email. Who knows? These services might even be good for eachother.

  11. Avatar SEO Philadelphia says

    Well, I think facebook is a very nice social networking site and the ratio of the users it increased in 2011 as compare to 2010 but google would never compete with facebook because both of them are different to each other, they provided different services to their users so I don’t think facebook has taken google’s place.

  12. Unless it’s just me, I still rely on Google and don’t believe Facebook has even begun to attack it, let alone kill it.